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Musicians Who Have Canceled Shows to Protest Something

Artists from different walks of life have the ability to influence. We listen to protest songs, watch films that depict humanitarian crises around the world, and read books that let us know about the tragedies that occur often times right under our noses. On April 8, 2016, Bruce Springsteen announced he was cancelling a show in Greensboro, North Carolina because of the state’s new law, HB2, often referred to as “the bathroom bill.” Springsteen of course felt bad for his fans in North Carolina who would not get a chance to see the concert, but felt that he had to defend the human rights of the transgender community, which he thought was under attack. Many musicians followed Springsteen and also canceled shows in North Carolina. In fact, there is a rich history of musician boycotts - as evidenced by the artists on this list of musicians who have cancelled shows to protest something.

Former Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters is also a big-time activist. He took a trip to the West Bank in 2006 and became an advocate for the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. In 2013, he said he said he helped convinced Stevie Wonder to cancel a show in Israel.

Of course, there are the fans to consider. It’s certainly not fair for the innocent rock fans in North Carolina to miss their favorite artist due to politics over which they have little control. On the flip side, however, these musicians who cancel shows are getting the word out. They are public figures, so people all over the world are listening.

  • Photo: kyonokyonokyono / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    What He Was Protesting: North Carolina's 2016 state law banning anti-discrimination protections based on gender and orientation. The "bathroom law" required transgender people to use bathrooms that matched the gender on their birth certificate when in public schools and government buildings.

    Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band canceled their April 19, 2016, show in Greensboro, NC. About 15,000 ticket holders were able to receive a refund for their purchase. The Boss, a known human rights activist, said in a released statement, "To my mind, it's an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress." He added, "Some things are more important than a rock show, and this fight against prejudice and bigotry—which is happening as I write—is one of them."

    The bathroom portion of the law was repealed in March 2017.

    • Genres (Music): Americana, Blues-rock, Country
    • Albums: Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A., The Rising, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River
    • Nationality: United States of America

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  • Photo: Marco Maas / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    What He Was Protesting: Mississippi's state law that permits some private businesses and religious organizations to refuse service to gay couples.

    Canadian pop star Bryan Adams canceled his April 14, 2016, show in Biloxi, MS. He took to social media to announce the news. “I cannot in good conscience perform in a state where certain people are being denied their civil rights."  He added, "Hopefully Mississippi will right itself and I can come back and perform to all of my many fans."

    • Genres (Music): Adult contemporary music, Pop music, Heartland rock, Rock music, Pop rock
    • Albums: Reckless, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, 11, Bryan Adams, Room Service
    • Nationality: Canada

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  • Photo: Lugnuts / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    What They Were Protesting: Following in the footsteps of Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam protested North Carolina's "bathroom law," which prevented transgender people from using a public restroom that coincides with their gender identity.

    The grunge group from Seattle canceled their April 20, 2016, show in Raleigh, NC. In a handwritten statement, Pearl Jam called the new law, “a despicable piece of legislation that encourages discrimination against an entire group of American citizens." The band also stated that everyone who bought tickets for the show would receive a refund.

    • Genres (Music): Rock music, Grunge, Post-grunge, Alternative rock, Hard rock
    • Albums: Ten, Vs., Vitalogy, Binaural, No Code

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  • Photo: kojoku / Shutterstock

    What He Was Protesting: Israel and its allies' treatment of Palestine.

    Rogers Waters has been, and still is, very vocal about not touring in Israel and trying to get other musicians to stop playing concerts there as well. In 2006, the former Pink Floyd singer relocated a show from Tel Aviv to Neve Shalom, a town where Israelis and Palestinians live together peacefully.

    • Genres (Music): Folk rock, Progressive rock, Art rock, Psychedelic rock, Hard rock
    • Albums: The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Amused to Death, When the Wind Blows, Music From the Body, Ça Ira
    • Nationality: England

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