Singer/songwriter Cecil Charles has been following the recent free speech battles with interest.
Now, it’s personal.
The North Carolina musician was slated to perform at Little Brother Brewing in Greensboro July 17. Two days before the show, the venue canceled the performance via email due to a “conflict of interest.”
A confused Charles wrote back, noting he had been drumming up interest for the gig and didn’t understand what “conflict” the note referenced. Little Brother Brewing said the company learned about some of Charles’ online commentary that it doesn’t support.
“You are 100 percent free to use your voice as you choose. But we can not encourage it by booking you,” the note read, according to Charles. The singer says he asked for clarification on the messages in question, but management refused to share any details with him.
HiT reached out to Little Brother Brewing for comment on the matter, but the venue declined the opportunity.
Charles, who previously studied both business and marketing during his college days, made the most of the situation. He shared the behind-the-scenes drama on social media, generating north of 250,000 views in the process.
His Twitter flock soared from 1,400 to more than 5,000 followers in just a few days. His YouTube account also got a bump, adding 500 subscribers within that same time period.
Plus, he earned more than the gig was supposed to pay thanks to folks sending him money via PayPal and Venmo (@cecilcharlesofficial).
The show still had to go on, though, so he debuted his first YouTube livestream concert over the weekend.
He still wishes none of this had happened.
“I’m not a big influencer. I state my opinions online. So do most people. I’m not calling for violence,” Charles says. “Things like this are happening more and more. It’s a soft totalitarianism.”
Charles’ Twitter account routinely shares conservative messages, including worries about vaccine passports, but it’s hardly a crush of hate or negativity.
Music has always been a primary part of Charles’ life.
He started playing the guitar at 9 and penned his first original song at 15. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004 with dreams of becoming a pilot. Instead, he went into the Reserves and eventually went back to school to earn his Master’s degree in business at the University of Nevada, Reno.
He found work in marketing but squeezed in music gigs on the side. He ended up cutting an album with his band, The Pretty Unknown, around 2014 where he spent nearly 250 hours in the recording studio.
That experience told him music was more than just a hobby.
“This is the most fun thing I had ever done in my life,” he says of the studio sessions. He came away realizing he had to live out his music dreams at least.
That, plus the respect he earned from area jazz musicians convinced him to make music his sole focus.
He moved to Nashville for three years, soaked up the rich music scene but eventually left for first Richmond, Va. and, later, North Carolina.
Having a business background made his solo career a bit easier.
“A lot of artists have incorrect assumptions about what their art is worth,” he says. “Once they take their art and put it into the commercial world they never know what people will be willing to offer.”
That couldn’t prepare him for the current Cancel Culture climate. He’s still wants answers from the brewing company for its cancellation, noting the venue flexed its Instagram account to promote his gig.
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He understands what’s happening to artists across various media, though. It helps that he’s been listening to Jordan Peterson and watched the culture buckle following the death of George Floyd.
“After George Floyd, it become apparent how nasty people will be with each other,” says Charles, who became more active on Twitter as a result. “That opened my eyes.”
Social media changed how he saw the traditional press, too.
“I could watch on-the-ground videos of some riot happening somewhere and see it being reported in the media and realize just how different things are [in the press],” he says.
Charles connects the cancellation to a larger narrative, one he blames conservatives and classic liberals for allowing to bloom.
“I think non-leftist people … have really dropped the ball in terms of telling the story of why this country works,” he says. “Radicals are telling a story of a victim mentality, and it’s something that appeals to the victim in all of us. It’s an alluring ideology.
“This is our time to realize that and stand up, to find each other. That’s been a huge boon from this situation, meeting people who are supportive,” he says.
Some artists change their tune dramatically after a Cancel Culture attack. Tina Fey may be a prime example. Charles insists he’ll keep speaking out and making music on his terms.
“I won’t bow to the new Puritans,” he says. “I’m gonna stay the course. The course in my mind and my heart is correct.”