MONTCLAIR, NJ – Picket signs lined the street on Bloomfield Avenue on Tuesday evening outside of the Wellmont Theater. Onlookers could hear chanting a few blocks down. “No Hate in the Garden State,” someone shouted from a bullhorn with a chorus of voices repeating over and again in unison.
Cars driving by slowed down to see the commotion. Police patrols stood between the protestors and the streets. An occaisional horn honk and wave would pass by showing solidarity with the protesters. One-hundred feet away stood concert-goers and fans expressing surprise at the commotion.
Outside of the Social Security building gathered at least 75 protestors of the Ted Nugent performance. Peaceful demonstrations took place outside of the Wellmont Theater. One protester with a bullhorn led chants while the crowd repeatedly shouted, “Ted Nugent must go,” “Shame on the Wellmont,” and other chants.
This came as a result of protesters circulating literature identifying statements that Nugent has said about various individuals and groups of people over the years that many have found to be offensive. Most recently, in February, Nugent abruptly ended an interview after referring to President Obama as a 'chimpanzee' and Hillary Clinton as having 'spare scrotums'.
As protesters chanted and sang, Melanie Valliere walked past protestors. She began reading the signs aloud as she walked past in awe. Valliere says that she was fan of Nugent's reality show and this was her first time at his concert. Making a guitar-playing motion with her hands, she said, “I came to hear ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. My parents were fans."
With a polite grin Valliere added, "We’re here for his music, not his politics. I’m a peaceful person. I like him because he cracks me up, but I don’t follow his political views."
While protesters stood holding signs, there was a guitarist who also played music. The crowd sang songs of both peace and protest, often changing the words to popular tunes to fit the occaision. While the crowd sang in protest, the fans trickled in.
Alan Myers, Bloomfield resident and member of BlueWaveNJ said, “Ted Nugent’s philosophy doesn’t fit Montclair, nor does it fit in with the majority of Americans.”
The crowd was filled with protest organizers and supporters from BlueWaveNJ, New Jersey Citizen Action, CWA, People’s Organization for Progress, community advocates and local citizens.
Concert-goer Brian Wunder expressed that he has been to at least six of Nugent's concerts and never saw protesters before. He said, “I’m an old fan. It doesn’t bother us much if that’s what they want to do with their time, Go for it. It’s kind of elementary. They’re making themselves look like a bunch of school children." Referring to protesters and the protests, Wunder added, "That’s not constructive criticism or a solution or anything."
Elected officials from across Essex County stood in solidarity with the protesters.
Assemblyman Tom Giblin said, “I came here to express my outrage at the appearance of Ted Nugent here at the Wellmont Theatre. I know the owners of the Wellmont Theater and expect them to have a higher standard as far as the type of people they bring into the community. This is really against everything that Montclair stands for. He’s got a reputation as a hate-monger and says something very insensitive as far as issues of gay rights and as far as civil rights are concerned. We can do better and we would hope that this doesn’t occur again in the future.”
Other elected officials came to show support to their colleagues and disapproval of the Wellmont Theater’s choice of performer. Also in attendance was Maplewood Mayor Vic Deluca and Newark Council President Mildred Crump supporting their Montclair colleagues.
Essex County Democratic Party Chairman Leroy Jones said, “What brings me here is the energy and excitement for people who are against hate with organizations like Citizen Action, Montclair BlueWave, CWA and other conscientious-minded citizens as well as good Democrats who wanted to come out and render their voice to say no to hate. Ted Nugent, who has been an espouser of hate, racism and bigotry which cuts against the fabric of what good, common and decent people believe in. We’re out here to say no to hate and no to Ted Nugent.”
At one point, there was a brief program where elected officials and community organizers took turns addressing the crowd.
Montclair Deputy Mayor Russo said, “I finally got the manager on the phone at 3 o’clock. We want to see that there will never be another person like Ted Nugent speaking or performing in Montclair with hate speech, homophobic speech, racism, sexism, this is Montclair, diverse, progressive. We’re not going to allow it. Sean, Renee, the Mayor, the council and I will try our best to stop any further shows like this in Montclair.” Russo told the crowd that the manager assured him that this will not occur again.
Montclair Councilors Spiller, Baskerville and Freeholder Gill were in attendance. Other Montclair councilpeople who had been contacted several days earlier, could not be reached for comment.
About a half block away stood the Nugent concert-goers and some of the Wellmont Theater staff.
In the middle of both groups, stood Mark Josephson looking on. Josephson responded to TAP into Montclair on behalf of the Wellmont, once before.
