Slowly but surely, some of the musical acts who boycotted North Carolina because of House Bill 2 are coming back to perform.
The latest is Maroon 5, the Los Angeles pop-rock band who canceled two North Carolina dates last year over HB2 because, “we feel everyone should be treated equally.” Now, the group’s recently announced “Red Pill Blues” 2018 tour schedule includes an Oct. 4 date at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
Maroon 5 follows 98 Degrees, the 1990s-boy band that would have played two North Carolina concerts in 2016 before canceling over HB2. Now, the “98 Degrees at Christmas” show plays Durham Performing Arts Center on Dec. 5.
Representatives for Maroon 5 and 98 Degrees both declined to comment about their decisions to perform in North Carolina now.
Last year, the groups were part of a wave of protest cancellations over HB2, the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” often referred to as the Bathroom Bill. While HB2 got most of its attention for the bathroom clause about transgender people’s use of public facilities, the law also invalidated local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“The phone is ringing more than it was a year ago,” said PNC Arena president Don Waddell. “But in the winter, our biggest thing is finding available dates between hockey and N.C. State basketball games. So we have to be proactive, reach out to acts that will be touring. It’s two-way communication, and we’re working on it.”
Major acts cancel
About two weeks after HB2 was signed into law, Bruce Springsteen cited the law in canceling his April 10 Greensboro Coliseum show. That seemed to open the floodgates.
The NBA, NCAA and ACC also called off sporting events in North Carolina. With businesses including Paypal and Deutsche Bank dropping planned expansions, the state’s estimated HB2-related losses reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
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Republican Rep. Jeff Collins complains about the fast process and pressure from the NCAA during debate in the N.C. House about a replacement bill for HB2.
Whether or not to boycott North Carolina became a major question for touring acts. Even artists who didn’t cancel North Carolina concerts played while making statements against the law, including Joe Walsh, Jimmy Buffett, the Dixie Chicks and Brandi Carlile. Some acts, including Cyndi Lauper and Flight of the Conchords, also turned their shows into anti-HB2 fundraisers.
“We’re giving some of the profits from tonight’s show to the gayest, most transgender charity we can find,” Flight of the Conchords co-leader Jemaine Clement announced onstage in Cary during a July 2016 show.
The Dixie Chicks, performing at Walnut Creek, said they considered boycotting the show. Instead, they handed out baseball caps that said “No Hate in our State.”
“We have a favor to ask,” lead singer Natalie Maines told the crowd after a few songs. “Since we didn’t cancel our show – you’re also the only state we bought gifts for – could you pull out the hats that we gave you? ’Cause we love to support positivity. Peace and love, peace and love.”
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, calls the HB2 repeal passed by the Senate on Thursday a compromise that accomplishes a pre-HB2 reset while still protecting North Carolinians.
But even with the boycott easing, recovery won’t happen overnight.
Loren Gold, executive vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Raleigh Convention Center is grappling with a “softening of dates” for 2018 – events the city lost out on during the year HB2 was in effect.
“Given the advance window for booking meetings, events and conventions, we knew we’d see a downturn for the year,” Gold said. “We’ve got some open dates at the convention center we’ll need to work hard to fill.”
Raleigh’s PNC Arena was hit especially hard by HB2 cancellations last year, with Maroon 5, Pearl Jam, Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil among the lost shows. Discussions with those groups have resumed, Waddell said.
“We’re confident we can get at least one of those back,” Waddell said. “More, I hope.”
Equality North Carolina, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the ACLU of North Carolina will hold a press conference outside of the North Carolina General Assembly Building.