News Column

The Buffalo News, N.Y., Colin Dabkowski column

June 22, 2014

By Colin Dabkowski, The Buffalo News, N.Y.



June 22--Right now, Kevin Cain and the entire Buffalo music community should be celebrating.

On June 14, after months of planning and dozens of hours spent huddled in a cold concrete grain elevator at Silo City with cameras and audio equipment, Cain and his crew of dedicated volunteers held a party at the riverside industrial complex to celebrate the launch of Silo Sessions, their ambitious new performance series and music blog.

The project, which features short sets by local and touring musicians filmed inside one of Silo City's towering concrete echo chambers, has produced dozens of videos, which will be uploaded to the site throughout the year. Following a model similar to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, Silo Sessions has a real chance to broadcast Buffalo's unique musical and artistic culture to a global audience.

But not everyone is rejoicing over the launch of Cain's promising project, and not everyone in Buffalo's cultural community supports it. Here's why:

In the early morning hours of May 23, Cain was arrested after a fight with a female acquaintance and charged with harassment, criminal mischief and criminal obstruction of breathing. On June 10, Cain pleaded guilty in Buffalo City Court to the harassment violation charge.

For three weeks after the incident occurred, surprisingly few people spoke out about it publicly, most of them friends of the victim. Though the news of his arrest had appeared in this newspaper, Cain stayed publicly mum about the incident as buzz built around his project.

When I called Cain to talk about the controversy prior to last weekend's celebration, he was still clinging to the idea that the incident and his resulting guilty plea could remain a private affair. But later that evening, after mulling over the costs of staying silent, he released a statement to The News.

"I am terribly ashamed and embarrassed by the situation that happened between us because of the hurt and upset that it has caused within the community I love and support," he said in a lengthy statement.

In the statement, also posted to his Facebook page, Cain also promised to donate a portion of the proceeds from Saturday's launch party to Erie County Crisis Services and noted that he is enrolled in a 12-week anger management program and a drug and alcohol abuse program as part of his plea. "I intend to use this experience to give back to the community I love in a new way," he said.

After speaking at length with Cain and the victim, as well as others involved in the Silo Sessions project and outside of it, the only thing that's clear is that there are several contrasting narratives about what happened in Allentown that early May morning. But in all the accounts -- those that heap all the blame on Cain and those that transfer some of it to the victim -- the ending is the same: At the end of the incident, the victim had a bloody lip and broken glasses. Cain was arrested for and pleaded guilty to harassment.

In a phone interview last week, the victim -- whom The News is not identifying -- said she was scared to leave her house or to attend events in Buffalo's tight-knit art community. She said she is getting unexpected backlash from some members of the community, including one person who said that she was "big enough to hold her own."

A tough but important question for the community, as well as for the victim, is whether it's possible to support Cain's project while at the same time decrying his actions and taking a stand against all violence toward women.

"Would I really like to see this succeed because ultimately he's my friend in the long run? Yeah," she said. "I know that that was a really great goal that he wanted to achieve, and I think it's amazing. I think it's a really cool idea. But as a victim, when I see people supporting the event, do I feel as if they're supporting him as a person? Yes I do."

Other important questions remain:

What should the public price of Cain's actions be? Must Silo Sessions, Cain's brainchild and most ambitious project yet, collapse under the weight of those actions?

There's no denying that we live in a society in which violence against women gets swept under the rug, overlooked and officially erased far too easily and far too often. In this context, the willingness of Cain and others involved in the project to suppress the issue -- regardless of exactly how the altercation played out -- was disheartening. On the other hand, Cain's eventual statement shows genuine contrition and a plan to give back to the community.

As word of Cain's arrest and plea spreads through the local cultural community, it seems unlikely that Silo Sessions will succeed on the scale he imagined as long as he remains directly involved. In similar circumstances, other creative and community leaders have been able to step aside for the good of their projects.

Whether that is possible or necessary in this case remains an open question. Cain's statement is a good first step. But if Silo Sessions is to become more than just another beautiful idea that died too soon, a move further into the background for Cain is worth serious consideration.

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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(c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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