CMA Fest bans Confederate flags and imagery for 1st time: It 'will not be tolerated'

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The CMA Festival has banned Confederate flags and imagery.

The four-day event, which takes place June 9 to 12 in Nashville, brings country music's biggest stars. But — for the first time — there is a ban on "Confederate flag imagery of any kind" on festival grounds, according to the event's prohibited items list.

It states Confederate flag imagery "will NOT be permitted at any CMA Fest location," as it's widely viewed as a symbol of racism, slavery and segregation in the U.S. Those who show up at the event, which typically draws about 50,000 country music fans, displaying it could be refused admittance without refund of admission.

A rep for the festival has not yet responded to request for comment, but told the Tennessean: "This year’s CMA Fest is our first major fan-facing event in nearly three years. We have always had policies in place that protect the safety of our fans and ban discrimination, but we felt it was important to further refine our language to explicitly outline what will and will not be tolerated."

The statement continued, "In line with our first CMA Fest lineup announcement in early April, our event policy was published on our website, which states any behavior that causes one of our attendees to fear for their personal safety will not be tolerated, and that is inclusive of any displays of the Confederate flag."

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 09: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Maren Morris performs on stage for day 4 of the 2019 CMA Music Festival on June 09, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
Maren Morris performs at the 2019 CMA Music Festival on June 9, 2019 in Nashville. (Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Other music festivals have done the same, including Stagecoach in April. The organizers of that Indio, Calif., event also quietly added the ban to the events "General Info" page, noting, "No divisive symbols, including, without limitation, Confederate flags and racially disparaging or other inappropriate imagery/public displays" would be allowed.

The Confederate flag has long been polarizing, its history and design explained here. It has a long been embraced in by many country music performers, but that has been changing.

Last year, country superstar Luke Combs apologized for previously "being associated with that. ... There is no excuse" he said, as old photos of him with Confederate flags were resurfaced. He added, "People can be changed. I think I’m a living, mouth-breathing example of it."

Maren Morris joined Combs in saying there is no place in country music for symbolisms of racism and hate — and called for a ban of such imagery at concerts and festivals.

"I see the Confederate flags in the parking lots, [and] I don't want to play those festivals anymore," the chart-topping singer said. I feel like the most powerful thing as artists in our position right now is to make those demands. ... That's one of the things we can do, is say, 'Nope, I'm not doing this. Get rid of them.'"

Morris, who been behind efforts to make country music more inclusive to Black artists, continued, "I'm from Texas. This is just sheer ignorance and privilege, but I did not know that the rebel flag meant what it meant until I was probably 15 or 16 years old. I mean, this is how horribly whitewashed history is and how it has failed us. 'The South will rise again' — those are all just terms thrown around. There was no explanation behind it. And I think a large majority of people that listen to country music don’t know, either, the deeper meaning of what that flag signifies. Or maybe that’s hopeful, wishful thinking, but I don’t think they understand what that really signifies."

Mickey Guyton, a Black country singer, said, "I've opened up for major artists on major tours where I was singing in front of the Confederate flag. And I've been called the N-word after a show, as I was signing autographs in a line full of people, and nobody stood up for me. I was there by myself and dealing with that."

Meanwhile, Faith Hill was outspoken about having the Mississippi flag changed in 2020. The flag included the Confederate battle emblem which she slammed for being "a direct symbol of terror for our Black brothers and sisters." The flag was modified in January 2021.