Mark Josephson, Executive Director of the Wellmont Theater, said, “Everybody is in favor of them protesting if that is their belief. That is the nature of life in a Democracy.”
Approximately a dozen police officers stood to ensure that the protesters do not block the sidewalk or street. When one concert-goer walked past the protesters showing off his tickets and trying to incite a reaction, the protesters ignored him and an officer made him move.
Other fans were surprised to see protesters. Having gone to other Nugent concerts in the past, they expressed never seeing protesters before.
Concert-goer Anthony Volk said, “I have been to his shows before. This is the first time that I’ve ever seen protesters. It’s kind of sad because I know a lot of it is out of context because the news media twists and contorts everything. I know how things get twisted and blown up out of context and this is probably what half of this is about. This is the news media at its best.”
Volk, who says that he has spent time with Nugent and his family continued, “I personally got to go on a hunting trip with Ted Nugent back in 1995. I’ve spent time with his family and I can tell you, he’s a very down-to-earth person. He’s not a racist. All of his musical roots are from the black influences of the1950s, all the blues players. So he’s probably one of the farthest things from a racist and if you go to one of his concerts, you’ll see all the homage he pays to those great blues players who were great at rock and roll. It’s something you’ll never see on any media channel. A lot of this is ignorance and false information."
“I think they were a little taken aback. I don’t think that this is normal for them,” said Josephson of Nugent and his band. “I asked the guy, ‘Do you get demonstrations often?’ and they said ‘no’.”
Greg Smith, Nugent’s Bass player, was walking down the street to the store unrecognized by protesters or many fans because observers were focused on the protests. Smith said, “I feel that they are uninformed and that they don’t know Ted at all. They don’t know what they’re talking about and it’s kind of insane. This is a guy who every night reveres the black founding fathers of rock and roll nightly on stage. He talks about Bo Diddley, and all the artists that basically started rock and roll.”
Smith went further to add, “I know the guy personally. He has core beliefs and he’s a family man and he’s a hard worker. We have had protesters before. It ends up on the news and people get curious and come to the show.”
Rob Banks, from Detroit, plays guitar with Pistol Day Parade on the Shut Up and Jam Tour with Nugent. Pistol Day Parade’s song, “Rockstar’s Girlfriend” debuted at 38 on Billboard charts. They were the opening act and have been touring with Nugent for the past three weeks. Banks, who has been a fan of Nugent’s since childhood expressed, “Obviously the protesters have a right to say whatever they want to say. To protest against a guy like Nugent who fights for the freedom for them to do that, is kind of backwards. Ted is an American and he believes in freedom, all of the Constitutional Rights and he fights for them. The Constitutional Rights gives them the right to do what they’re doing, so I find it hard to believe that they would protest him.
“This is a great place to play in a great city. It’s a shame that there’s so many liberals that don’t believe in the constitutional rights.” Banks has been touring with Nugent for about eight shows in the past three weeks and he said that this is the first protest. “This is the first time on the tour so far ever seeing any protesters.”
Chris Andrew bought tickets to see the show with friends. He said, “There’s always been controversy about Ted Nugent. A lot of people don’t like him because he pushes a lot of people’s buttons. He doesn’t say things as bad as comedians do. Comedic shows come out and really make fun of people and rip people apart. He says how he feels and it upsets a lot of people.” He added, “I’ve been to maybe ten shows and I have never seen anything like this. These people who really don’t know him and read a couple of blips in the media are taking things out of context all the time and he feeds into it too.”
BlueWaveNJ, was one of the protest organizers. Marcia Marley, President of BlueWaveNJ, said, “Intolerance will not be tolerated.”
Milly Silva, Montclair resident and former candidate for lieutenant governor, said, “It is disappointing that the Wellmont has agreed to invite him to use their venue as a place for perhaps what he may consider is his artistry. This is someone who represents a hate-filled rhetoric that is anti-American. If your venue is your venue, then you should say no and stand your ground."
"The reality is that people of Montclair like myself and my neighbors would have stood with the Wellmont to say no to Live Nation and tell them that we don’t want Ted Nugent in Montclair. I raise my children to understand that our words matter and Ted Nugent’s words are words that we want to make sure are not a part of our American conversation,” Silva concluded.
Josephson, continued, “The Wellmont is honoring our commitment to Live Nation, but you can’t have a litmus test for artists. I’m sure that we like artists that other people will find to be offensive. In this instance, we didn’t really get an opportunity to protest but in the future, we and they have agreed that they will run it past us before they do it. There’s only a handful of artists that can be offensive on this level. We don’t anticipate this being a frequent conversation, before an artist like this is booked, there will be a conversation.”