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rickert column photo 5-22/1

World's Largest Brat Fest on Memorial Day weekend kicks off Madison's summer festival season.

Who knew it was this easy to get an act disinvited from Brat Fest?

One day after news broke of a planned speech by anti-abortion evangelical Bob Lenz, abortion-rights advocates convinced Brat Fest organizer Tim Metcalfe that, in his words, “maybe this isn’t the right venue for it.”

Given that Lenz was to be only one of some 150 attractions on five stages over four days I wondered whether a closer look at a few of the festival’s other performers might also prove them unfit for the community’s favorite 31-year-old celebration of sausage.

Take Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison Grand Stage headliner and former Poison front man Bret Michaels.

I won’t comment on the aesthetic qualities of Michaels’ brand of 1980s hair metal, but it seems fair to say that lyrics including “I got a girl on the left of me/a girl on the right/I know damn well/I slept with both last night” come off as misogynistic — especially in a city as feminist-minded as Madison.

But you don’t have to be a feminist at Brat Fest to be offended — either by Lenz’s presence or Michael’s lyrics.

Anyone not of the Christian persuasion might reasonably object to some of the assertions put forth on Brat Fest’s Christian-themed stage. While Brat Fest includes churches among the organizations it raises money for, this is the first year faith has been out front.

“I believe in Jesus,” sings Lifest EZ Office Products Stage headliner Seventh Day Slumber. “Oh He’s Lord of Lords/And King of Kings.”

And the “vision” for Sunday morning’s “Community Wide Worship Service,” according to the Brat Fest website, “is that believers and seekers from all across Madison would worship our Lord together and go back to their churches and communities encouraged and strengthened by the Hope we have in Christ.”

Non-believers and non-seekers can apparently sleep in that day.

The Lenz controversy might be less about abortion than about the pitfalls of touting a religious viewpoint — specifically, evangelical Christianity — that doesn’t see anti-abortion activism as unusual or wrong.

To be clear, Lenz’s topic was to be teen suicide. He wasn’t planning to speak about or advocate on behalf of his work with Save the Storks, a group that rankles abortion-rights folks by setting up outside abortion clinics to offer pregnant women free ultrasounds of their unborn fetuses.

But his status as a “central figure and leader in that movement” makes him unacceptable, said Lisa Subeck, a Madison City Council member and former director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.

Expanding scrutiny of Brat Fest performers from what they do while on stage to what they’ve done while off stage opens up whole new avenues for offense-taking.

I doubt Lenz is the only one invited to appear on the Lifest stage who’s provided support, time and succor to the anti-abortion movement.

And did you ever see Bret Michael’s old VH1 show, “Rock of Love,” in which women of questionable repute compete to become his girlfriend for a season — frequently with much profanity, cleavage, alcohol and sloppy, on-screen personal displays of affection?

A few episodes of that seem like a pretty good basis for disinvitation to me.

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Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.


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