The inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa Valley has pulled together a star-studded lineup for the event starting Friday at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. 

The three-day music festival ending on Sunday will include singers like Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu and Corinne Bailey Rae. Rappers Snoop Dogg, Talib Kweli and D Smoke will take the stage, among others. One of the more highly anticipated and controversial acts is comedian Dave Chappelle, who will host the festival all weekend. 

Chappelle has recently been under fire for a series of transphobic jokes made in his most recent Netflix specials, and protestors in several locations have since opposed his performances. The famed First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis — which launched the careers of Prince and the Replacements — recently canceled one of his shows just hours before he was to take the stage on July 20 because of protests. The sold-out event was moved to Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater, which hosted Chappelle that night and the two following nights. 

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In the Bay Area, Joy Anderson, a 24-year-old Santa Rosa native, launched an online protest on July 21 against a Chappelle booking at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, and the petition quickly gathered hundreds of signatures. Chappelle was scheduled to perform five shows — four of which had sold out as of press time — at the Sonoma County arts center Tuesday through Thursday of this week. 

Many transgender people in the Santa Rosa area felt that this booking was particularly upsetting because of the Luther Burbank Center’s public commitment to diversity and inclusion according to Orlando O’Shea, founding committee member of TransLife, an all-volunteer organization in Sonoma County that provides support and education to the trans community and its allies. 

The Luther Burbank Center responded in a statement saying that Live Nation, which produces Chappelle’s shows, were responsible for making decisions. The Blue Note Jazz Festival — whose general admission tickets start at $225 for one day and $610 for the weekend — is now at risk of facing the same criticism. 

O’Shea and other people in the LGBTQ community continue to voice their criticism of venues that fail to consider the consequences of whom they give a platform. O’Shea spent five years working for a trans-specific suicide hotline and witnessed firsthand the widespread danger that normalizing transphobia has on people, but specifically Black and Brown transgender women.  

“On a daily basis, I got to hear the stories of individuals who were considering ending their lives because of societal discrimination,” O’Shea said. “Take that into account when booking these artists, performing with these artists and going to see their shows. It does have consequences that you might not understand.” 

Participants wave rainbow pride flags and transgender pride flags during the SF Pride Parade on Market Street in San Francisco on June 26, 2022. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Jennifer Rihl, O’Shea’s colleague and TransLife representative, was previously a fan of Dave Chappelle’s comedy and had even watched him live in previous years. Recently, his clear targeting of the transgender community has pushed Rihl to reevaluate her opinion. Previously, she accepted Chappelle as an “equal opportunity offender” when it came to offensive jokes. However, in his most recent special, he spent more than half of his set making disparaging jokes about the trans community, she said.  

“I think that the trans community is a rather sensitive group, but for good reason,” Rihl said. “We are targeted and harassed around the country, and we are one of the one of the last groups of people that are continually discriminated against by our own federal government. To use comedy against us only furthers transphobia, so I don’t find it all that funny.” 

Some supporters of Dave Chappelle on social media cite the nature of comedy as a defense for Chappelle’s jokes. Some feel that today’s expectations of political correctness prevent people from being able to “take a joke.” O’Shea said he feels that this is an important conversation to have, noting his strong belief in the First Amendment; however, where the jokes are coming from matter, and the platform matters just as much. 

“Comedy has been one of the last acceptable landscapes where discrimination is allowed and I found it interesting,” O’Shea said. “Where do we draw the lines, and what are the consequences of our jokes? Are you punching up or are you punching down? And I think that’s a really good thing to consider. Consider marginalization. Consider intersection and consider your place and privileges.”  

Local News Matters reached out to the Blue Note Jazz Festival to comment about its decision to hire Chappelle as the festival’s host, but Blue Note representatives did not respond.