Breaking: Michelle Shocked shocks at Yoshi's with anti-gay rant
by James Patterson
East Texas singer and Grammy nominee Michelle Shocked rocked Yoshi's in the Fillmore Sunday night not with her music but with a vicious religious rant against gays and same-sex marriage that had angry fans storming out of the club and others looking confused and puzzled.
Yoshi's management cut her mic and shut off the lights shortly after her outburst.
[Updated 3/20: Today, Shocked ended her silence and she now says her hate-filled diatribe against gays at a San Francisco club was "misinterpreted."
"I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else)," Shocked wrote in a statement to Fox News and reported on the New York Daily News' website. "I said that some of His followers believe that."
After clubs across the U.S. and Europe canceled all but one of her appearance dates, she now says, "I am damn sorry."
Shocked, whose website says she is "the most sophisticated hillbilly you'll ever meet," now says she does not believe "God hates faggots." She added: "If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them." This reporter, who was at Sunday's concert, wonders what stopped her from saying that at the time.
Only one person laughed at Shocked's "jokes" that night: Shocked herself. Fans did not walk out laughing. They walked out with expressions of pain and betrayal on their faces.
The Bay Area Reporter was the first source to report some fans, three by this reporter's count, at her March 17 Yoshi's performance thought she did not mean what she said. Many more said they were "confused" and did not know if she had made pro-gay or anti-gay remarks.
Shocked's apology has not soothed angry Yoshi's management. A club representative tweeted Monday: "She will never be back."
For an audio link and transcription, go to www.johnmbecker.com/2013/03/20/michelle-shocked-audio-emerge ]
Shocked (real name Karen Michelle Johnston) took the stage March 17 and remarked there was an "invisible man" on the stage. She said she needed an avatar. Some fans looked confused at these remarks. She encouraged the audience to tweet her comments and song requests. Matt Penfield, an audience member from San Francisco, joined Shocked on stage to follow her tweets as she sang.
Shocked's first set, approximately 65 minutes, was highlighted with hits like "Anchorage," "Memories of East Texas," and "Midnight Special." For "Graffiti Limbo" Shocked was joined by a harmonica-playing fan named Mr. Bungo, who later identified himself as Colin Epstein from Albany. The audience sang along with Shocked on some of her numbers.
At one point, Shocked, 51, who was arrested in 2011 in an Occupy LA protest, stopped to read tweets. In response to a request for a gospel song, she said, "I love me some Jesus." In the middle of another song, she made a political statement about medical debt related to an Occupy issue.
During a brief intermission, Shocked tweeted: "Truth is leading to painful confrontation."
But things started to fall apart for the signer during her second set, which she said was "all about reality." She immediately began a rant that left the audience stunned. She said she was tired of Christians hiding behind the cross.
"When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization and Jesus will come back," she said.
Loud gasps were heard from the audience. Many fans walked out.
"I believe the Bible is the word of God," Shocked continued. More audience gasps were heard. More fans exited and some shouted pro-gay sentiments including "Gays deserve to marry," "That is a rotten and horrible thing to say," "Jesus loves people," and "Don't bash people for who they are."
One woman shouted: "Don't say that shit in San Francisco."
Shocked replied, "Where do I go to say it?"
In response to audience reaction, Shocked offered a Spanish prayer that "God loves you. God loves us. God loves us all everywhere." Later, in English, she said: "God bless us everyone."
Many fans questioned the singer out loud: "What are you saying?"
With a broad smile, Shocked said. "You are going to leave here and tell people 'Michelle Shocked said God hates faggots.'"
That comment produced more gasps and more departures. Two-thirds of the audience had walked out by this point. Some left the club; others retreated to the club's bar.
It was then that the show ended.
A Yoshi's manager announced, "Thank you for coming ladies and gentlemen. This show is over."
"It's not over," Shocked protested and she continued to sing. Management cut off her microphone and shut off the stage lights. Shocked continued to sing for her few remaining fans.
Audience members stunned
Many audience members were stunned at the turn of events.
"I like her music, not her homophobia. She is a bitter and sick woman," said Susan Ashcroft, a 23-year Castro resident.
Ina, from San Mateo, who declined to give her last name, said she was "stunned and surprised" by Shocked's rant. George, who also declined to give his last name, said he didn't "pay attention to her political statements."
Shocked has a reputation for saying controversial things in an off-beat way. That caused some fans to think she might have meant the opposite of what she said. Erin McKay said she was confused and didn't know if Shocked had made an anti-gay or pro-gay statement.
Harmonica accompanist Epstein was clear on what he heard. "People misinterpreted her ironic comment," he said. "She didn't mean it. It was her comment on hypocrisy." He said he understood her "message." Others did not.
Penfield, who served as Shocked's avatar and invisible man, walked off the stage during Shocked's rant.
"She said hateful things about gays and she was aggressively promoting a religious agenda I disagree with," he said. He said he left the stage because he did not want it to appear he supported her hate speech.
San Franciscan Cindy Icke said, "It was the most homophobic thing I've ever heard. It was not irony. If it was, she had plenty of time to clarify it and she didn't."
Mindy Oppenheim, also of San Francisco, thought Shocked made the comments for publicity.
"It might be career suicide in San Francisco for her to say these things, but the fundamentalist right-wing people will love her for it," Oppenheim said. She added she thought "it was very classy of Yoshi's to cut her off." She said she would not see Shocked if she returned to San Francisco.
Casey Caston and partner Paul Hocker, from San Francisco, "liked the first half of the show" but were among the first wave of fans to walk out. In the lobby they reconsidered and walked back to the stage and kissed in front of the singer.
"It was our little protest," Hocker said.
Nancy Lopes of San Francisco wondered if Shocked had succeeded in getting her fans to "join the conversation?" She certainly got people talking tonight, she said.
One man, who did not want to be quoted, suggested Shocked had "a breakdown of some sort during the performance." One other fan suggested the same.
Another man, who said he "did not want to be quoted in the Bay Area Reporter," said, "You damn people are everywhere." He declined to clarify his statement.
After the performance Shocked was off the stage and talking with three fans. The B.A.R. asked her to clarify her comments. She seemed interested but a reporter heard one of her fans tell her, "It's a gay paper." Shocked again said, "God bless us everyone." She thanked her fans, began sobbing, and ran from the stage.
Yoshi's manager Chris Osborne declined to comment on who made the decision to end the show early. He said Yoshi's would give refunds on the show. Advance tickets were $22 or $25 at the door.
Oppenheim expressed a popular view of the singer's performance. "I was shocked with Michelle Shocked."
[Updated 3/18: Lisa Bautista, Yoshi's director of marketing, who was not present for Shocked's performance, said her staff was justified in shutting down the show. Club manager Chris Osborne and sound project manager Keith Yansurat managed the show and they made the decision to end it when Shocked became offensive.
"Michelle Shocked has appeared in three performances at Yoshi's and she never demonstrated any anti-gay or racist views," Bautista said. She added that they had no advance warning this would happen and they would have canceled her if they had known what she intended to do.
"Michelle Shocked will definitely not be coming back to Yoshi's," Bautista said. She said other venues have been calling to verify what happened Sunday evening. "It is a very unfortunate situation and we apologize for it."]