The concert, which was to begin at 2 p.m., reportedly drew a few thousand people to a city park but left the giant field mostly empty. Fans waited until 9 p.m. for some of the main acts to take the stage while some advertised acts didn’t appear, according to the New York Times.
The all-day concert, one of three shows for the annual Reggae Carifest, was picketed by members of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to alert concertgoers to anti-gay lyrics the group claims promote violence against gays and lesbians.
Clear Channel-owned WWPR 105.1 FM, a sponsor of the event, reportedly pulled its support a few days before the concert after GLAAD protested the hip-hop station’s involvement.
"Buju Banton and Bounty Killer continue to perform songs with virulently homophobic lyrics that in some cases support the murder of gay people," the activist group said. "It is unacceptable for Clear Channel, the concert promoters [Team Legendary] and the other sponsors to provide these performers with a platform to promote messages that put lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in harm’s way."
Although Clear Channel didn’t give a reason for pulling out, a spokeswoman for the station said it rarely plays reggae and never plays Banton or Killer.
Two of Banton’s hits, "Boom Boom Bye" and "Batty Rider," include lyrics that seem to condone anti-gay violence. Bounty Killer’s "Another Level" and "Good Luck" suggest that gay men be "wiped out."
The controversy of anti-gay references in reggae music elevated a few years ago when a gay-rights activist was killed in Jamaica.
A statement from the city’s Parks Department, which runs Randall’s Island, said all performers had signed a code of conduct agreeing to avoid singing anti-gay lyrics at the promoter’s request.
"This is a city that values the free speech of all artists, but we also are a city that does not accept intolerance. We are glad the artists have agreed to refrain from hateful messages," the statement said.
However, Banton was later quoted by NY1 News as saying the protestors "are ignorant, they are stupid, even though they proclaim to be intelligent."
This isn’t the first time Banton, or other dancehall artists including Beenie Man and T.O.K., have met with protests and even cancellations because of anti-gay song lyrics.
The organizer of last year’s Reggae Gold Live concert to promote HIV / AIDS awareness at NYC’s Webster Hall canceled the event because of protests against performances by Beenie Man and T.O.K.