Some North Carolina musicians are taking their opposition to their home state’s controversial new bathroom law on the road.
They’ll be making a stop in downtown Wilmington this summer as part of the fledgling Stand Against HB2 movement, a grassroots collective of artists and bands who came together earlier this month in Raleigh to raise money for LGBT advocacy groups fighting the measure.
The traveling series was born, organizer Mike Allen said, from a basic desire among the Triangle’s thriving arts scene to give a unified voice to the discord many are feeling about lawmakers’ decision in March to bar transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond to the sex with which they identify, rather than the one to which they were born.
Allen recalls a phone call from a musician friend a couple of days after Gov. Pat McCrory ratified “this horrible law.” His friend had been chatting with others in their circle and all agreed something needed to be said on behalf of the music community.
The chain of chatter reached Allen because he has some experience putting together fundraising gigs, having planned several as part of his involvement with Durham-based non-profit The Coalition to Unchain Dogs, a group that builds fences at homes in underserved communities to humanely corral pets.
“So, I have kind of become the guy to organize this stuff, for better or worse,” Allen said with a laugh.
All joking aside, he took on the task with passionate purpose, pulling off in just four days a massive 24-band line-up that included heavy hitters like The Love Language and Southern Culture on the Skids. The May 15 show at the Haw River Ballroom outside Burlington sold out all 800 seats in less than a week, Allen said.
Logistically speaking, the quickly planned all-day show could have been a nightmare, just based on the sheer numbers of musicians and their accompanying equipment shuffling on and off the stage.
But Allen said it was surprisingly quite fluid.
“The day was so great,” he recalled. “Everything went so smoothly.”
It was also an uplifting experience, Allen said, complete with words from Democrat legislators who voted against House Bill 2 and personal stories from transgender people.
The rousing success—the concert raised more than $20,000 for EqualityNC—got people’s attention.
“The day after the concert, I started getting emails about getting on the road,” Allen said.
So, he set to work again, setting up dates in cities across the state from now through September. Stand Against HB2-North Carolina Musicians United for EqualityNC and QORDS will appear in Winston-Salem this month, then follow its July show in Wilmington with concerts in Asheville and Charlotte.
Rather than boycott performances in NC, as many big-name acts like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have done, the musicians behind the initiative believe in affecting real change, Allen said. Three of the performers involved with Stand Against HB2–BJ Barham of American Aquarium, Caitlin Cary, the powerhouse vocalist formerly of Whiskeytown, and solo artist Jon Lindsay—formed NC Music Love Army, a group that arose in protest of legislative actions coming out of Raleigh back in 2013.
“The musical community here has always been very activism focused. All across the state, the music community has a very loud voice,” Allen said. “While you can get on social media and rant and rave, legislators don’t really care what you have to say. We wanted to do something to raise money that we could give to an organization that can go out and do something.”
So far, 11 bands have committed to the Wilmington concert: Kamara Thomas Band; Phaze V; Johnny Folsom Four; Sad Magazine; Jefferson Hart & Ghosts of the Old North State; Blue Cactus (Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez); Someone’s Sister; OG Merge; Happy Abandon; Benjamin Bruno Rose; and DJ Pangean. Another 12–including The Love Language, SCOTS, The Connells and Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands—are possibilities, though have not been nailed down. Allen is also working with a couple of Tarheel record labels in hopes of landing a major headliner.
And he wants each stop to include local musicians. He has reached out to several Port City projects, like L Shape Lot and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, but is still working out details and definites.
The list of bands may change a bit depending on availability but Allen said all those who appear with Stand Against HB2 are donating their time and talents. Allen has launched a GoFundMe campaign simply to help offset the bands’ travel costs. With a goal of $10,000, Stand Against HB2 had raised about $1,700 as of Tuesday afternoon. Allen said the campaign will remain active through the final show in Charlotte at the end of September.
Stand Against HB2 is set for Sunday, July 31 at the Brooklyn Arts Center, 516 N. Fourth St. While the specific line-up and schedule is to be determined, Allen said tickets will be $20 in advance ($25 day of show), with children 12 and under admitted for free.
Concert updates will be posted on Stand Against HB2’s Facebook page.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at email@example.com.