The War and Treaty on Seeing Cotton Plant in Their Music Festival Dressing Room: “It’s a Safety Issue Now”

Though Black artists have made major strides on the recent country music scene — with Beyoncé and Shaboozey launching No. 1 hits and acts like Brittney Spencer and Tanner Adell marking breakthroughs — racism in the genre still exists. For Americana-country husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty, it came last week at the Coca-Cola Sips & Sounds Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

Ahead of their performance, Michael Trotter Jr. tells The Hollywood Reporter, “There was a cotton plant” in their dressing room. “And we all know what that means. We all know what that represents in this country to people that look like us.”

More from The Hollywood Reporter

“Anger is what I felt. Disrespect is what I felt. Sadness is what I felt. Sadness not just because of what that plant represents to people that look like me but sadness for myself because I am a son of this country. I served this country honorably in the United States Army 16th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. I’m wounded for that service. I’m very vocal about my wounds and my scars, and I felt betrayed,” he explains. “It’s not fair. It’s something that white artists don’t have to worry about at all. … It just happens to come through the bowels of this genre. So, I feel that it’s not enough for us to talk about it, we have to demand that we be about it.”

The Grammy-nominated duo went on to perform on the main stage, though Trotter explains: “When I demanded that we quickly leave this festival and get out of there, Tanya and I had a moment in our hotel room where we wanted to address our son, Legend, who’s 12, and he ended up addressing us. He said that this is not the time to be quiet about it. He was very upset, and he understood exactly what it meant. He’s home schooled, and he knows what that means, and he doesn’t know what it means because Ty and I have sat down and drilled it in his head.”

The War and Treaty released their major-label debut, Lover’s Game, to critical acclaim last year and made history at the 2023 CMA and ACM Awards, becoming the first Black performers to be nominated for duo of the year at both shows. And they launched their first Top 15 hit on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Hey Driver,” their collaboration with streaming juggernaut Zach Bryan.

The War and Treaty
The War and Treaty

This year, they earned two Grammy nominations, including best new artist; they performed during the in memoriam segment at the Emmy Awards; and they will open for The Rolling Stones at SoFi Stadium on July 10 and 13.

Tanya Trotter says their experience in Austin “hits hard when you are a granddaughter of a sharecropper.”

“My grandfather actually bought the plantation that he picked cotton on in New Bern, North Carolina. My family actually still lives there. So when you see these things, you look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, even though my grandfather bought the plantation, there’s still a lot of pain rooted for people that didn’t get an opportunity to change it into economic development for their families.’ I didn’t want to sit in there and educate because it’s not my position to educate anybody on what cotton is and what it represents in this country. It just shouldn’t happen. Beyond it just being about racism, it’s broader now. It’s now a safety issue because we have to feel safe coming to these festivals,” she says.

She continues, “If we’re going to infiltrate and we’re going to have Black people, Asian people, Hispanic people, then you have to look at it as a safety issue the same way they did when they integrated the school in Arkansas. They had the police there. It has to be safe for people to come to get an education, to be entertained, whatever the case may be. So that’s the position that I take as we are moving into this genre and the spaces broadening not just for us but for everyone. Anybody with melanin in their skin, you have to provide an environment of safety for them.”

A representative for the Sips & Sounds Music Festival shared a statement with The Hollywood Reporter, noting that they were “disheartened” that the duo was uncomfortable at the event. “There was no purposeful harm intended, and we sincerely apologize,” the statement read. “Their concern was met with immediate action, including a heartfelt in-person apology, removal of the decor and a personal conversation with the artists by event organizers to assure them this was an honest mistake.”

“My skin color is red, white and blue — the flag. I’m an American soldier. That is what this country called upon when it asked me to serve, so I feel betrayed,” Michael says. “Yes, it’s a safety issue, but it is bigger than that. It is a humane problem. It is humanity, and I was put in a position where I felt I had to protect my wife, and my son, and my daughter, and my band members at all costs, which would mean I got to go into war mode in my own country.”

July 4, 1:45 p.m. Updated with statement from Sips & Sounds Music Festival.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter