As we've written before, the music industry clearly has its own "Weinstein Problem." But as sexual abuse allegations spread throughout the music and entertainment industries, some believed that Nashville, with its family friendly and often Christian underpinnings, would be largely spared. That theory was shredded this week as multiple serious allegations were leveled at top level Nashville publicist Kirk Webster.
Noted Nashville publicist Kirt Webster, who represented clients such as Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Charlie Daniels, has abruptly stepped back from the company after former employees and clients leveled assault and harassment charges against him.
The allegations against Webster first surfaced when former client and singer Austin C. Rick, who performed as Austin Cody, accused the publicist of a litany of sexual misconduct in an interview with the Nashville Scene that was published on Tuesday.
“I started working with Kirt, and before I knew it, it didn't take long before I was trapped in a hellhole that I could not get out of,” Rick told the Nashville Scene. “I trusted him completely, and he wanted to make me a star just long enough to sexually molest and abuse me. And I remember one time he told me, ‘I want there to be fireworks in your career, but only if there's fireworks between us.’ And that was like pretty early on in our relationship.”
Rick also claimed he woke up in Webster's bed after becoming intoxicated at an Easter party. Rick told the Scene that when he awoke, he found that Webster was “hugging me, kissing me all over my face and mouth, and neck and lips.”
“I know I was sexually assaulted, I don't know if I was raped,” Rick added. “When I woke up in his bed, I knew after that I had to leave.” Webster denied Rick's allegations and through a spokesman, told the Scene that all of his relationships have been consensual.
UPDATE: Within the last 24 hours Dolly Parton, Kid Rock, Kenny Rogers and Billy Ray Cyrus are among the major artists that have announced that they will no longer be working with the PR firm, and former staffers are coming forward to corroborate a culture of abuse.
“As a single adult, Mr. Webster has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual. This includes a brief relationship with Mr. Rick. It saddens Mr. Webster that nine years later, after Mr. Rick’s music career has been stagnant, Mr. Rick has taken the opportunistic approach of mischaracterizing that relationship and posting untrue allegations," a spokesperson for Webster told the Scene.
Since the publication of Rick's allegations, other former employees of Webster PR have come forward, describing an alleged culture of harassment and intimidation at the publicity firm. At least four former employees told the Nashville Tennessean that Webster sometimes invited his male employees to his home after hours and became upset when they declined, refusing to speak to them for days.
Other former employees described a culture of harassment and intimidation at the company, with a former female employee, who was not named in the article, telling the Tennessean that Webster threatened to cut a part of her genitalia.
Former employees also alleged that Webster performed mocking impersonations of his former client, singer Randy Travis, who suffered a life-threatening stroke in 2013. Other allegations leveled against Webster by former employees include claims that he solicited photographs of men's genitals and sexual favors from Parton fans in exchange for access to meet and greets.
“So many of Dolly’s fans are gay men who were willing to do anything to meet her and he would take advantage of that. He showed (the photographs) around the office, bragging,” a female former worker told the Tennessean.
Following the round of allegations, Webster announced that he is stepping away from the firm and described the charges against him as "egregious and untrue."
"Webster Public Relations will continue operating -- but under the name Westby Public Relations -- while Kirt Webster takes some time away from the business to focus on combating the egregious and untrue allegations made against him," the statement said. "The company's work on behalf of its clients will continue under the leadership of Jeremy Westby, Kirt's longstanding colleague," Webster PR said in a statement.