A day of protest music aimed at NC lawmakers

by John Adamian


The NC lawmakers who slid HB2 into the books back in March probably thought the move would happen quietly and with little blowback. The bill, signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, deprives gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people of anti-discrimination protection. A lot of attention was also drawn to a provision that requires transgendered people use bathrooms designated for the gender shown on their birth certificates. But the response to the law has been outraged and loud, and it’s going to get louder — if tuneful — in the coming week when dozens of artists from around the state take part in the Stand Against HB2 concert, the second of its kind, designed to draw attention to the law, to raise funds for fighting it.

On Sunday, June 26 at The Millennium Center in Winston-Salem, over 30 artists will perform from noon until 11 p.m. The bill includes The Luxuriant Sedans, Jeffrey Dean Foster and the Birds of Prey, Tres Chicas, Henbrain, Foxture, Spirit System, a Bus Stop reunion, and dozens of other acts. (Full list of performers here.)

All of the profits from the event will go to EqualityNC and QORDS, organizations working to overturn the legislation and for helping queer and transgendered youth through music. The first concert took place in May at the Haw River Concert Hall and raised more than $20,000.

I spoke to Mike Allen, who helped organize the event, recently about the fight against HB2, and about the shame he and many of the performers feel as North Carolinians knowing that the bill is perhaps the most high-profile piece of news about the state that the rest of the world will see this year.

“I’m infuriated over this,” says Allen.

“I’m mad, and I figured instead of ranting and raving on social media, which I’ve done plenty of, ‘Let’s channel that into something that would actually do something constructive to repeal this law.’ I want my state back; I’m embarrassed. I want my kids to be proud of this state. I want these clowns out of office and that’s what I’m working toward.”

Allen works in advertising by day, so he knows about how bad PR can ruin a product. And with spokespeople from companies, sports events and artists saying they might prefer to do highdollar business in other states until the legalized discrimination and humanrights violations of HB2 are no more, the lawmakers in Raleigh have certainly tarnished the brand of North Carolina, not to mention slapping the face of all their constituents who find their work repugnant and disgraceful. The fact that these same lawmakers are generally willing to contort themselves in order to attract new business to the state adds a level of pathetic irony to the whole situation.

Allen had hoped to draw national and international attention to another more righteous North Carolina product — the powerpop of the Triad and Triangle areas from the late-80s and early ’90s — working on a documentary film on the subject. But he’s shelved that temporarily and is focusing his efforts on connecting with musicians who want to speak out against HB2.

Allen has other Stand Against HB2 concerts in the works, for Wilmington in late July, Asheville in August and Charlotte in September. And as the election approaches in the fall, there’s talk of organizing something bigger, on the national stage, possibly in New York City to spread information about HB2 and inflict maximum damage on the campaigns of the legislators and politicians who backed the bill.

Musicians aren’t politicians, generally. But the power of popular music, to energize young people and to spread information and awareness about issues like civil rights, apartheid, environmental degradation, global warming, AIDS, sexual violence, famine, income inequality, police misconduct and any number of other topics has been demonstrated repeatedly over the past 50 years.

Ed Bumgardner is a longtime musician and veteran music journalist from Winston-Salem, and a member of The Luxuriant Sedans. Bumgardner views musicians as the early warning system when it comes to changing the popular consciousness about key issues.

“I’ve been writing about music for 30 years and playing it for 47, so it is my life,” says Bumgardner. “Music has been proven time and time again as one of the most powerful healing forces on the planet. And right now the state of the human race needs healing more than any time. I can’t believe the amount of hatred and anger. And that’s not a naive statement — it’s a bona fide fact after what’s happened in Orlando.”

Outrage over HB2 has spurred discussions about how entertainers can bring about change most effectively. In April, just days before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were scheduled to play Greensboro, Springsteen cancelled the show in response to the passage of HB2, which he called in a press release “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.”

Some suggested that Springsteen should have played the show and donated the profits to the cause, but cancelling the concert was one of the shots heard round the world in the fight against HB2, says Bumgardner.

“I was 100 percent behind what Springsteen did and I’ll tell you why,” says Bumgardner. “It took an issue that was largely a state issue with far, far, far broader ramifications, and with one quick blow turned it into an international issue.”

In an era when Americans on both sides of the political spectrum seem to have little or no faith in elected officials and in the establishment leadership, and when people consume news media in a way that’s almost predetermined to reflect their existing views, a medium — like music — that cuts through the mental and ideological fog and connects people on what seems like a purely emotional level presents a kind of hope for shaping the political discourse.

Singer songwriter and longtime Winston-Salem resident Jeffrey Dean Foster has eagerly played at numerous benefits over the years. To him and other like-minded fans and players, music is a perfect way to address the horror of state-sanctioned human rights violations that HB2 represents.

“Music — at least to me, and to a lot of other people — is a very important thing that kind of instantly changes your mood and changes your cellular structure almost,” says Foster. “It opens you up to being able to understand things and explain things to yourself.” !


The Stand Against HB2 Concert at The Millennium Center, 101 W. 5th St., Winston-Salem, is Sunday, June 26, from noon until 11 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the show. Children 12 and under get in free.