Alaska News

Online outrage pours in, other acts cancel after Fairbanks rappers ejected from state fair

Fairbanks rappers Bishop Slice and Starbuks were invited to the Tanana Valley State Fair to perform Thursday, but their set was cut short when the fair's general manager stopped the show and told them to leave the fairgrounds.

Starbuks, real name Michael Cofey, was escorted from the fairgrounds by security guards after confronting the fair's general manager, Joyce Whitehorn, about why she pulled the plug on their performance. He broadcast his questions to Whitehorn live over Facebook and kept the camera rolling as he made his way to the parking lot.

"What I'm starting to personally think, the way you approached this initially, the stage was just a little too dark for you," Cofey, who is black, says to Whitehorn.

The other performer, Julian Lillie, aka Bishop Slice, is Alaska Native.

The video was widely shared on social media over the weekend, prompting outrage from viewers and dozens of comments to the Tanana fair Facebook page in which people said they'd boycott the fair, with some saying the decision seemed motivated by racism.

On Sunday Whitehorn said she stopped the performance because of "inappropriate language" in front of children and the decision had "nothing to do at all about racial anything."

She said some of the outrage over her decision to stop the performance has been personally directed at her.

"I've had a death threat on me," she said. "It's gotten way out of hand."

As the controversy over the ejection spread, other musical acts have canceled their scheduled performances at the fair, said entertainment manager Isaac Paris.

"There were 17 performances scheduled today and four of them canceled," he said in an interview Sunday. "I had five cancel yesterday."

Paris said he was "embarrassed and frustrated" by what had happened and didn't understand why the performers were ejected.

In a second video posted online, Julian Lillie said this was the fourth year he had performed at the fair. He said he curates and censors his music set for the all-ages concert, and each year the songs he performs are similar.

"I like to keep it family-friendly," Lillie said. During an interview with Fairbanks media Friday evening, streamed live online, the rappers said they were asked to leave because one of the songs included lyrics about "slashing faces."

"I did say something about slashing faces. But they weren't listening to the message. That's the whole thing, you know, because I was talking about everything that I've been through, asking God to forgive me."

In Cofey's video, he approaches Whitehorn and asks why the performance was cut short.

"Can I ask why we're being asked to leave the property?" he says. "We didn't cuss at anybody, we didn't threaten anybody, we didn't yell at anyone. We performed music that we were asked to perform."

Whitehorn said there was a disagreement between her and another fair employee about their coming, and Cofey rebutted by commenting that the music did not include cursing or violence.

"It's unfortunate that you feel like this is an art form that isn't for the fairground when there's art all around," Cofey said.

"Not this fair. This is a family fair," she responded.

Cofey said the event was positive; people of all shapes, sizes and colors were in the audience. But he believes there is a facet of discrimination that needs to be addressed.

"She (the general manager) might not be a racist … but there was definitely a social disconnect," he said.

Cofey urged the fair and the people who kicked him out to be more open-minded about different walks of life. He said the fair may need to hire someone who is more culturally aware and open to diversity.

Whitehorn said she hadn't spoken with the performers since the incident but that she'd be happy to talk with them. The rappers will still be paid for their cut-short performance.

"Sure, I'd be willing to have them back," she said. "They are a good group."

Reporter Michelle Theriault Boots contributed to this story.

Jerzy Shedlock

Jerzy Shedlock is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News. He left the ADN in 2017.