Ex-Country Artist Accuses PR Executive of Sexual Misconduct, Exec Denies Allegations
Ex-country artist Austin Rick has accused a well-known Nashville PR executive, Kirt Webster, of sexual misconduct. Rick, who also went by Austin Cody, alleges that Webster sexually molested and abused him, paid Rick to keep quiet and threatened to sabotage Rick's career if he didn't. Webster claims their "brief relationship" was consensual.
The Nashville Scene reports that Rick met Webster through producer Brett Beavers shortly after moving to Nashville in 2008. Webster is the president and CEO of Webster PR, a public relations firm with clients such as Dolly Parton, Hank Williams Jr., Olivia Lane and more. Rick began working with Webster but says "it didn't take long before I was trapped in a hellhole that I could not get out of.”
To the Scene, Rick recounts three separate alleged incidents, which took place over the course of a year, during which he says Webster made sexual advances toward him: one time involving the potential of a Playgirl magazine story featuring Rick, another while they were in a hot tub at Webster's house following an Easter party and a third later that same night, when Rick woke up in Webster's bed after having a couple of drinks.
“I know I was sexually assaulted, I don't know if I was raped,” Rick says. “When I woke up in his bed, I knew after that I had to leave.”
Shortly after that night, Rick says, he moved back home. In a 2015 story in the University of North Carolina's Daily Tar Heel newspaper that spotlighted Rick's journey from community college dropout to Nashville-based country artist to Army member (he was discharged after a knee injury during a training exercise) to UNC undergraduate, Rick explains his decision to leave Music City was a result of industry politics. He told the paper, "I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter."
Rick tells the Scene that Webster has continued to text him in the years since those three incidents. The Scene's story reports that Rick provided the publication with screenshots of past conversations, which occurred as recently as this year.
The Boot reached out to Webster via email for comment, but, as of publication time, has not received a comment back. Via a spokesperson, to the Nashville Scene, Webster denies Rick's claims, noting that Webster, "as a single adult ... has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual ... includ[ing] 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," the statement concludes.
Nashville's WSMV-TV reports that other individuals -- former Webster PR employees -- have spoken with them and claim that Webster behaved similarly during their tenures with the company. According to the TV station, one former employee believes that he was drugged by Webster during the 2010 CMA Music Festival; this employee says that he blacked out after having one drink with Webster and, therefore, needed to stay over at Webster's house. Additionally, a second artist and a number of former Webster PR staff members have come forward with allegations of their own; although Rick cannot press criminal charges due to a statute of limitations, others who have made allegations could, and he could still file a civil lawsuit.
On Wednesday (Nov. 1), less than 24 hours after this story originally broke, Webster PR announced that the company will be re-branded, and that Webster himself is taking some time away from the organization. However, a number of clients have severed ties with the company.
For his part, Rick says that he has no interest in re-igniting his country music career. He originally posted his allegations to Facebook on Friday (Oct. 27), inspired by those who have come forward about their experiences with sexual harassment via the #MeToo campaign. Rick says that he has been in therapy for seven years, has overdosed and once slit his wrists.
Rick is anticipating facing a lawsuit for coming forward with his allegations. On Tuesday (Oct. 31), Rick created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help with those legal fees.