Arcade Fire's lead singer was accused of sexual misconduct. Why can't fans get ticket refunds?
Some fans feel uneasy attending concerts in light of accusations against Win Butler
WARNING: This article contains content about sexual assault and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
When tickets to Arcade Fire's tour dates went on sale in May, Adam Lazarus quickly snatched up a pair for himself and his wife. Both were huge fans of the Canadian rock band, which rose to supernova status in the early-2000s with a critically acclaimed sound and a global audience.
"At this moment in the pandemic, I was really excited that they were coming back. I liked the new album a lot and wanted to go see it as a celebration," the Toronto theatre professor told CBC News.
But just a few months later, music publication Pitchfork reported that Arcade Fire's lead singer, Win Butler, had been accused of sexual misconduct by four people. A fifth allegation was published by the same outlet this week.
As the band's two opening acts — first Leslie Feist, then Beck — left the tour, Lazarus and other fans quickly made a decision to get a refund on their tickets.
But they couldn't, because the ticket retailers, tour promoters, and even Arcade Fire itself aren't offering refunds to the wider public.
"If Win Butler wanted to do the right thing, he should have said, anyone who feels uncomfortable being in that room, I'm giving you a refund," said Lazarus, who has tried to get a refund for months to no avail.
With the band's Canadian leg set to kick off on Friday in Vancouver, Ticketmaster and Live Nation have kept mum as fans call on them to offer ticket refunds, with several fans telling CBC News that they felt uneasy attending the concert knowing of Butler's alleged sexual misconduct.
'It's just grossly unfair'
Pitchfork's initial report detailed stories about Butler from three women and one gender-fluid person. All were fans of Arcade Fire during the period they were in contact with him.
The three women said they had sexual interactions with Butler — in a timeline stretching from 2016 to 2020 — that they "came to feel were inappropriate given the gaps in age, power dynamics, and context in which they occurred." The fourth person said Butler sexually assaulted them twice in 2015.
Butler apologized for causing hurt but denied the allegations, saying that he has never touched a woman against her will.
Arcade Fire did not respond to CBC's request for comment. CBC could not independently verify the allegations as reported by Pitchfork.
The band has five concerts scheduled in Canada between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3, with a single show scheduled in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal, and two shows scheduled in Toronto.
While there's no official avenue to get a refund, several ticketholders contacted by CBC News said that they had successfully refunded their tickets in quiet social media exchanges with Ticketmaster, Live Nation and its subsidiaries — but only after causing a ruckus online.
WATCH | Some frustrated Arcade Fire ticket-holders want refunds:
One such person is Roxanne Harde, an English professor at the University of Alberta who bought five tickets to Arcade Fire's Vancouver concert to celebrate her daughter Erin's birthday. They were mostly excited to see Beck, but appreciated the double-bill nevertheless, she said.
Then the allegations of sexual misconduct were published, and Beck dropped out of the lineup.
"I don't want anything to do with Arcade Fire right now," Harde told CBC News.
Harde sought a refund of her tickets. When formal avenues failed, her daughter began hounding Ticketmaster on social media in the hopes of getting their money back, and heard from other people who'd successfully done the same. Harde herself began talking to the company on Twitter and Facebook.
"I mean, this is a bait and switch on the part of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, right? This is not the scheduled show. Beck was, for us at least, and I think probably for a lot of fans, as much of a draw as Arcade Fire," said Harde.
Harde got a refund on her tickets Wednesday, shortly after this interview. But before that, she questioned why Ticketmaster and Live Nation wouldn't give fans the option of refunding under these exceptional circumstances.
"There's a lot of personal investment, emotional investment in being a fan and following a particular musical act and it's just grossly unfair that they get to treat us this way," she said.
Live Nation still promoting show, writer says
'It would be extremely disappointing to not be able to to take your money back ... especially for Arcade Fire fans who themselves are victims of sexual assault," said Jill Krajewski, a Toronto culture writer.
(Disclaimer: Krajewski worked on contract for Live Nation as a social media manager in 2013 and 2014, but had no connection to tour bookings).
"An ethical business would have many more avenues for refunds," she said.
Krajewski tweeted that Live Nation was still advertising the concert on social media, which she considered even worse.
Ticketmaster and Live Nation did not respond to a request for comment. Evenko, the tour's Montreal-based promoter, redirected CBC News to Live Nation.
Ticketgoers rights 'not always' clear: lawyer
"Unfortunately, in situations like this it's not always entirely clear what rights a ticket purchaser might have," said Paul Banwatt, a Toronto music lawyer and musician.
Fans who want to buy a ticket to see their favourite artist have only one point of sale in the primary market, he added.
"There's one place to buy the ticket, and so you either buy the ticket there and accept all of those terms — you know, no refunds or whatever else it might be — or you don't go. Those are your choices," Banwatt said.
"So that, I think, is part of why it feels particularly painful when things go wrong, because you had no choice in the first place and there was only one option."
Typically only offer refunds to cancelled performances
This isn't the first time Ticketmaster is dealing with a scenario like this. Typically, they have only offered refunds to cancelled performances, even when the artist in question had been accused of sexual or physical misconduct.
That was the case in 2019, when singer-songwriter Ryan Adams was accused of sexual misconduct. His show was officially cancelled and Ticketmaster offered refunds. The same was true of a 2013 Chris Brown performance, and a 2018 R Kelly performance.
But when Hedley frontman Jacob Hoggard was accused of sexual misconduct, an investigation by the Canadian Press found that Live Nation-owned companies were issuing refunds to fans while others weren't. But, much like Arcade Fire's shows, the Hedley concerts hadn't been cancelled.
Lazarus, in addition to contacting Live Nation, also reached out to the concert venue and to his insurance company. A response from the latter left him floored: he would have a better chance of getting a ticket refund if he cited Beck dropping out as the reason, not the sexual assault allegations, he said.
With just a few days to go until Arcade Fire arrives in Toronto, Lazarus won't go to the show — and he won't resell his tickets either, he said.
"I don't want to support this guy right now. I'd rather stay home."
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.
With files from Eli Glasner, Laura Thompson and Griffin Jaeger