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Musicians Pull Shows From Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern After Cancellation of Pro- ​Palestine Fundraiser

The long-running live music venue has been criticized for the cancellation and response to the event, which included vulgar emails from one of its co-owners.

Show poster for the cancelled Horseshoe Tavern benefit show

Show poster for the cancelled Horseshoe Tavern benefit show

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Musicians are pulling their concerts from Toronto music venue Horseshoe Tavern following the cancellation of a Palestine solidarity fundraiser show and a number of contentious emails from venue co-owner Jeff Cohen.

At least six concerts have been moved from the Queen West bar, also known just as the Horseshoe, to new venues since the December 18 cancellation. Many local and international artists have also announced their intention to boycott.


Hip-hop duo Armand Hammer moved their upcoming January 22 show from the Horseshoe to the Great Hall, tweeting “venue change for t dot. we hear its f–k horseshoe tavern until further notice.”

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“We won't be playing the horseshoe again so long as they deny their venue to Palestine solidarity fundraisers,” wrote long-running Toronto punk band Fucked Up, who’ve played many pivotal shows at the venue over the years. “Needless to say, we will never play the horseshoe tavern,” echoed English band Crywank. “Please let international touring acts going there know what transpired as it’s less likely the news will reach them. “

Many other concerts have been moved from the Horseshoe to new venues in recent weeks.

  • A show featuring Canadian bands Rachel Bobbit, His His, Jay Feelbender and Essie Watts, part of Exclaim!’s annual Class of 2024 series, has moved to Longboat Hall on January 13.
  • Talking Violet and Velvet Beach have moved their January 20 show to The Garrison.
  • American rapper Domo Genesis’s February 27 concert has moved to The Great Hall.
  • Mannequin Pussy’s May 11 concert has moved to the Concert Hall.

While they aren't all confirmed as a response to the cancellation of the pro-Palestine benefit show, the venue changes have all come in the less than two weeks since it happened.

The December 18 event was set to feature artists and bands LAL, Holofernes Head, Oxalis and Scooter Jay. It was a fundraiser for the Toronto Palestine Community Defense Fund and humanitarian aid organization Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The Toronto Palestine Community Defense Fund launched to provide financial aid to protesters facing legal action in solidarity with Palestine including a disruption of the gala for Canadian literary award the Giller Prize and an action in the window of an Indigo bookstore, which led to 11 people arrested. It was set up by local groups Showing Up For Racial Justice - Toronto and Palestinian Youth Movement Toronto.

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The event was initially scheduled as a separate "Battle of the Bars" concert, co-organized by musician Brandon Lim who plays in the band Scooter Jay. After multiple bars were unable to join, Lim had a different idea.

“We’d postpone the event to next year, and switch to doing a fundraiser show with local bands, performing and raising money for a charitable cause,” he tells Billboard Canada. “We decided it would be Palestinian-related.”

Shortly before 10 a.m. on the day of the event, Lim says he received an email from Craig Laskey that it had been cancelled. Laskey, a talent booker and owner of independent Toronto concert promoter Collective Concerts, had been corresponding with Lim since late-August about the event.

Lim says Laskey told him in a phone call that the venue was getting bombarded with phone calls and emails. When Lim asked what the calls and emails pertained to, he says, Laskey refused to elaborate and hung up on him.

“He was very brief and short with me, and would not discuss any details,” he says. “[He] would just repeat, ‘people are upset.””

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Kayley, a co-organizer of the event who doesn’t disclose her last name, also reached out to Laskey via text. According to Kayley, her phone number was soon blocked.

“I don’t doubt that they did get complaints, but there’s ways we conduct ourselves in this industry,” says Kayley. “A day-of cancellation is not the way we do this, especially if these complaints [they] were getting [happened] days previous. We could have relocated, we could have had a conversation.”

Later that day, Lim shared a statement via Instagram which called out the venue for cancelling the event.

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In the statement, Lim listed emails and phone numbers for Laskey and Horseshoe Tavern co-owner Jeff Cohen and encouraged those upset by the cancellation of the show to call or email them directly.

People across the music scene, from artists to showgoers to union members, shared on social media that they had contacted the venue to voice their concerns.

Cohen wrote back in a number of emails, which Kayley calls homophobic and racist.

