International acts cancel shows one after another

By Bram Bessoff

Featured AJT Columnist

Bram Bessoff

So I got called out the other night while attending Friday night services for Saul Kaye’s residency at Temple Sinai because I’m not writing enough. Truth is I’ve been busy spending the summer trying to launch new websites for my companies, soundart.us and indiehitmaker.com. In fact I’ve been so heads down it took a music industry journal the other day for me to realize Israel was headed for their biggest concert season ever until Gaza heated up.

Starting off strong in May with Justin Timberlake and the Rolling Stones both rocking out to 50,000 strong in Tel Aviv, the season was abruptly halted when violence broke out again after the cease fire in mid-July. Citing insurance and security issues, many artists like Neil Young, Cee Lo Green, the Backstreet Boys, Megadeath and Lana Del Ray all canceled their Israeli summer gigs to the tune of $20 Million in lost revenue according to Billboard Magazine. It seems the only one still going ahead with touring plans into the holy land is Lady Gaga.

These cancellations are not politically motivated, most are driven by fear or so the artists’ PR people say. There is no formal boycott among those artists who are cancelling. Despite the usual suspects like one of my all-time favorites, Roger Waters, who has often spoken out against Israel wrote “I find it hard to believe you would turn your back on the indigenous people of Palestine…” to several artists including Neil Young begging them to boycott Israel on their upcoming tours – let it be known I don’t judge my artists on their beliefs, just their music. Eddie Vedder was also cited onstage in London criticizing Israel saying “[some people are] looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them.” But these comments could be equally directed to Russia as well.

It’s no secret that artists have taken a polar stance on Israel. Other artists to politically boycott the Jewish State in the past have included Elvis Costello and Cat Powers. Madonna on the other hand has played there four times, met with Shimon Peres and has been vocal on the latest troubles in Gaza without taking a side. But it seems the problem is not only with bringing in foreign artists. The national festival scene has been hit hard too. Israeli police have stopped granting permits for outdoor events and shows purely for logistical reasons –police and army resources are simply tied up with other priorities.

The final nail is of course the insurance companies. With the political strife and surmounting violence, insurance premiums have skyrocketed making underwriting new shows almost unaffordable and certainly not profitable. Both promoters and the artists back themselves up on floppy with insuring everything they are responsible for be it equipment, travel, weather, performance fees, etc. Like Israeli promoter Carmi Wurtman told Billboard “Lloyd’s of London will sell it to you, but it’s so expensive it’s not worthwhile.” The insurance prices add up so quickly and some necessitates are not even insurable at all, like getting a cancellation rider during a time of war – no one will cover you. Terrorism and war has brought the live music industry in Israel to a grinding halt in the height of season.

The last time Israel’s concert business suffered a setback like this was the 2008-2009 Gaza War with a price tag of $10 million lost in revenue from international acts and according to Carmi D. Wurtman, the CEO of 2b Vibes, the promoter behind the cancelled Cee Lo Green show “much, much more if you factor in the local live event business.” Talk about the trickle-down effect, cancelling these types of shows have huge ramifications for Israeli commerce. When shows of this caliber are cancelled on a wide scale during the height of tourist season when cities like Jerusalem are usually having events like this once a week, you can imagine the hit to local commerce – hotels, restaurants and local business owners who will never see their fair share of the tourist season profits. And when shows like this are cancelled in mid-tour, artists have to be put up in other places across Europe with large crews under enormously lavish contract riders that could make the most prominent promoters quickly go broke.

In spite of the chaos, several acts have expressed interest in rescheduling when things cool down. But industry experts are estimating the ramifications of the latest troubles in Gaza between Israel and Hamas will set the industry back a good year or two.

Putting aside the talk of lost money and revenues, we must never forget the reasons why one must fight to protect their beliefs and way of life. Without the bitter, the sweet never tastes as good. I’ll be sure to reflect on this while I dip my apple in honey this New Years. And I will ponder during my fast about what it must be like to live in a country where every day you might have to fight to the death for your right to be Jewish. Think about that during these High Holidays.

L’Shana Tova and may you have a meaningful fast.

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Bram Bessoff is a drummer and musician. When not onstage, Bram is a performance coach and music industry entrepreneur helping artists get the most out of their live shows and chart on Billboard. He sits on the board of directors as VP for The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. Interact with him at #InItForTheMoment to share thoughts, comments and ideas about this column.

Experience a different way to atone during the High Holidays. Join Bram and AJMF board member Bonnie Pucket for a Yom Kippur Hebrew Kirtan Chanting & Drum Circle led by Sunmoon Pie, Saturday, October 4, 3:30pm – 6:30pm at Ahavath Achim Synagogue 600 Peachtree Battle Ave NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30327.