After days of online debate, a show cancelation, and a last-minute rebooking away from Capitol Hill, Buju Banton's Seattle performance went on without complication at Studio Seven on September 27. Protest was virtually nonexistent, amounting to rumors of a lone individual passing out fliers with lyrics to "Boom Bye Bye," Banton's infamously inflammatory song advocating violence against homosexuals, which was the source of the controversy [see "Bad Buju," Sept 28]. While the specter of the controversy loomed over the evening's festivities, the show ultimately amounted to little more than an entertaining night of drinking and dancing, not protesting.
Word of the late performance's increased attention had made its way into Studio Seven's earlier all-ages concert, with some audience members commenting quietly among themselves about the situation. Outside, the line grew down the block, with most conversations lingering on everyday topics. The most passionate reactions came in response to the logistics of the night, as some attendees didn't find out until they arrived at Neumo's about the show's rebooking across the city.
Questions regarding Buju Banton's homophobic statements were met with ambivalence. One male shrugged when asked about the situation. "It was 15 years ago... I mean, I am African. When I first moved here, I didn't like gays, but since then I've grown to tolerate them."
As the doors opened to let customers into the show, any tension that had existed dissipated as people headed to the bar; business as usual. A bartender described the hours leading to the concert as "shit" to a customer, going on to say, "They've been calling and leaving messages all day. It's like, 'Fuck you!'" raising her hands in disgust over the day's contentiousness.
Buju Banton took the stage in a bright-red Che Guevara T-shirt to rapturous applause just after 1:00 a.m. In all of the discussion of Banton on various blogs, little mention was made of how engaging a performer the man is. Banton commanded the attention of everyone in attendance, jumping, high-stepping, and dashing from one side of the stage to the other with the energy (and sweat production) of an aerobics instructor, singing every song with conviction. The set spanned continents and genres, with incorporation of American surf-rock classics and African folk songs, all morphed into a dancehall/reggae template. Touring in support of his latest album, Too Bad, Banton played a combination of newer material and favorites, but upon the request of Studio Seven owner Tracy Moody, the singer avoided playing or even alluding to "Boom Bye Bye."
As the set progressed, Banton began to slip in thinly veiled statements regarding the controversy. At various points in the evening, he positioned himself as a soldier in the "spiritual battle" between good and evil, with those in the audience also having chosen the side of good. He expressed the importance of freedom of speech and spoke words of tolerance, but was also unapologetic and defiant, never denouncing his past statements. Instead, he blasted his critics, saying they needed to do more research, that he was far from the "monster" they've made him out to be in their "concocted bullshit." Banton described himself as the victim of a "dehumanization campaign" by "the gays." These statements were well received by some audience members, while others just waited for the next song to start.
The show concluded around 2:30 a.m. with an energetic encore and words of gratitude from Buju Banton for his audience and supporters before he left the stage. The concert was ultimately an anticlimax to the days of heated debate and speculation. The evening ended with no protests, no threats, no violence, and no calls to action against homosexuals. Banton's tour bus loaded up at the rear of the club, preparing to leave for the next stops on the tour, with early reports of similar controversy and more show cancelations just starting to percolate around the internet.
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When informed of the lack of protests, Neumo's co-owner/booker Steven Severin expressed disappointment at the whole situation and a desire to move on. "I find it a little frustrating that people can come and protest here, but when it gets a little inconvenient, no one shows up. We received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls" that ultimately prompted the show's cancelation out of public-safety concerns.
"Everyone can cause a big stink," Severin says, "but they don't realize that that big stink cost us a lot of money." With a hint of resignation, he sighs, "I just want to get back to booking great shows and bringing in good music."