Last week, the Historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda announced that it would present a concert by Ted Nugent at the venue in August.
The Riviera has been consistently booking artists in the classic rock demographic Nugent occupies for the past few years, so on the face of it, this gig sits comfortably between shows at the venue from the likes of the Tubes, Pure Prairie League, and a long list of touring tribute acts celebrating such artists as Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac and Foreigner.
However, the Nugent booking is a much thornier affair.
The Michigan-born guitarist and NRA board-member is a notorious mouthpiece for extreme right-wing views and has long employed the concert stage as a rally style podium for racist, homophobic and misogynistic statements. He’s used racial slurs repeatedly during his shows, including toward Barack Obama, both while he was president and after. At an Artpark show in 2011 I reviewed for The News, Nugent held up an assault style rifle and urged Hilary Clinton to “sit on it.” He’s referred to feminists as “pigs,” immigrants as “scum,” Muslims as “terror punks,” and hip-hop artists as “big uneducated greasy black mongrels.”
The Riviera Theatre's Nugent announcement came while the world was still reeling from an act of white nationalist terrorism that claimed the lives of 50 Muslim worshipers in two New Zealand mosques on March 15. For one local music lover, business-owner and devout concert attendee, the coincidence was too much to bear.
“With the state of our union being what it is, I think allowing any hate-spewing entity a forum is an issue,” said Thomas Heneghan, who voiced his displeasure to the Riviera Theatre, threatened to cancel his membership, and then created a “Boycott Ted Nugent at The Riviera” event page on Facebook. “This isn't about politics, it's about him being repugnant. The Army canceled a Nugent show in the past (in 2012, at Fort Knox, following Nugent’s racist rant regarding Obama) and I’d dare say that's a pretty conservative outfit.”
Others expressed similar outrage over Nugent’s impending arrival via social media, including @BestOfTheBee, who tagged me in the following Tweet: “My hubby just told me @RivieraTheatre booked @TedNugent for concert, so we're canceling our membership, we can't believe they booked that screwball, can you guys find out who else is canceling? I bet more are.”
“The mission statement of the Riviera says this: ‘Our primary vision is to create a diverse cultural and educational entertainment venue that enriches the community and region,” ’ Heneghan said. “I'm not sure how featuring someone who called Hillary Clinton a ‘toxic (expletive),’ and President Obama a ‘sub-human mongrel’ enriches the community and region.”
It’s difficult to imagine that Nugent’s words on immigrants, as excerpted on Westword.com, would check the “diverse cultural and educational” box on the Riviera’s mandate. “Foreigners are (expletive); foreigners are scum. I don't like 'em; I don't want 'em in this country; I don't want 'em selling me doughnuts; I don't want 'em pumping my gas; I don't want 'em downwind of my life … and I'm dead serious...."
“This is the culture and the world that we live in, and this is the entertainment business,” Riviera Theatre executive director David Fillenworth said when I asked how the Riviera squares Nugent’s vitriol with its mission statement. “We booked him as a musical act, and we want this to be about the music. We’re offering people the opportunity to come if they want to or stay away if they want to.”
But what of Nugent’s propensity for hate-fueled rhetoric during his shows?
“We’ll be asking him to tone it down,” Fillenworth said. “But this is Ted Nugent. He’ll do what he wants to do. And we’re not about censorship.”
That leaves the decision squarely with you, folks.