Meow Wolf Calls Off Matisyahu Concert

Activists say they joined workers to push for the last-minute cancellation over artist’s message on Israel-Gaza war

Following pressure from local activists and a last-minute staff shortage, Santa Fe arts corporation and music venue Meow Wolf canceled a Valentine’s Day show with reggae artist Matisyahu on Tuesday evening just before the proverbial curtain was set to rise.

“Yesterday, we canceled a concert at the House of Eternal Return,” reads a statement Meow Wolf Vice President of Public Relations Kati Murphy issued to SFR. “Two hours before the show was set to begin, we found ourselves without adequate staff to safely manage the sold out crowd. Meow Wolf will always prioritize the safety of our employees and our guests. We are in the process of refunding ticket holders.”

Members of Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, Santa Fe Jews for a Free Palestine, the Santa Fe Democratic Socialists of America, Showing Up For Racial Justice in Northern New Mexico and the Santa Fe Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine say they asked Meow Wolf to call off the concert and planned a protest at the venue because Matisyahu has been an outspoken supporter of the Israeli campaign in Gaza.

“Local activists, advocates and community members inundated Meow Wolf with calls and social media posts throughout the day preceding the event until the Meow Wolf phone line was disconnected,” reads a joint statement from the groups Thursday.

Samia van Hattum from Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine tells SFR she and others learned the show had been canceled while they were en route. About a dozen people held a short demonstration in front of Matisyahu’s tour bus anyway.

She says she considers the show’s cancellation a victory.

“He’s transphobic, he’s Islamophobic and [Meow Wolf] is an organization that talks about equity and inclusivity,” van Hattum says. “I don’t know what the due diligence is like on the back end of these shows, but he has an entire tour booked. I didn’t think we thought we could actually get the show canceled, so it feels like a really important win in Santa Fe that hate speech was not given a platform.”

She and others have pointed to various social media posts and interview quotes from Matisyahu as deeply problematic. The joint statement, for example, cites a Newsweek piece from last month wherein the artist said, “I would like to see any terrorist, Hamas, or person who believes Israel has no right to exist or the Jews have no right to it, I would like Israel to destroy those people.” Such rhetoric has even followed Matisyahu out of New Mexico and into Arizona, where Tucson’s Rialto Theatre, the next scheduled stop on his ongoing tour, made an announcement today via Instagram similar to that of Meow Wolf’s which reads, “Due to safety concerns and staff shortage, the Rialto Theatre is unable to continue with tonight’s Matisyahu performance…We will always prioritize the safety of our employees and our guests.” The post says the Rialto will refund ticket holders as well.

Matisyahu (aka Matthew Paul Miller) is a Jewish American reggae musician who first rose to prominence following his 2004 debut album, Shake off the Dust…Arise. Since then, he’s released well over a dozen records, EPs and singles. Early on, Matisyahu made waves due to his Hasidic Orthodox background and the traditional clothing he wore while performing, though he ultimately left the orthodoxy to reportedly embrace his evolving ideas of Judaism.

Alex McDonough of Santa Fe Jews for a Free Palestine says most people likely don’t know that Matisyahu has controversial views, particularly since reggae is most often associated with phrases like Bob Marley’s “One Love.”

The demonstration came together rather quickly, McDonough says, with most protesters unaware Matisyahu would be performing in Santa Fe until late Monday.

“I didn’t know quite how racist his posts had gotten lately,” he says. “I’m Jewish and I listened to his music a lot in college; but I feel really good, honestly. I want to live in a community that calls out racism, and I think what makes us safe is when we come together against all forms of racism.”

The Meow Wolf Workers Collective union, meanwhile, has publicly called for a ceasefire in Gaza through its social media channels. Though union leaders did not respond to SFR’s request for comment, the statement issued by demonstrators says union members and leadership also advocated for the show to be canceled.

Others tell SFR they’re outraged by the cancellation. A statement from the New Mexico Jewish Community Relations Coalition, which represents “a broad coalition of 25 nonprofit religious, educational, advocacy, cultural, and assistance organizations representing the diverse perspectives of the Jewish community in our state,” says that “Matisyahu became a target only because of his identity as a Jew with an affinity toward Israel.”

The group also sent a letter to Mayor Alan Webber and Meow Wolf CEO Jose Tolosa decrying the cancellation and offering to work “with you in any way necessary to guard against further attacks on free artistic expression.”

Zachary Benjamin, a spokesman for the coalition, tells SFR the action has broad consequences. “We think that at its essence this is an unfortunate example of an artist being deprived of an opportunity to practice their craft in New Mexico relatively explicitly, because of his background and religious, personal beliefs,” Benjamin says. “This is troubling to us; we believe it sets a dangerous precedent; we’re talking about what we perceive as a potential act of bias, so this is something that, as a Jewish community, is of concern to us—and as New Mexicans.”

Mayor Alan Webber released a statement late Thursday making his own feelings on the matter clear.

“There is a significant difference between protesting against the policies of the Netanyahu government in Gaza and shutting down the performance of a Jewish-American artist in Santa Fe,” the statement reads. “There’s no excuse for antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry, bias, racism or intolerance, not here, not now, not ever. The war in Israel and Gaza is a humanitarian tragedy, and we should all join in the call for the safe return of all hostages and an end to the killing. We need to see peace in the Middle East.”

A publicist for Matisyahu directed SFR to the artist’s Instagram page, on which he posted Tuesday: “The venue tonight in Santa Fe has canceled our sold out show without our permission. We fought to prevent that from happening but they’re saying they do not have enough staff. We’re sorry to everyone that had tickets and we will be back!”

The artist also posted a tweet late Thursday which read, in part:

“My band and I should have played a sold out show at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe last night and we were excited for tonight’s show at the Rialto Theater [sic] in Tucson. Instead, the staff at these venues refused to come to work, forcing cancellations. Without our permission or approval, the venue in Santa Fe misinformed our fans canceling the show due to ‘security concerns’ when the only concern was a group of staff unwilling to work my show…it is truly a sad day when dialogue with those you disagree with is abandoned for hate mongering and silencing artistic expression.”Matisyahu’s political stance has bumped him from venues before. In 2015, organizers of a music festival in Spain that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, dropped him from a lineup because he would not endorse a Palestinian state. He described that incident to Newsweek last month as antisemitism and said his listeners are undeterred.

“When there’s pressure against us, we thrive,” the musician told Newsweek. " The level of unity and light pouring out from the Jewish world is unprecedented.”

As of last week, more than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israeli forces began military action following Hamas-led attacks last October on a music festival, the kibbutz of Nir Oz and other sites in Israel, which claimed the lives of an estimated 1,200 people. Approximately 240 people were taken hostage during the attacks; some have died or been killed since, and more than 100 have been released or rescued, according to Al Jazeera.

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