File photo by Justin Cook
Rhiannon Giddens, staying her ground
On Friday, Bruce Springsteen canceled his weekend performance at the Greensboro Coliseum
, a move that has received international attention. Springsteen's decision was one of many in a wave of calls for boycotts of the state
and event cancelations in response to HB 2.
Later that day, though, North Carolina native Rhiannon Giddens took her own stand, saying she wouldn't
cancel her concerts this week in Greensboro and Asheville as her own form of protest. What began as a brief tweet grew into a longer explanation on Facebook.
Giddens spoke to the INDY
this morning on why she feels like standing her ground onstage is important—and how she thinks everyone else can make a difference, too.
INDY: You published your post about how you absolutely didn’t want to do a boycott in the wake of HB 2. Why was that important to you?
Well, I didn’t say anything about boycotts in general. I just said I wasn’t canceling my shows in the wake of Springsteen canceling his Greensboro show. It’s not a criticism on him. He’s a different musician than I am, clearly in stature and not from North Carolina. However, he should make the decision he thinks best.
But, for me, I’ve been involved in the fight here against Amendment 1. I’ve been having a voice and saying things about stuff that’s been going on. I went to the rally that was at the Baptist church near downtown. I didn’t think anything substantial would be gained by my canceling my shows. I just figured, from my limited platform, especially in comparison to somebody like Bruce Springsteen, it would be better to actually talk about it, and to not abandon the people that are here. I think that we have to have a community—and we do have a community here—of people who are against the bill and against the kind of prejudice and small-minded thinking that bill represents. We have to be here for each other. It was instinctual.
Did you have any pressure to cancel those shows?
No. I just tweeted that
, and the tweet got pushed to my Facebook, and I was shocked by the response that it got, so I wanted to elaborate. I wanted to make sure to elaborate so that people knew what I was trying to say. A lot of people responded, but it was a good conversation to have. My whole artistic life stands for not shying away from the truth and history, and not shying away from what’s going on now. I feel like it’s a relevant conversation to have. As a part of the Chocolate Drops and as a solo artist, I’ve been a big promoter of North Carolina. I just can’t stay silent.
In the responses to your post, people seemed either pro-cancelations or pro-boycotts, while other people take issue with you taking a political stance at all.
For the most part, the responses were fairly positive. I have read every comment on my page. I got rid of a couple profane responses. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me. There’s even some that are on there that support HB 2. There was a lady who was like, “You can’t say that you’re fighting a battle while you’re putting on a show that you’re getting paid to do.” I could also cancel, and then all of my guys don’t get paid, and the crew doesn’t get paid, and the theater doesn’t get paid. So, yeah, I’m continuing with my shows, but I’m saying something about it, and I’m saying something in my shows about it. I’ve spoken to people in rallies about it.
People were coming, new to my page, maybe because I posted it, and they just think I sing songs for a living. Every show, I talk about slavery. I talk about oppression. I talk about stereotypes. I talk about hidden corners of history that need to be aired. Every show I do is fighting a fight. I know what my job is, and I’m going to do my job. And if I can convince one person in my audience who hasn’t read the bill and maybe didn’t think it was that bad of a thing to read it, great.
I’ve written songs of protest. I’ve put them out there. I have a limited platform, but I’m going to do what I can with it, while not betraying what I’m already doing, which is already fairly heavy. I’m not just singing a bunch of love songs. I already have a mission, and I’m willing to take a piece of that for this thing, because it’s such a huge deal. I’m doing what I can do.
Is it Freedom Riding? No, I never said it was. I just do what I can. I feel like if we all do what we can, then we can get somewhere, whether that’s with Bruce Springsteen canceling and making headlines, or whatever.
What are your thoughts on people boycotting at large?
It’s up to everybody’s conscience. I tend to think that both approaches are valid. I know the boycott of South Africa was a huge deal, but so also was Paul Simon’s promoting Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and that culture went around the world, and also
highlighted what was going on in South Africa. It’s not simplistic. I don’t think one approach works.
If someone disagrees with me, that’s fine, but tell me why you disagree, and I’ll say why I tried to do it. And if you don’t want to come to my shows, that’s fine, it’s your choice. But we have to have a civil conversation about it. That’s something I feel really strongly about. Maybe I might change my mind, maybe you might change yours, or maybe we won’t. But there’s no chance for any of it if we can’t talk in a civil manner.
Have the responses to your refusal to cancel surprised you at all?
I’m always kind of surprised with people saying stuff when they don’t really know details. I always think twice before I post, and I wish people would do that more. I try not to take it personally, but it’s hard, because I’ve worked really hard and given a lot. I could’ve gone a very different route in my musical career. But I’ve chosen ways that take a lot of work. I’m saying stuff every night that people could be really upset with.
I just hope that people, as they discuss these boycotts and things like that, start thinking about what they can do. It’s important not to put too much expectation on what a performer can do. A performer like me—I’m doing everything that I can, but what are you
doing? Is there anything that you
could be doing? Can we do things together? We need to keep working on community healing and solidarity and know that everybody has power.
It seems like no matter what approach you take, there are going to be folks who think you aren’t doing enough.
Oh, absolutely. I guess that’s the ultimate thing—whatever it is, as a public figure, people are going to get mad at you. So you have to do what is according to your conscience, but you also have to know what that is. You have to really do the work, and know yourself, and know the thing that you’re talking about, and know the issues. If you’re going to say something, be confident in it, and stand by it.