DJ FERALCATGIRL shared an email they received from Cohen that said “yup, today I was complicit in murdered innocent civilians in Palestine. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to being anti-semetic [sic]. What hot air. Lol… It’s a live music venue / Not a place for extreme dogmatic idiots / with tuccus for brains.”

They also shared another vulgar email from Cohen to another individual that reads, “I certainly do, being Jewish and all the taste is amazing, I don’t have to spit it out like when you suck Hamas cock in-between their rape of young women. Just saying.”

The emails were screenshotted and shared on Twitter and Instagram, with many local and touring musicians expressing their disgust.

“It probably would’ve likely just gone away if [Jeff] hadn’t responded to any of those emails,” says Kayley. “I don’t know any business owner that would think that was a good idea.”

When contacted by Billboard Canada, Cohen attributes his emails as a reaction “divisive” emails first sent to him.

“I am being sent vicious hate e-mails looking to get reactionary response back from me so they can post it online,” he writes. “I’m guilty of a couple of reactive responses (since I’m human) but now I realize two wrongs never make a right."

The same statement was posted to the Horseshoe's Instagram stories, which explains the situation from Cohen's perspective, apologizes to artists and ticket holders and acknowledges his actions.

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“We do not hold political (or religious or partisan dogmatic) events,” writes Cohen. “Our venue isn’t interested in picking a side over another in a century long Middle East conflict that has no end in sight - We are equally saddened by both the horrific events of Oct 7th committed by the terrorist org Hamas and the subsequent Israeli military response and ongoing horrific humanitarian crisis it has caused! We apologize to any of the artists due to perform, or ticket holders, who perhaps were not even aware this was a political event.”

“To that end you will unfort see the full force of local extremist dogmatics (who are partisans and who have picked a side) all attacking our music venue, owners, management, and especially me. - We will be accused of anti-semitism and hate against Jews/Israel for having booked the event, then similarly accused of being anti-Palestinian for having cancelled...”

He says that he contacted the promoters to ask “if this was in fact a music fundraising concert or a political rally supporting Palestinians and specifically anti-Israel - Their response revealed it was an ‘Anti-Zionist’ political rally.”

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According to Lim, in his correspondence with Cohen and Laskey, there was no mention of a political rally, but rather a benefit.

Lim says he provided Laskey with the cause they’d be fundraising for during the event and the poster. He made one last-minute change, switching the fund they would be donating to from the Palestine Children's Relief Fund to the Toronto Palestine Community Defense Fund. Laskey responded with, “no issue at all” according to Lim.

He says he also sent Laskey and Cohen an email about Cohen’s concerns, clarifying the defense fund had no military association, outlining who the funds assisted and acknowledging that the event could be controversial.

In an email to Billboard Canada, Laskey says, “I would like to be clear that the cancellation of the show in question was in NO way politically motivated.”

Laskey is careful to make a distinction between Cohen, The Horseshoe and Collective Concerts. He clarifies that Collective Concerts does not own either Lee’s Palace (where it also books many shows) or the Horseshoe Tavern and that “Jeff Cohen no longer works with nor represents Collective Concerts in any way.”

Cohen was removed as a director and an employee late 2022 and April 2023, he says, and “though he remains a minority shareholder, he has no say in the operation or decision-making of the company.” He’s had “no contact with the corporation or its operations since 2022 when the other owners collectively terminated his employment and severed his ties to the company intentionally and permanently,” he writes. "Since then we have continued to compel him to divest himself of his minority shares."

On the Horseshoe Tavern’s website, Cohen and Laskey are both listed as co-owners of the venue, while Laskey is listed as the booker. Cohen did not respond to a follow-up email from Billboard Canada.

Kayley says that while the issue is with bookers and owners, the venue’s staff shouldn’t be penalized.

“The sentiment that I’ve gotten from the more front-of-house staff is that they are deeply disappointed,” she says. “I think it’s important that we do not focus our energy or anger towards the people who are the face of that business.”

The co-organizer also says that while holding the venue accountable is important, it shouldn’t shift the conversation from the real point of their advocation.

“The most disappointing to me about this whole interaction is that it has taken a lot of focus away from the actual issue, which is that we want a free Palestine,” says Kayley. “This was a local community show to raise funds for people that have been wrongfully prosecuted for protesting this genocide overseas.”

“‘Let’s not get political’ is a very outdated way of thinking,” she says. “Music is inherently political.”

The fundraiser show has now found a new home at It’s Ok* Studios and will take place on January 10.

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