Austin Rick Corrects the Record on Kirt Webster Sexual Assault Allegations
Austin Rick has been in the spotlight in country music (and beyond) this week since leveling allegations of sexual assault against powerhouse Nashville publicist Kirt Webster. Speaking to Taste of Country, the former aspiring country singer opened up about the events that he says eventually drove him to overdose and slit his wrists, and dismissed the announcement that Webster would be stepping down.
Webster served as Rick's publicist from 2007-2008, when the then-21-year-old singer moved to Nashville and launched his career under the name Austin Cody. Speaking to the Nashville Scene on Oct. 31, Rick alleged that Webster sexually assaulted him over the course of that year, intimidated him into accepting oral sex and more while using career pressure to force his silence. He alleged that he got out from under Webster's control after he was drugged at a party at Webster's house and woke up in Webster's bed with Webster kissing and hugging him. Rick left Nashville after that.
The Scene has also spoken to another young aspiring singer who made allegations that echo Rick's. That singer says the sexual assault he experienced took place last year. Webster denied Rick's claims in a statement on Tuesday, saying, "As a single adult, Mr. Webster has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual. This includes 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."
Rick's story has gone national in the days since his allegations became public, garnering coverage from Variety, Fox News and more. Taste of Country spoke to a number of former Webster PR employees who painted a dark portrait of a "toxic environment" in which harassment, belittling and sexual assault were commonplace.
While he's been pleased with the exposure his story has gotten, Rick wanted to take the opportunity to set the record straight on some reporting that he felt was inaccurate or incomplete when he spoke to Taste of Country by phone.
We appreciate you speaking to us. It's a difficult thing to decide to do.
It is. At first I was just pissed and furious at Kirt himself for what he did to me, but as years went by and I went through a lot of different experiences, I started to think about the fact that it might be more important to try to facilitate some courage and some hope among current victims, or people who have been victims in the past, and ideally make sure that Kirt Webster never claims another victim for the rest of his life. If I can show everyone who he really is and accomplish that goal at the same time, that's my new mission.
How did you meet Kirt, and what was your initial interaction like with him?
I was being managed by Mitchell Solarek of Maximum Artist Management at the time. I was introduced to Kirt by Brett Beavers, a producer whom I'd been introduced to by Mitch. Kirt paid him to produce tracks for me. My parents paid for the first few demo tracks we did. It wasn't Kirt funding it until a few months later.
When you ask about the initial relationship between us, I'm glad you said "interaction," because I hate that word, "relationship," because his lawyer has been using that word like it was a romantic relationship or something like that. I hope people realize that what was going on was not a relationship.
It was fine at first. Then I started getting some awkward hugs, some weird pull-me-in-by-the-shoulders hugs, sweet talking close to my ear kind of things. He told me that he wanted there to be fireworks in my career, but there have to be fireworks between us.
This was how far in from when you began working with him?
Probably three or four months.
How old were you when you met him?
I had just turned 21. The Nashville Scene incorrectly reported that. I think they misinterpreted what I told them. I was 18 when I first got down there, but I didn't live there at the time, I was just making trips there.
How did things progress from there?
One day I came over to the house and there was hardcore pornography on the TV, and he was sitting there watching it, and he said, "Come on over here and sit on my lap and watch this. This is hot." It was some sort of fetish. I have no idea what was going on in his mind. I wouldn't venture to guess.
I went along with it, because I needed this man to fulfill the promises that he made to me about my music career. Not long after, he told me that he had a spot for me in Playgirl magazine. I said that would be great notoriety, and he said, "I don't trust that you're going to do this in the end. I need you to prove it to me by stripping down naked in front of me." He was sitting on the couch, and I did it; I stripped down naked for him, and I was standing there, and he said, "Come a little closer to me," and he started performing oral sex on me.
That was probably the moment where I felt the most shame, as though I wanted to stop existing. But I didn't say anything, partly out of fear of losing my music career, which he would overtly tell me all the time. That went along with the money payments, I guess. He would drop me envelopes of hundred dollar bills regularly, all the time. When I was in Hendersonville, where I actually lived at the time with my fiancee — whom I never told any of this to — I would find envelopes stuffed in my door full of cash. When I was at his house, he would pay for and take care of absolutely everything. He secured me an endorsement deal with Wrangler, so I had more clothes than I knew what to do with.
How many times in total did sexually inappropriate events or assaults happen?
There were two more instances, so there were four events. We were in a hot tub later in the year, in the fall. It was me and Kirt, and Jeremy was there, and I think Bo Bice. I'm sitting across from Kirt, and underneath the bubbles Kirt is reaching between my leg and my bathing suit and fondling my genitals, and he's looking at me and smiling and winking like there's a fantasy playing out in his head.
I know Kirt's gay, and that's fine. Who cares? But Kirt told me that there wasn't a person in Nashville who believed or thought he was gay. I don't know if that was a ruse or if he really believed that. But it seemed to me at the time that I was being fondled that he thought he was pulling something over on everyone in that hot tub.
Didn't the other people who were there know what was going on?
No, because of all the bubbles and the jets, you couldn't see under the water.
