“Festivals are always sponsored by major companies; that’s just the nature of the beast. Rise Against shows are not,” says Tim McIlrath, frontman of the Chicago-based punk band. Known not only for their raucous songs and confrontational lyrics, Rise Against are a band that holds staunchly to their belief-systems.
As McIlrath puts it, they owe it to their fans. “Our audience is near and dear to us but they’re simply a target demographic to somebody else,” he explains.
When asked by Los Angeles radio station KROQ if there was ever a time that Rise Against were asked to compromise their values, McIlrath replies “I’d say that more often than not, people are asking to compromise your values,” relaying a story about a now-defunct radio station in Florida as an example.
Although McIlrath says Rise Against have a “pretty firm punk rock background” and over the last twelve years said a “flat no” more than they’ve said yes, people can be “pretty predatory.”
Some people “want to exploit” the band; some people are just naive about why Rise Against wouldn’t want to be sponsored by a “razor company that also sponsors animal testing.”
“And we’ve always been very wary of people trying to get access to our audience. We have a responsibility to protect our audience from that sort of predatory advertising and selling of product to people who came to see a punk rock show.”
“One of the sponsors has been the Army or the Navy or the Airforce,” McIlrath continues. “Which, in a time of war–and with a band that is very anti-war or a band that works with counter-recruitment who is trying to expose some of the ills of recruitment–that’s been kind of at odds with who we are. But we decided, if they’re going to be there selling what it is they sell then we’re going to go there explaining what it is they’re selling. So at least we can kind of be a counter-attack.”
But then Rise Against got asked to do a festival in Florida where “not only was the Army a sponsor but they had an Army stage.” According to McIlrath, Rise Against was scheduled to play the Army stage–emblazoned with an Army logo above their heads.
“That’s when we approached the radio station and said, ‘Hey. We understand that you are beholden to these sponsors. We know the nature of the game. We know you have to accept money to put these shows on. We simply don’t want to play at this stage. We feel like there’s a conflict of interest there,'” explains McIlrath. “And they said, ‘We don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re crazy and you have to play this stage.'”
“And we explained to them, ‘No. You don’t understand. We can’t play this stage. We’re not going to play this stage. We’re not going to show up. We’re trying to say that we’d be happy to play this festival if you just put us on a different stage.”
Apparently, the radio station “got really pissed off” and retaliated once Rise Against realized this and pulled out of the entire festival.
“They went on the air and just talked crazy sh*t about us and said that we hated the troops, we hated America, we hate your father that’s in the Army,” says McIlrath. “It was crazy…They riled up their fan base with these sort of half-truths.”
“But in the end, actually, a lot of our fans called up saying ‘The band you’re describing is not Rise Against. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. I disagree with you guys.’ Eventually they put us back on the air.”
The radio station went off the air, something McIlrath sees as a product of their close-mindedness to the beliefs to Rise Against.
“Perhaps the station went off the air for a number of bad decisions,” concludes McIlrath. “One being that decision to take a first punch at a band like us who is just trying to stand up for what we believe in.”
–Nadia Noir, CBS Radio Los Angeles