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Confederate flags fly high at Faster Horses festival

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The raging debate over the Confederate flag and its meaning has done nothing to dull the flag’s presence at the three-day Faster Horses country music festival at Michigan International Speedway this weekend.

While American flags could be seen on items ranging from pickup beds to barbecue grills, one didn’t have to look far to see the Dixie flag, some on display with “redneck” scrawled across the bottom, in the camping areas, especially in the infield.

“I really don’t have a problem with it,” said Brandon Wascha, 23, of Swartz Creek. “We’re all Americans; we’re all free to do what we want. I do what I want to do, and I’m not going to tell someone else what they can do.”

The “come as you are” attitude that Faster Horses attendees adopt extend to the use of the Confederate flag. Dereck Lehman wore it like a cape through the festival grounds Friday. He said reaction was mixed; some engaged with him, others thought the flag was in poor taste.

“I’m doing it because I believe in what I’m doing,” said Lehman, explaining that the flag represents a personal freedom to do what you want and believe what you believe, free of the pressures from outside influences.

“I take pride in what I do, and I don’t worry how others judge me.”

Kayla Kinzel and Laura McKenna of Port Huron came decked out in the Stars and Stripes. They had the American flag on their sunglasses, tank tops and fanny packs, wore red-white-and-blue beads around their necks and stayed up until 4 a.m. on Thursday painting their fingernails and toenails red, white and blue.

“Country music represents America,” said McKenna, 20. “It’s freedom, and you rep where you’re from.”

The festival, which will boast a sold-out crowd of 40,000 fans, falls at a particularly interesting time in history for the Confederate flag. Last month’s killing of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, S.C., has led to the flag’s removal from South Carolina’s Statehouse and fierce debate over its meaning and its place in pop culture and in America at large.

Kid Rock’s past embrace of the flag has led to potential protests of his tour sponsors, reruns of “Dukes of Hazzard” have been pulled off TV Land, and this week Tom Petty apologized for his use of it some 30 years ago.

Zach Skinner, 18, of Jackson, along with his pals Michael VanCalbergh and Jordan Moore, were hanging out inside the Faster Horses campgrounds Friday. They made new friends with their campsite neighbors the night before and were getting ready to enjoy the first day of music at the festival, which was headlined by a nighttime performance from country superstar Carrie Underwood.

“If you have a rebel flag, you shouldn’t feel unwelcome,” Skinner said, biting into a doughnut. “Just don’t brag about it, and don’t come talk to me about it.”