Musicians Banding Together to Beat Bush

Times Staff Writer

In one of the most ambitious efforts by entertainers to influence a presidential election, a group of marquee-level pop musicians announced Wednesday an October concert blitz aimed at mobilizing opposition to President Bush.

The tour will send more than 20 artists -- including rock icon Bruce Springsteen -- to perform more than 34 shows during a single week in nine states viewed as campaign battlegrounds. Concert organizers hope to not only raise money for efforts to defeat Bush, but attract publicity to that cause and sway voters.

Along with Springsteen, who will be making his first direct foray into electoral politics, those participating include the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and John Mellencamp.

Many of these artists long have been politically active. But Springsteen has held back from overt partisan activities, although his music has long explored working-class frustrations and other social themes in spare and poetic language.


“What we are doing here is the direct outgrowth from the ideas that I’ve tried to sing about for the past 25 years,” Springsteen said in an interview. “Hopefully, we have built up a lot of credibility with our fans over the years. There comes a moment when you have to spend some of it. This is that moment.”

The tour is bound to intensify the simmering conflict between Bush’s campaign and the entertainment industry’s liberal elements, which have become a rapidly growing source of support for his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry.

After several entertainers ridiculed Bush at a Kerry fund-raiser in New York last month, the Bush campaign derided the event as a “Hollywood hate fest.”

Privately, some conservative strategists welcome the growing activism for Kerry among entertainers, believing it could help them portray him as part of a “cultural elite” hostile to traditional social values.

“Most people don’t look at these big-name entertainers as representing mainstream values,” said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Bush’s campaign. “I think it could backfire for John Kerry, who is going around the country saying he represents conservative values.”

The musicians participating in the shows rejected the idea that they were out of the mainstream.

“We’re from Georgia; Springsteen is from New Jersey,” said Mike Mills, the bassist for R.E.M. “This is no media elite. These are concerned citizens speaking out in the most efficient manner we know how.”

The groups signed up for the tour appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences, from Springsteen’s predominantly baby boomer following to the Dixie Chicks’ heavily female base and the younger fans that flock to Dave Matthews and hip-hoppers Jurassic 5.

Springsteen, like many, is dubious that many people will switch their vote simply because a musician they admire endorses a candidate. “People say [that] people are hypnotized by celebrity,” he said. “To some degree that’s true. But they are not hypnotized by celebrity opinion. In the end, you’re just another voice.”

But the artists and concert organizers are hoping that, across all the demographic slices the various acts reach, the tour will present a case against Bush to many Americans who don’t usually follow politics.

“This has the power to sound the alarm bell that will convince a lot of people who have given up on politics that they can’t wait this [election] out,” said Eli Pariser, director of the political action committee linked with the liberal online advocacy group MoveOn.Org.

The MoveOn PAC is helping organize the tour.

Sensitive to the backlash from Kerry’s July fundraiser in New York, several of the tour’s performers say they intend to take a respectful tone toward Bush.

“I think it’s important to speak in a measured voice,” said Springsteen, whose closest previous brush with partisan politics occurred when he chided then-President Reagan for associating with his music in the 1984 campaign.

“We want respect for the office of the presidency,” Springsteen said. “We don’t want to be Bush bashers. We are Bush questioners, is the way I would put it.”

Boyd Tinsley, the fiddle player in the Dave Matthews Band, was even more conciliatory. “I want to say this: I don’t hate George Bush,” he said. “I think George Bush, like me, loves America. And I am here speaking to you because I love America. He’s doing what he’s doing because he loves America. I disagree with him.”

It remains to be seen, of course, if all the musicians hold to this standard. Some already have been sharply critical of the president -- Pearl Jam recorded a dismissive song called “Bushleaguer.”

And in interviews Tuesday at a New York recording studio, a few tour participants made clear they would aggressively critique his presidency, especially the decision to invade Iraq.

“My biggest fear is the threat of terrorism, and the way to deal with that is not the way this current administration has been dealing with it,” said Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks -- a country group that faced boycotts and radio bans of its songs after one of its members said last year she was “ashamed” to be a Texan, like Bush.

Maguire added: “I think the war was a side issue.... I feel like this administration has alienated a lot of our international leaders and counterparts who should be aligned with us.”

Along with the record-breaking sums of money both Bush and Kerry have raised and the sharp partisan divisions in opinion polls, the tour is a measure of the intense passions the 2004 campaign has generated.

“We have alienated ourselves from our most important allies; we’ve got a country that is more split than I can remember ever in my lifetime,” said Dave Matthews, who was born in South Africa but long has been a naturalized U.S. citizen. “There is a feeling of desperation that is almost an emergency right now in this country.

“I would be derelict in my duties as a citizen of this country if I keep what I feel right now inside,” Matthews added. “I have to get up and say, ‘This is my position.’ ”

All concert proceeds will go to America Coming Together, the leading group attempting to register and turn out Democratic-leaning voters this fall.

The ad hoc artists’ group organizing the tour, which calls itself Vote for Change, does not explicitly endorse Kerry. Instead, in a statement released Wednesday, the group describes itself as “a loose coalition of musicians brought together by a single idea -- the need to make a change in the direction of the country.”

But most of the major artists participating said they intended to make clear during the shows that they backed Kerry. “I will certainly say that I want people to vote for John Kerry,” Matthews said. Still, enthusiasm for the Massachusetts senator varies among the tour participants. Springsteen, for instance, remained qualified in his praise.

