Why I Am Playing In North Carolina This Week

ok folks, here’s the topline byte you can pull, then read on for more discussion:

this week i will be playing two shows in north carolina because i think it’s necessary to gather queer community and straight allies at this important time; to continue supporting local venues that have long provided stages to queer and independent artists; and to demonstrate that there are actions we all can take to push back against discrimination.

and now, a longer thought:

on wednesday march 23, the north carolina state legislature convened a special session to propose and vote on state law HB2, which among other provisions, supercedes a municipality’s ability to create its own local anti-discrimination laws, replacing them instead with a state-wide code that contains no protections for LGBTQ north carolinians. many folks have written about the further nefarious consequences of this law and its effects on minimum wages and sick leave, but it is the clause about bathrooms that is getting the most attention. according to the law, a person must use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender marker on your birth certificate. 

i think this law is terrible and probably unconstitutional. i think policing bathrooms has nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with hate. i think these backdoor attempts to pre-empt local laws are incredibly dangerous.

many wonderful artists whose work i admire and who have long histories of effective activism are choosing to remove themselves and their work from north carolina. bruce springsteen is of course the most famous and recent, but the excellent broadway composer stephen schwartz has also taken the unusual step of saying he wont give permission for any of his shows to be put on in north carolina. i cheer on these actions, but they are not the right ones for me as an activist.

i am very proud of my diverse audience. in different places around the country it has different flavors and compositions. this is part of what makes touring so special for me. with the exception of the bay area and brooklyn, my queerest audiences are in north carolina, specifically in the triangle and asheville. it’s part of why i have been making yearly stops there since the late 90’s. 

before the passage of HB2, i had two shows scheduled in NC, this thursday april 14 in durham and the next night, friday april 15 in asheville. i will not be canceling those shows, and i think it’s important to be clear why.

first, one of the most important things that i can do as a musician is create space for community, and the folks who come together for my shows appreciate that for themselves as much as i appreciate being part of it. to get together in a room with queer and straight allies in north carolina right now is a very important act. you can be sure that i will highlight this from the stage, and you can be sure that i will be listening closely as NC folks tell me firsthand what is going on their communities.

second, the two venues that i’ll be playing at, the pinhook in durham and the grey eagle in asheville, have been homes to me for many years. i have had some of my most wonderful nights in those rooms, and the folks that run them are first rate good guys in a pretty bullshit business. beyond that, the pinhook has from its inception been clear that it is a space meant to support queer artists, and it was the first club i ever played at that had gender neutral bathrooms.

finally, as a touring artist coming into a venue, i have an opportunity to make some requests that could have some larger repercussions. ahead of our april 15 show, i asked the gray eagle to make their bathrooms gender neutral for the night. they already have one single user bathroom marked as such, but they enthusiastically agreed to make their other bathrooms gender neutral and put signs up telling their patrons why. sure, it is just for one night, but if you’re going to tour in north carolina, why not ask your venue to do the same? 

whether you are a touring artist or not, whether you are going to north carolina any time soon for any reason, there is plenty you can do as well to raise your voice about HB2. i’d point you to the work of organizations like Equality North Carolina and Southerners On New Ground, who have an awesome postcard to gov.mc crory campaign going on. they also invite you to #slay.

i try to keep my activism simple: do what feels right, do it responsibly, and keep learning.  you can get tickets to both show here. thank you!

thank you to Jenn Steinfeld for her excellent writing on this subject and her help in organizing my thoughts.

erin mckeown