Taking full advantage of its first majority in North Carolina government in decades, the state Republican Party has pushed through a conservative legislative agenda. Among the most high-profile — and contentious — of the initiatives has been the passage of House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, widely known as HB2. Opposition to the bill has been widespread, and across the state a coalition of musicians has banded together to host a series of “Stand Against HB2” benefit concerts, including one at The Orange Peel on Sunday, Aug. 28.
That show will be a marathon event, running from 3 p.m. until midnight, and will feature more than 15 North Carolina-based performers, including local artists Gary Jules, Fireside Collective and — in her first post-stephaniesid show — vocalist Stephanie Morgan.
“I’m not much of a protester,” Morgan admits. “I like to help build momentum for something I like [instead of working] against something that has a lot of momentum moving in the opposite direction.” Being involved in the Stand Against HB2 concerts, she says, allows her to “be part of the build.”
North Carolina is home to “a really resilient community of artists and creatives, people who know how to make things happen,” says pop artist Brett Harris, from Durham, who will play the Asheville concert and is also a veteran of two other Stand Against HB2 shows. “We’ve seen it time and again with Moral Monday protests and the North Carolina Music Love Army: We don’t go away quietly.”
Harris continues, “As a person of faith, I’m deeply offended by what I see going on.” He considers HB2 “completely antithetical to the gospel that I read and try to live by.” In the face of what he characterizes as a “breeding ground for hate,” he believes, “the only thing we can do is to speak love.”
While there are many components to the controversial law, the two provisions within it generating the most controversy are one that strips local governments of the authority to make and enact their own anti-discrimination laws, and another that requires all persons to use only those public restrooms that correspond with their gender as designated at birth. To address that issue, there are two transgender speakers on the bill, Candis Cox and Lara Americo, says organizer Mike Allen. Plus, “Someone’s Sister is an LGBTQ band, as is shirlette ammons.”
Even among professional musicians opposed to HB2, there has been a variety of responses. Bruce Springsteen led the way for a boycott of North Carolina. In a statement announcing cancellation of a Greensboro date, he wrote, “To my mind, [HB2 is] 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 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.”
Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile took a different approach. Characterizing the law as “thinly veiled legislation … that permits the discrimination of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in N.C.,” she said that “to cancel my shows in N.C. would further oppress my fans who are hurt by this legislation.” Carlile will perform at The Meadow (at Highland Brewing Co.) on Saturday, Sept. 10.
Many musicians based in North Carolina would also like to see HB2 repealed but often depend upon gigs in their home state for their livelihood — hence this series of concerts aimed at changing the legislation. The first Stand Against HB2 show took place at the Haw River Ballroom near Chapel Hill and raised a little over $20,000, says Allen.
“You don’t have to be a musician to help,” he points out. Allen volunteered to steward the concert series, designating funds raised to benefit Equality NC, a statewide organization that raises awareness about issues affecting the LBGTQ community. “I’m not a musician. I’m just a guy. And I want my state back,” Allen says.
The adverse effects of the bill extend well beyond the LGBTQ community, says Matt Hirschy, Equality NC’s director of advancement. He calls HB2 “a bill that has cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, whether that be tax revenue, spending or earned revenue from events.” Hirschy describes Equality NC’s mission to “advocate, elect and educate North Carolinians to a pro-equality mindset. Show proceeds go directly to those efforts as we move into [elections in] November.”
Hirschy appreciates the varying principled stands musicians are taking on the hot-button topic of HB2. “At the end of the day, the artists who come from out of state to perform here, or choose to boycott the state, are doing so because they feel strongly about the issue,” he says. “It’s a very serious decision for folks like Bruce Springsteen to make a call and cancel their show. But I also support artists who want to come here and play here and invest in groups that are working to make North Carolina a better place.”
WHAT: Stand Against HB2: North Carolina Musicians United for Equality NC
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Sunday, Aug. 28, 3 p.m.-midnight. $15 advance/$20 day of show