“I don’t think Kerry and [John] Edwards [the Democratic vice presidential candidate] have the answers to all the questions,” he said. “But I do believe that they are interested in asking the questions. What does it take to move in a more equitable direction, to regain our standing in the world?”

In 2000, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder was a prominent supporter of Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacy. But Vedder said he would support Kerry this year in the hope of ousting Bush.

Vedder said he was attracted by Nader’s call for fundamental social change in 2000. But he added: “Right now, it’s a different situation. It’s hard to talk about remodeling the house when the basement is on fire.”

Typically, entertainers wanting to help a cause or candidate have played one or two benefit concerts in a large city, primarily to raise campaign money. But this tour will attempt to raise money and influence voters by dispatching artists for a concentrated series of shows on the same night in one battleground state after another.

The musicians will perform not only in Democratic strongholds, but in many of the swing communities Kerry and Bush are targeting in their campaigning.

When it kicks off on Oct. 1, the tour will include six shows across Pennsylvania, ranging from Springsteen and R.E.M. in Philadelphia to Pearl Jam in Reading, Dave Matthews at State College and the Dixie Chicks in Pittsburgh.

The next night the artists will play six shows across Ohio, targeting communities ranging in size from Cleveland to Toledo; on Sunday, they will play in Michigan -- not only in Detroit and Ann Arbor, where Democrats dominate, but in Grand Rapids, a Republican stronghold.

After dividing across Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Carolina over the next few nights, all of the artists will hold concerts in six cities in Florida on Oct. 8.

The performers also intend to conduct interviews with local newspapers and television stations to publicize their case against Bush. Several said they still had not decided how much explicit political content they would include in the shows themselves.

“We are going to play it by ear every night,” said Stone Gossard, the guitarist for Pearl Jam. “I think the main concentration will be playing music. But just by being out on the same night as all these bands, we are expressing a message of unity and collectiveness, and that is the strongest message we can send.”

The idea for the tour grew out of conversations between Pearl Jam and its manager, Kelly Curtis, over how to respond to political requests the band was receiving as the election year began. Curtis called Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager, who was facing similar questions.

With the help of Jenny Toomey, director of a group called Air Traffic Control that matches artists with causes, the conversations grew into a meeting of some 50 managers and artists in New York in April. When someone at the meeting suggested a mega-concert involving a large list of bands, Landau made the proposal for dispersing the artists through simultaneous tours.

After that meeting, Curtis, Landau, and Bertis Downs, Simon Renshaw and Coran Capshaw, the mangers for R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks and Dave Matthews, respectively, exchanged e-mails and phone calls to plan the tour.

The coalition of musicians decided to direct the money to America Coming Together after the MoveOn PAC told Landau that it wanted to participate as a way of boosting membership and spreading its message, but did not need the funds.

In the highly polarized atmosphere of this year’s campaign, the musicians said they expected a backlash from Bush supporters.

“Do I think we are going to get bashed?” Springsteen said. “Sure, in this political season, that’s coming. But I have written about very basic American principles for 25 years. I wasn’t kidding when we’re on that stage. And there are particular moments when you have to [say], ‘This is the moment when you take your place on the playing field and the chips are going to fall where they may.... ‘ “



Will perform for change

A coalition of musicians called Vote for Change will perform 34 shows in nine states over the course of one week in October:

Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie

Friday, Oct. 1... Reading, Pa.

Saturday, Oct. 2... Toledo, Ohio

Sunday, Oct. 3... Grand Rapids, Mich.

Tuesday, Oct. 5... St. Louis

Wednesday, Oct. 6 ...Asheville, N.C.

Friday, Oct. 8... Kissimmee, Fla.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band,

R.E.M., John Fogerty, Bright Eyes

Friday, Oct. 1... Philadelphia

Saturday, Oct. 2... Cleveland

Sunday, Oct. 3... Ann Arbor, Mich.

Tuesday, Oct. 5... St. Paul, Minn.

Friday, Oct. 8... Orlando, Fla.

Dave Matthews Band, Jurassic 5,

My Morning Jacket

Friday, Oct. 1... State College, Pa.

Saturday, Oct. 2... Dayton, Ohio

Sunday, Oct. 3... Detroit

Tuesday, Oct. 5... Madison, Wis.

Wednesday, Oct. 6... Ames, Iowa

Friday, Oct. 8... Gainesville, Fla.

Dixie Chicks, James Taylor

Friday, Oct. 1... Pittsburgh

Saturday, Oct. 2... Cleveland

Sunday, Oct. 3... Detroit

Tuesday, Oct. 5... Iowa City, Iowa

Wednesday, Oct. 6... St. Louis

Friday, Oct. 8... Tampa Bay, Fla.

Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo*

Friday, Oct. 1... Williamsport, Pa.

Saturday, Oct. 2 ...TBA

Sunday, Oct. 3... Grand Rapids, Mich.

Tuesday, Oct. 5... Kansas City, Mo.

Wednesday, Oct. 6... Des Moines

Friday, Oct. 8 ...Jacksonville, Fla.

John Mellencamp, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds

Friday, Oct. 1... Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Saturday, Oct. 2 ...Cincinnati

Sunday, Oct. 3... Kalamazoo, Mich.

Tuesday, Oct. 5 ...Milwaukee

Friday, Oct. 8... Miami

*Others to be announced

Source: Vote For Change

Los Angeles Times