Kid Rock is among the artists speaking out in the wake of disturbing allegations of sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate behavior surrounding his now former Nashville publicist, Kirt Webster. Dolly Parton and a spokesman for Randy Travis have also weighed in. Both country legends were longtime clients of Webster Public Relations.
Rock’s response to the allegations came in the form of an email to music critic Bob Lefsetz, publisher of the daily Lefsetz Letter, a popular music industry blog. On Nov. 2, Lefsetz shared with his readers a note from Rock, who signed the message using his given name, Robert Ritchie. Rock was responding to a question from a Lefsetz subscriber about whether or not he would address the allegations surrounding his publicist.
He chose to do so, writing to Lefsetz, “The shocking accusations of sexual assault and mistreatment of others I take dead seriously. I never witnessed or heard about any of this outside that [Webster] was probably gay, which I could care less about. We (BMG) cancelled his and his company’s services upon not only hearing about these, but other rumors that are starting to swirl.” BMG is Rock’s record label.
He goes on to say in his email, “I hope to God this shit he is being accused of is not true, as he has been nothing but a good friend to me. But if it comes to light that it is, I will be the first to cut the head off the snake.
“Unfortunately, I believe sexual harassment is like cancer,” he added. “We all know someone affected by it and it has to stop.”
Longtime Webster client Dolly Parton also addressed the controversy, tweeting, “I’ve worked with Kirt Webster for many years and he has done a wonderful job. I am hoping that the accusations are not true.” While Dolly hasn’t confirmed her departure from the firm, she is no longer listed among the clients on its website.
Webster’s roster of high-profile talent also included Kenny Rogers, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jr., Big & Rich and many other largely veteran country acts. (Webster is pictured below on the right with Rogers and Parton.) Other former clients including Billy Ray Cyrus, Naomi Judd and Tim Rushlow quickly announced affiliations with new public relations firms on Nov. 2.
The controversy first came to light after former country artist Austin Rick launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise legal funds to take on Webster, describing frightening allegations of sexual assault by Webster while Rick (who used the name Austin Cody professionally) was a teenage aspiring artist using Webster Public Relations for a variety of services including publicity and management. Among other claims, Rick alleges that back around Easter of 2008 Webster drugged him and assaulted him at a party. He also claims Webster groped him in a hot tub and threatened to derail his career if he didn’t comply.
Webster released a statement saying his “brief relationship” with Rick was consentual and vehemently denying any allegations of wrongdoing.
According to The Tennessean, three more men have now stepped forward with claims of sexual harassment or abuse by the veteran publicist.
The three men include a former household contractor who alleges that Webster molested him during a job interview in 2009, a former office manager who says Webster groped him twice three years ago and a former personal assistant who alleged he was subject to unwanted touching and verbal abuse two years ago. The Tennessean reports that this brings the total number of former employees who have given statements to its journalists to 13, many of them speaking specifically about the alleged hostile work environment and the “culture of fear” Webster reportedly promoted through sexual harassment.
At least one former employee told The Tennessean that Webster would make fun of his then client Randy Travis in staff meetings after Travis suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013. On Nov. 2, Fox News reported that Travis had fired Webster, although Variety reported that the singer actually had been gone from the Webster roster since February. A source close to Travis called the allegations about Webster “saddening and deeply disturbing … To degrade another human being, especially a client, is just the lowest of the low,” the source told Fox.
The Tennessean also reports that police released a statement saying they cannot pursue charges against Webster in the Austin Rick case, due to a statute of limitations on sex crime violations in the state of Tennessee, an eight-year time limit.
This is a developing story.