Just days after the hit musical group Barenaked Ladies announced they were pulling out of a tour date at SeaWorld Orlando, country-music legend and animal welfare activist Willie Nelson also cancelled his own performance at the park’s Bands, Brew & BBQ Fest, which Nelson and his group were to kick off on February 1.
A spokeswoman in Nelson’s publicity office confirmed the cancelation and said it was due to “scheduling conflicts,” though she did not provide any more information. Another spokeswoman in Los Angeles said Nelson was on vacation and not available for comment. On Thursday, Nelson’s website pulled the concert from their schedules. Meanwhile, SeaWorld did not return an email request for comment.
Sources tell me that a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort was undertaken to reach out to Nelson with information on killer whales in captivity, especially in light of the Barenaked Ladies’ cancellation last week and the release of the international hit documentary “Blackfish.” Still, the exact reason for the cancellation was unclear. Nelson’s band members were recently involved in a bus crash, which might have affected their schedule.
Barenaked Ladies, the popular Canadian group, canceled their February 15 gig at SeaWorld after drummer Tyler Stewart watched “Blackfish” and was rattled by what he saw.
“We’ve talked things over and decided not to play at SeaWorld at this time,” the band said on their Facebook page. “This is a complicated issue, and we don’t claim to understand all of it, but we don’t feel comfortable proceeding with the gig at this time. The SeaWorld folks have been gracious and extended us invitations to the park to learn more about what they do, and how they do it,” they continued. “It’s not about money, or petitions, or press … but it is about our fans. We listen to them, and they’re important to us.”
The twin cancellation of two marquis acts is just one more blow to SeaWorld, which, it is fair to say, has had a bad year. Attendance in the first nine months was down by one million visitors compared with the same period last year. Many observers in the entertainment and business fields say the ongoing backlash from “Blackfish” is fueling the controversy.
“I am thrilled that yet another world-famous, socially conscious artist has chosen to cancel his SeaWorld performance,” said Samantha Berg, a former SeaWorld trainer and a leading figure in both Blackfish and Death at SeaWorld. “Mr. Nelson’s decision sends a powerful message that the exploitation of whales and dolphins for human entertainment is unacceptable and that it’s time for SeaWorld and other marine parks and aquariums to do the right thing and end the shows. Thank you Willie Nelson and Barenaked Ladies for standing up for what is right!”
For now, SeaWorld’s Bands Brews & Barbecue Fest has a rather anemic lineup. Booking major acts at the park, whether this February or any other time of the year, will become increasingly difficult as public pressure is brought to bear on potential performers. And that will hurt SeaWorld’s already tarnished reputation, not to mention its bottom line.