Musicians Who Have Canceled Shows To Protest Something

All artists have the ability to influence. Musicians, in particular, have a strong public "voice" - whether they are writing and singing protest songs, pulling their music from streaming services, or canceling concerts to support a cause. In 2022, for example, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, India Arie, and others removed their songs from Spotify to protest the platform hosting Joe Rogan's podcast, which featured misinformation about COVID-19. Bruce Springsteen, taking a different protest path, in 2016  announced he was canceling a show in Greensboro, NC, because of the state’s new law, HB2, often referred to as “the bathroom bill,” to defend the human rights of the transgender community. 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 canceled shows to protest something.

Photo: Bill Ebbesen / Wikimedia Commons

  • Bruce Springsteen
    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    The bathroom portion of the law was repealed in March 2017.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
  • Bryan Adams
    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
  • Pearl Jam
    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): Alternative rock, Grunge, Hard rock
    • Albums: Ten, Vs., Vitalogy, Binaural, No Code
    • Nationality: USA
  • Roger Waters
    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
  • What He Was Protesting: Israel and its allies' treatment of Palestians.

    In December 2012, Stevie Wonder received a lot of pressure from a pro-Palestinian online petition and Rogers Waters to cancel his appearance at a Los Angeles-based event that raises money for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The UN also recommended that Wonder cancel the event since he is an official "Messenger for Peace." After the "Superstitious" singer dropped the event, he released a statement saying, "I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere."

    • Genres (Music): Motown Sound, Psychedelic soul, Pop music, Rhythm and blues, Jazz
    • Albums: Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions, Talking Book, Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I, Music of My Mind
    • Nationality: United States of America
  • What They Were Protesting: The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

    Wilco canceled their show in Indiana that was supposed to take place on May 7, 2015 in order to protest the state's new religious objections measure. Critics of the controversial legislation believed the law would allow businesses to deny services to members of the LGBT community.

    The alternative rock band released a statement on their personal Facebook page, writing, “The 'Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act' feels like thinly disguised legal discrimination to us. Hope to get back to the Hoosier State someday soon, when this odious measure is repealed.”

    Days later, the state passed an additional bill to amend the law, and Wilco reinstated the show.

    • Genres (Music): Rock music, Experimental rock, Folk rock, Alternative rock, Alternative country
    • Albums: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Summerteeth, Being There, A Ghost Is Born, Mermaid Avenue