GREENSBORO — Bruce Springsteen canceled Sunday’s concert at the Greensboro Coliseum because of House Bill 2, saying in a statement that he and his band would show solidarity for North Carolinians working to oppose the law.
“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 singer wrote on his website. “It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Tickets, ranging in price from $68 to $150, will be refunded at the point of purchase, according to the coliseum. By Friday afternoon, StubHub and Ticketmaster had already made some refunds.
HB 2, passed quickly by the General Assembly in a one-day special session last month, prevents cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect lesbian, gay and transgender residents. Legislators passed the bill in response to an ordinance adopted in Charlotte that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, a provision overturned by the new law.
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Dozens of businesses, including American Airlines, Dow Chemical, BioGen and Labcorp, have spoken out against the law. PayPal canceled a planned $3.6 million expansion in Charlotte that would have created 400 jobs, and dozens of people have canceled attendance at the semiannual furniture market in High Point that starts next weekend.
Cancellation of the Springsteen concert is the first major economic blow to Greensboro as a result of the law. Roughly 15,000 tickets were sold for the event, half of them to people living outside of the city.
“You would have had thousands of people coming from other parts of the state and from all over the East Coast,” said Andrew Brown, a spokesman for the coliseum, who estimated that it would lose roughly $100,000 because of the cancellation. “Where we lost revenue is from people coming into the building — from parking, concessions, that kind of thing. It’s a major concert. It would have been one of our biggest events of the year.”
City officials did not have a dollar estimate for the lost revenue from foot traffic in restaurants, shops and hotels. Mayor Nancy Vaughan said it would be difficult to quantify as some concertgoers could have become repeat visitors to Greensboro.
“We had so many people that would have been able to see Greensboro, many for the first time, and now we won’t have that hotel and restaurant revenue,” she said. “My other concern is that acts we are currently in negotiations with could look at other venues. People we don’t have contracts with can just automatically take us off the list.”
The cancellation also means lost wages for some workers. At the coliseum, several hundred employees were scheduled to work the concert, according to Brown. Hotel employees and food service workers also stood to lose money, said City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said.
“It’s the underlying economic impact for the people who count on these events to make extra money to add to their households,” Hightower said. “This is a huge, devastating economic impact to lower economic people who count on utilizing these types of jobs. It’s serious business. We are impacting people’s lives who did nothing wrong to anybody to deserve this.”
Ticketholders said the cancellation brought a mixed bag of emotions. Sunday’s show would have been the 18th Springsteen concert for Daniel Prosterman, a history professor at Salem College, who said he was disappointed by the news but proud of the singer for taking a stand.
“The cancellation is directly in line with Springsteen’s political evolution during the past 40 years,” Prosterman said in an email. “He has become increasingly public through his music and in separate statements about a host of issues, including civil rights, social justice, citizenship, veterans’ affairs, war, etc. ... For me, Bruce’s music and politics are inseparable, which is why his art is so powerful.”
Brian Lampkin, a co-owner of Scuppernong Books downtown, said the news was bittersweet largely because it’s unclear how long Springsteen might continue to tour.
“The loss is immense, because he’s 66 years old — how many more opportunities are there going to be?” Lampkin asked. “But yes, of course, I just love the guy for what he does and standing up like this. It hurts, but I’m glad he did it.”
The head of the N.C. Republican Party dismissed the furor, noting that HB 2 did nothing to change the bathroom setup at the coliseum.
“This is bizarre,” Dallas Woodhouse, the state party’s executive director, said in a statement. “The Greensboro Coliseum has men’s restrooms, women’s restrooms and presumably family restrooms. The policy passed by the General Assembly rolled back the radical change in bathroom policy by the Charlotte City Council and maintained the status quo. For years young girls have safely used the restrooms at ACC Tournament games and other events at the Greensboro Coliseum separated from grown men. The legislature and governor simply secured the long-standing common policy of safety and security and privacy.”
Springsteen and the E Street Band have a long history of performing in Greensboro, and are Nos. 10 and 11 on the list of largest audiences in coliseum history: 19,271 on Nov. 16, 2002, and 18,431 on May 2, 2009.
(The jam band Phish holds the No. 1 spot, drawing a crowd of 23,642 on March 1, 2003.)