Watch CBS News

Chicago Matisyahu concert canceled after threat of protest by pro-Palestinian activists

Activists claim victory after cancellation of Matisyahu concert in Chicago
Activists claim victory after cancellation of Matisyahu concert in Chicago 02:22

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Friday night concert featuring American Jewish reggae singer and rapper Matisyahu at the House of Blues was canceled due to the threat of protests.

The show was canceled abruptly on Friday – hours before it was scheduled to go on. Ticketholders received a notice from Live Nation – with no explanation as to why – only letting them know their refund was on the way.

"We were coming to this concert out of peace and love," said one woman, Susan, who purchased tickets for the concert. "We wanted to be in community and to be happy."

Matisyahu posted an apology on social media Friday afternoon.

"Dear Fans, it saddens me to write this to you. Our sold-out show tonight at the House of Blues Chicago has been canceled due to the threat of protests. While the true details surrounding this decision remain opaque, and while the responsible parties all point fingers at one another over the decision, I can assure you there have been no threats of violence received by our security team, who have been vigilant in knowing what is happening in each city," Matisyahu wrote.

Matisyahu said the House of Blues has paid him despite the cancellations, and he will donate the proceeds to help the families of hostages held captive by Hamas. He said he was making the donation "in honor of International Women's Day to acknowledge the women and girls still held captive by Hamas as well as United Hatzalah of Israel, an emergency medical organization run by volunteers from all backgrounds, Jew and Muslim alike."

Matisyahu continued: "While my fans and I are deeply hurt by this, please know we will not cower to these bullies and the pressure they exert. The ramifications of such tactics go beyond me and the Jewish people. These individuals and the organizations that break under their pressure threaten the bedrock of artistic expression, intellectual honesty, and empathy between people with different views and concerns. We will continue to play shows. And we will always stand tall against hate and march towards the true goal of a long-term peace for all."

Matisyahu In Concert - Austin, TX
AUSTIN, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 10: Matisyahu performs in concert during the "Hold The Fire Tour" at Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater on February 10, 2024 in Austin, Texas. RICK KERN / Getty Images

On Thursday, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network-Chicago and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression announced plans to protest Matisyahu's performance – calling Matisyahu a "racist, Zionist musician" and asking demonstrators to tell him he is "not welcome in Chicago."

"We will not allow for a musician who has performed for the Israeli Occupation Forces, raised money in support of Israel and the AIPAC lobbying group, and who continues to deny ongoing genocide, to perform in our city," a letter calling for the cancellation of the concert read.

"In the city with the largest Palestinian population in the country, and during a time when our loved ones are being massacred back home, the House of Blues has the nerve to host someone who gleefully supports Israel," USPCN-Chicago leader Lara Haddadin added in a news release issued Thursday. "As far as we're concerned, the House of Blues is complicit in the genocide."

U.S. Palestinian Community Network Co-Chair Nazek Sankari said the letter in the group's campaign received over 1,000 signatures.

"The music is inherently political, as is food - and especially in this moment where we are more than 150 days into a genocide that we are watching in real time against the Palestinian people," said Nazek Sankari

But after the show's cancellation, the protest was also canceled. USPCN posted to social media: "When we organize, we win! Through all our relentless pressure we put on the House of Blues and Live Nation, the concert of the racist Zionist Matisyahu tonight was canceled! Chicago has made it clear that it stands with Palestine, and supporters of the #GazaGenocide are not welcome here!"

"This is an incredible victory. I haven't stopped smiling since thinking about it," Sankari said Friday night, "because it really shows that our collective organizing works."

But ticketholders like Susan were disappointed.

"We were so hopeful that we could have this beautiful night together," she said.

Matisyahu has already had several shows canceled in recent months.

Last month, a show at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Rialto Theater in Tucson, Arizona, were both called off – with Matisyahu reporting the staff at the venues refused to come to work.

Matisyahu wrote on social media at that time that the Santa Fe venue had "misinformed" fans that the cancellation was due to "security concerns" when the staff was unwilling to work on his show. He also wrote that he offered to supplement staff shortages at the Tucson venue at his team's expense, "but to no avail."

"They do this because they are either anti-Semitic or have confused their empathy for the Palestinian people with hatred for someone like me who holds empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians," Matisyahu wrote in February. "It is truly a sad day when dialogue with those you disagree with is abandoned for hate-mongering and silencing artistic expression."

According to published reports, other shows have gone ahead despite protests – including one in Minneapolis this past Wednesday night. Matisyahu also played in Milwaukee on Thursday night, and is scheduled to appear in Detroit and Cleveland on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively.

Meanwhile, dozens of Chicago Police squad cars were seen Friday night patrolling around Marina City where the House of Blues is located – even with no protest going on.

The protest organizers said their efforts do not stop with the Matisyahu concert. They plan on taking their message to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

CBS 2 reached out to Live Nation and to Matisyahu's representatives. Neither had responded by 10 p.m. Friday.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.