WHO NEEDS bread and circuses when you’ve got networking and rock ‘n’ roll?
For every Democratic delegate who is bound for the convention in Denver, desperate to influence the platform committee, there are plenty more looking for the best entertainment acts and the hottest parties -- and they’ll have plenty of choices.
As the politics have drained from our national conventions, high-level socializing, entertainment (with a purpose) and a chance to brush elbows with celebrities have become the real action at the quadrennial get-togethers. From studio heads to character actors, Hollywood’s most devoted politicos have revised their vacation plans to make a place for the convention, with its myriad sideshows and soirées. There may be more SAG cards in Denver next week than in Hollywood.
There’s something -- actually two or three somethings -- for everybody. For the industry elite, the toughest challenge will be to maintain an orderly social calendar at the convention, which begins Monday and ends Thursday with the acceptance speech by nominee Barack Obama at Denver’s football stadium.
For the sake of those who may be trying to get into some of these events -- and for the rest of us who think the spectacle tells a lot about where the Dems’ heads are -- here’s a guide to the highlights, arranged in convenient categories:
THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS: Obama has had a wide celebrity following from Day 1, and an eclectic lineup of acts will be in Denver to provide the soundtrack. Monday night, Rock the Vote is calling in Jakob Dylan, Fall Out Boy and others to inspire revelers at its party at Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright, Thelma Houston and Margaret Cho will perform at the “Rock to Win” concert at the Fillmore Auditorium on Tuesday night. The Black Eyed Peas will headline the Creative Coalition’s concert at the Fillmore on Wednesday night, but if you want to go, you’ll have to give up the chance to see Kanye West at the Exdo Event Center. (He’s playing for the ONE Campaign and the Recording Industry Assn. of America.)
If this all seems too mainstream, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is host of an outdoor indie music festival Wednesday evening at the Manifest Hope Art Gallery. The event includes such bands as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cold War Kids, Nada Surf, Death Cab for Cutie and She & Him. (No, the band wasn’t named after Hillary and Obama.)
For nostalgia buffs who fondly recall the tear gas and rubber bullets that ended Rage Against the Machine’s performance outside the 2000 DNC in Los Angeles, the band will do an encore performance in Denver for the antiwar/anti-Bush group World Can’t Wait. (The band will also be playing the following week during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, presenting yet another chance for a police confrontation. Gas masks are optional.)
A MOVABLE FEAST: The Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan public advocacy organization for arts and entertainment, is offering a plethora of events boosting an impressive list of celebrity attendees, including: Ellen Burstyn, Zooey Deschanel (the “She” of She & Him), Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Modine, Alan Cumming, Fran Drescher, Dana Delany, Tim Daly, Rachael Leigh Cook, Gloria Reuben, Kerry Washington and Lynn Whitfield.
The group is opening the convention with a gathering Sunday night that will feature director Spike Lee. They’ve also mixed in a variety of receptions, including one honoring Annette Bening for being, well, Annette Bening. (No word on whether husband Warren Beatty will be there.)
And for those celebs who miss their screening rooms, the premium cable network Starz is throwing a weeklong film festival. The network will also offer a variety of panels and receptions; confirmed guests include Charlize Theron, Rosario Dawson and Kerry Washington; actors Ben Affleck, Josh Brolin, Kal Penn and Hill Harper; actor-filmmaker Stuart Townsend; musician-filmmaker will.i.am, and filmmakers Patrick Creadon, Tia Lessin, Carl Deal, Chris Moore and Morgan Spurlock.
Heather Thomas, the actress-novelist who runs one of LA’s most influential salons, figured the action would be in Denver next week -- and so will she. She’s holding a reception to discuss her book, “Trophy Wives.” You don’t have to be one to attend.
Meanwhile, last we heard from Daryl Hannah, she had literally climbed out on a limb to save a farm in South Central Los Angeles two years ago. It didn’t work, but she’ll be in Denver next week at the Green Frontier Fest, an environmental expo.
PARTY MADNESS: For those out for a good time and a bit of media networking, there’s the Vanity Fair/Google party, the GQ magazine party (don’t come as you are), the Glover Park Group/Politico party (this is the place to meet cute wonks, of either sex). Meanwhile, music execs Nicole Avant and Steve McKeever will be hosts of a party for those who count votes right along with their download grosses. Expect political speak mixed with rhythm and blues.
For those who think the crowd, in general, is having too much fun, there’s the rally for Ralph Nader (Sean Penn is supposed to be there, along with Val Kilmer, Tom Morello and Cindy Sheehan). They’re calling on the Dems and Republicans to expand the debates to include Nader. Good luck with that one.
THE MEDIA IS THE MASSAGE CATEGORY: Only Arianna Huffington could turn a fainting spell into a transcendent moment. As she reported on the Huffington Post this week, not long ago she fainted from exhaustion, broke her cheek and required five stitches. It convinced her that people need to disconnect more and she proposes to help the convention goers to do just that with the Huffington Post Oasis near the convention area, featuring yoga classes, massage, mini-facials, aromatherapy, refreshments and other forms of blissful escape.
So Arianna; so L.A. Only this time, in Denver.