Ranchers Rankled By Joan Jett Pick For SD Float

Some South Dakota farmers and ranchers are upset by the selection of singer-guitarist Joan Jett, a vegetarian and animal rights advocate, to perform on the state’s float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Photo: Chris McKay / Music Midtown
Music Midtown Festival, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Ga.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are scheduled to appear at the annual event in New York City, riding on the float that promotes South Dakota tourism and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial located in the Black Hills.

South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President Cory Eich, who farms and ranches near Canova in eastern South Dakota, said Wednesday he thinks it was a mistake to select Jett because she is a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which promotes a vegetarian diet and criticizes livestock production practices. Her stands don’t mesh with South Dakota, a state where the cattle industry makes up a huge part of the economy, he said. The Rapid City Journal first reported some South Dakota residents were upset with the pick.

“To me, it seems like a huge blunder,” Eich said. “I guess I couldn’t disapprove more. I don’t understand what they were thinking.”

South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said many people have mistakenly assumed state officials selected Jett to appear on the float. None of the artists the state proposed were available or willing to appear in the parade, so Macy’s selected Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, he said.

“It’s not because of any ill will Macy’s is trying to create or anything,” Hagen said. “They were just trying to do what they thought would be a great artist for us.”

Hagen said state officials are sensitive to the concerns of the livestock industry, particularly since tens of thousands of cattle and other livestock were killed in the massive rain and snow storm that hit western South Dakota in early October.

Larry Gabriel, a former state lawmaker and state agriculture secretary who ranches near Quinn in western South Dakota, said Jett is entitled to her beliefs, but he hopes she doesn’t use her appearance on South Dakota’s float to promote her vegetarian beliefs or PETA.

Kristen Foster, a spokeswoman for Jett, said that Jett has played in South Dakota countless times and is a fan of the state. Jett just accepted a gracious offer to appear on South Dakota’s float, she said.

Dan Mathews, senior vice president of PETA, said the livestock industry is being defensive because it is the South Dakota industry most destructive to the environment, human health and animals.

“We’re surprised that ranchers want to draw attention to themselves by being crybabies over the appearance of a vegetarian icon such as Joan Jett on the state’s float,” Mathews said in an email.

Eich, of the Cattlemen’s Association, said PETA wants to destroy animal agriculture and added that farmers and ranchers treat their animals well.

“You don’t mistreat your livelihood,” Eich said.

Hagen said the state paid $175,000 to support the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and have a float in the event, and $5,000 of that goes to pay expenses for the artist on the float.

Hagen earlier had said Jett is a rock ‘n’ roll legend who appeals to a generation of visitors that South Dakota wants to attract.

He noted that more than 3 million people are expected to watch the parade on the streets of New York, with more than 50 million watching the event on television nationwide.

“It’s never been about the artist for us in terms of who’s on that float. It’s about the fact that Mount Rushmore and South Dakota can be seen and heard by tens of millions of people,” the tourism secretary said.

Neil Diamond appeared on South Dakota’s float in 2011, and Don McLean, singer of “American Pie,” appeared last year.