Cypress Hill Show Cancellation Spurs Free Speech Lawsuit

Promoter moves to stop Dixie College from blocking show by rappers and rockers Murder City Devils.

A college's cancellation of a concert featuring rappers Cypress Hill and garage-rockers the Murder City Devils has triggered a lawsuit charging breach of contract and restriction of free speech.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by an attorney for the Provo, Utah-based concert promoter Soularium Music claims that when Dixie College of St. George, Utah, cancelled Soularium Music's First Annual Spring Break Bash, the college engaged in "content-based restriction on Soularium's right to free speech and free association."

"There's quite a large conservative constituency in Utah [and] I think there's some stigma attached to rap," Mark Comer, president of Soularium Music, said. "I think they heard that Cypress Hill's following is a rough crowd, and they started to get a little paranoid."

The lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order that would prevent Dixie College from cancelling the concert. A hearing on that order is scheduled to take place Tuesday, according to Soularium's attorney, George Adondakis.

Because Dixie College is a state institution, the lawsuit also names the Utah State Board of Regents, which, according to the suit, "is vested with the control, management and supervision of state institutions of higher education in Utah." A Board of Regents representative did not return a call for comment.

Comer said he was flabbergasted when college official Steve Bringhurst informed him Monday that the concert, which had been scheduled for April 2 at the school-owned Burns Arena, had been cancelled. An estimated 2,000 tickets already had been printed for the show, Somer said, and his company had already paid Cypress Hill $14,500, half their fee.

Adondakis provided a copy of a contract Bringhurst signed March 2, in which the college agreed to host the concert. The attorney said he began negotiating Wednesday with representatives of Dixie College to try to find an immediate resolution to the dispute.

Bringhurst -- the executive director of Avenna Center, the sports complex of which Burns Arena is a part -- refused to comment on the case, but Comer said the official told him that the college was cancelling the concert in part because of concerns over security. According to Comer, Bringhurst said that the college was concerned that the show might attract "gangs" to the campus.

Dan Larsen, Utah assistant attorney general, said the college is concerned that the concert would bring in more kids than the police force could handle. Thousands of high school students on spring break are expected to flock to St. George -- considered the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., of Utah -- on the weekend of April 2.

"I suspect there's more to it than that, though," Adondakis said. He added that he wasn't certain that the negotiations would secure a resolution, but that he was confident of a victory if the case should make it to trial.

Beginning with their self-titled 1992 debut album, Cypress Hill -- Sen

Dog, B-Real and DJ Muggs -- have openly endorsed marijuana smoking,

praising its virtues in their music and onstage, and taken on other

controversial, sometimes violent subjects. Their 1998 song "Looking Through the Eye of A Pig" (RealAudio excerpt), for instance, is rapped from the point of view of a corrupt cop.

Nevertheless, Larsen insisted, "We're not trying to ban the band. We didn't know anything about the band. This isn't a Marilyn Manson case."

A spokesperson for Sony Music, Cypress Hill's record label, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Although the Murder City Devils' wild concerts have been known to include such antics as lighting the stage on fire, Somer said that he didn't believe their presence on the bill played a part in the college's decision to cancel the show.

A publicist for Sub Pop Records, the Murder City Devils' record company, did not return calls for comment.