The last thing that happened was at an Easter party, and there were a ton of people there, a bunch of A-listers. I had one drink, and then I had a second drink, but I only got through half of that second drink, and that was the last thing I remember. The next thing I remember is waking up in Kirt's bed, every guest has left. I'm under the covers, and he's got me all cuddled up in a bear hug, and he's kissing me on my mouth, my ears, my neck and my shoulders. And I played it off, like you have to do in that situation. Your survival instinct kicks in, and you play it off.
I decided to call a taxicab service that day. It's a long, gated driveway, and I told the service, "Don't have the driver try to drive around that gate. Tell them to turn the headlights off, and I will be out when I am out." I had my suitcase packed, and Kirt was in the kitchen leaning down looking in the oven, and as soon as he looked down I bolted and I got out of there. I went to a friend's house in the city.
Kirt started texting me and prodding me about what happened, why did I leave, was there some problem he didn't know about? All these things that predators do. And from that moment on I never performed music again. Within two days I lost my booking agency. I lost my Wrangler endorsement, and I lost all of my radio promotion and publicity. I also lost my attorney.
Was that the last contact you've had with him?
All the way up until July he's been texting me, saying, "Where are you? What are you doing now? I'm thinking of you. I miss you." Every month or two he has texted me. I finally got him to leave me alone by telling him that he ruined my life and that I do not want to talk to him. His response was, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
Most recently, last week I texted him one sentence, it said, "I'm going to tell everyone I can about every single detail of what you did to me." And that was the one time he never responded back to me.
Have you had any official response from Webster PR since the news broke?
No. Yesterday morning I sent an email to every single person who works at Webster PR titled "This Is Who Your Boss Really Is," and I wrote my entire story. And I haven't gotten any responses at all. I'm sure Kirt's got everyone on lockdown, if people are talking about this as much as I'm being told they are.
There have been a few comments on stories with readers saying, "Why wouldn't you just leave?" What's your response to that?
I started getting questions from reporters about, "Wouldn't you have the common sense to leave?" And I'm not dealing with this blame-the-victim stuff. When you're in a situation like that, you have to do what you have to do to get out of there and survive. When shame, guilt, anger and fear all combine, there's no telling what a human brain is going to do.
What made this the right time to come forward?
The #MeToo crusade across social media. I used that on my post as well. In the last two or three weeks, hearing about how much this goes on and how rampant this is.
Kirt's statement implied that you're opportunistic.
It didn't surprise me at all. I know how Kirt Webster thinks. I know he thinks he's untouchable. I know when you have that much money and power ... not everyone, but Kirt has the mindset that he can sweep anything he wants right under the rug. To call me an opportunist and a liar, that's just typical Kirt to me.
You've been raising money online via GoFundMe. That's one thing people have pointed to in terms of credibility.
I fully expect to be sued civilly. This is not something that I entered into thinking it would be easy. The GoFundMe page, I was suggested to set it up. Every single dollar of it that doesn't get used for either travel, legal expenses or PR expenses is going to be either returned to the donors that I can discern, or I'm going to donate all of that money, every bit of it that's left, to a victim advocacy program. I'm not keeping any of that money.
How have these events impacted your life since then?
I have emotional issues. I have problems relating to people. I have multiple diagnoses of PTSD that are all traced back to my time spent with Kirt Webster. I'm excessively jumpy, and when I say excessively I mean, if I'm sitting on the porch and one of my family members walks out the front door, I will fall backward out of my chair. That's the kind of jumpy that I am. I have nightmares. I don't sleep. My therapists thought that [coming forward] would be a great idea. They thought that I would be able to take some solace in this.
You told the Nashville Scene that you have no desire to play music again. Do you still play privately anymore?
I still play guitar for enjoyment and fun, a hobby. When I said that, they were thinking this maybe was a publicity stunt so I could get back into the music industry, and I was trying to convey to them that this was not the case. I didn't mean that I have zero interest in ever playing on a stage again. I just mean that what I'm doing now has absolutely zero to do with that.
What are your fears, and what do you hope to see happen now that you've come forward?
I'm worried that I won't be effective enough at this, that I won't be a good enough spokesperson against this monster that Kirt Webster is. I'm going to fight him. I've prepared mentally for it. It's what I've spent the last eight years pining about. I've never been the same person since. I'm hoping that this is what it was supposed to boil down to, and I'm hoping to find some peace and some closure to this entire storyline. These things happened to me, I think they've happened to other people, and I want to stop them.
They've announced that Kirt is stepping down for a while and that Senior Vice President Jeremy Westby will be continuing the firm as Westby PR. What do you think of that announcement?
I think the firm’s name change and power shuffle are a potential disaster, based upon information former Webster PR employees have directly provided me regarding Jeremy, and given what I know about him, myself. But it’s also an ingenious public relations move. You have to keep things in perspective. I spent a ton of time with Jeremy. His basic role was to drive me around town and massage Kirt’s feet during the year I was there. I’m not joking about the regular foot massages. He never gave the slightest complaint. Jeremy became Kirt’s yes man. Kirt isn’t leaving Jeremy in charge. Not for one second. Kirt Webster doesn’t relinquish anything, ever. This is a facade wherein Kirt runs everything vicariously through Jeremy, while attempting to alter the optics of a failed enterprise.
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