In early April, Mike Roth was looking forward to the upcoming concert season. A music lover, he had tickets lined up for several performances. On April 10th, he was taking his wife and two daughters to the Bruce Springsteen concert, on April 20th he had tickets for Pearl Jam at the PNC Arena, and on the following day, April 21st, he was set to enjoy an evening outside with Jimmy Buffett. He only got to attend one of the three shows.
“I was proud to see my idol stand up against HB2. I think it was impactful to get the word out but I don’t know if it was the most effective way to get the law repealed,” he says. He appreciated Jimmy Buffett’s comment that he wouldn’t let his fans down this time but he most likely wouldn’t return until the law was changed.
Roth’s experience brings up a growing debate amongst music fans in Raleigh—for entertainers who oppose House Bill 2, which is a more effective vehicle of change, cancelling a performance in protest or using the stage as a platform to promote their views?
Bruce and Cyndi Take a Stand
The effect of HB2 has impacted North Carolina in many ways—loss of income, loss of jobs, travel bans—but one of the most visible has been its impact on the music industry. When Bruce Springsteen cancelled his concert on April 8th in protest of the law, the news spread like wildfire with national media outlets covering the story. CNN, FOX, the New York Times, among dozens of others, reported the news. With one cancellation, Springsteen succeeded in bringing widespread attention to the law.
“We got a call from his manager 30 minutes before cancelling,” says Matt Hirschy, Director of Advancement at Equality NC. “We worked hard to get him to continue the show.”
The main concern for the organization was that people who depend on concerts to make a living continue to get paid but they also appreciate performers who protest in solidarity. Equality HQ supports every artist as they make the decision that makes best sense for them.
“Whatever the decision they don’t make it lightly,” says Hirschy. “Bruce lost $2 million dollars out of [his own] pocket. When you have someone like Bruce cancel, it makes a huge impact and a huge story.”
On the flip side, singer Cyndi Lauper chose to use her concert as a way to spread awareness. She reached out to Equality NC to learn more about the issue and discover ways to make the most impact in overturning the legislation. She also donated proceeds from her concert to support the organization’s effort.
“She wanted to roll up her sleeves and get to work here,” says Hirschy. “She met with LGBTQ youth to hear how the law has impacted them, and one of the youth went on stage to deliver the message to her audience.”
“Everybody was fired up—a really electrifying crowd,” says Jim Lavery, General Manager of the Raleigh Convention Center, which includes the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts where Lauper performed. “The audience stood up and applauded.”
Of course, not everyone agreed with Cyndi Lauper’s stance.
“Some people wanted a refund because they support HB2,” says Lavery. “I talked to one lady who said it was against her religion.”
The venue respects every individual’s decision, he adds, and promptly refunded her the price of the tickets.
Undoubtedly, Springsteen’s cancellation garnered more media attention than any previous headline; however, subsequent artist cancellations did little to draw the same magnitude of impact. Instead, a public outcry of anger and disappointment has grown, especially on social media outlets where many entertainers publish their statements.
The backlash can be merciless towards performers who have cancelled, and not just from people who support the bill. Some fans feel betrayed by their musical idols and upset that they are blamed for a law they had no involvement in passing. Fans of Maroon 5, the most recent big name to cancel, posted angry comments that reached new heights.
Post after post admonished the band for cancelling the show: “I’ve been a forever fan but that ends now! I am so disappointed that they would punish their fans to push an agenda….pathetic!” or “Put your money where your mouth is and donate the proceeds of the show to the cause to fight the bill!” Others who were traveling from out-of-state felt ignored: “Now because of a law in a state where we don’t reside, I’ve lost my Christmas gift? Thanks for nothing Maroon 5. I will no longer support you as a band.” Only a small number of fans voiced their support: “I’m sad to miss your show but proud to be a fan. HB2 is not who we are.”
Regardless of whether fans support the decisions made by entertainers, many musicians have mixed feelings about the issue often reaching out to venues, promoters or LGBTQ organizations for guidance.
“We’re encouraging everyone to make the decision that makes the best sense for them,” says Hirschy. “We appreciate people standing with us in solidarity [but] we do ask them to come and invest here— to make sure hourly workers get their wage.”
“If artists expressed concern about HB2, and some did, we did our best to assure them the law was not a reflection of Hopscotch, our business, or our principles,” says Greg Lowenhagen, Hopscotch Festival Director. “We made a statement condemning the legislation early on, and we had to hope the artists we asked to play the festival would make a distinction between us and a law we don’t support.”
Lavery says the Convention Center and performing arts complex took its cue from Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane who released a statement saying: “It is important that the state and nation understand that HB2 does not reflect Raleigh’s values and it has not changed our culture of acceptance and inclusiveness of diversity.”
Beyonce, Mumford & Sons, Dead & Company are among the entertainers who have chosen to perform in the state. They all expressed their opposition to the bill through statements and actions on stage. Many donated concert proceeds and created avenues to spread awareness, inviting LGBTQ organizations to distribute information onsite or starting petitions to repeal the law. Some performers have remained silent, whether in support of the bill, or simply because they believe politics should be kept separate from music.
Next Year’s Tune
Dave Rose, President of Deep South Entertainment, believes we won’t see the real impact of the legislation until next year. Most performers don’t tour all 50 states, so he believes artists will choose to skip North Carolina until “the smoke has cleared”.
“We’re going to start seeing our citizens traveling to Washington, D.C., Charleston, Richmond to see concerts that have skipped us,” he says, adding it won’t just be concerts, conferences and sports events will be scheduled in neighboring states as well.
Though Lowenhagen says Hopscotch didn’t have any more or less trouble booking the 2016 lineup, “HB2 is a bad law. It doesn’t benefit the people of North Carolina and it doesn’t make doing business here any easier.”
“I don’t have shows under contract, I do have agents holding dates,” says Lavery. “That could disappear quickly. Our leaders have told us to prepare for leaner times.”
It remains pretty undisputed that HB2 has hurt the economy of the local music industry but the trickle down affect can cripple many small business that rely on events. When Boston cancelled their concert at Red Hat Amphitheater, Deep South the Bar had to cut down on scheduled staff.
“We’re staffed big at Deep South,” says Rose of concert dates. “That night three bartenders didn’t work. Think about all the restaurant staff that wasn’t called that day and didn’t work.”
The local music industry is concerned about the ongoing effects of the law and a grassroots effort to address the issue at a state level is growing. “I’m hearing that there are a lot of high-level conversations about what we can do as an industry to respond to this,” says Lavery.
Rose hopes that the music industry and public can address this controversial issue in a productive way and take steps to fix the situation.
“I feel sad because I love this state and the music that lives and breathes here,” he says. “I look forward to seeing us get this right and rise above the state because we have a great opportunity to get it right and come out shining.”