The sweet smell of incense lingered outside the doors of a Lower East Side bar where Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, Sean Lennon, TV host Jon Stewart and Milarepa Fund representatives announced the lineup of this year’s Tibetan Freedom Concerts. The June 12-13 event, with 24 hours of continuous performances, will occur in Chicago, Amsterdam, Sydney and Tokyo. In Chicago, Blondie, the Roots, Live and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder will share a stage with the Beastie Boys, who founded the event four years ago with the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to freeing Tibet from Chinese occupation. The international concerts will “demonstrate the magnitude of the Tibetan movement on a global scale,” said Milarepa’s Deyden Tethong.
In the past three years, the multiple-day, stadium-sized concerts in San Francisco, New York and Washington have provided moments both sublime and terrifying, from Beck’s harmonica solo in Golden Gate Park to the lightning bolt that struck one fan at the 1998 D.C. show. The concerts, which aim to teach young people about Tibet, have also witnessed some bizarrely incongruous political messages, like reggae cult star Lee “Scratch” Perry rapping “Hare Krishna” and the Foo Fighters calling themselves “Freedom Fighters” — apparently without realizing the reference to the Nicaraguan Contras.
The noon conference got off to a shaky start when the power source used by the small bank of television, radio and newspaper reporters failed. When one reporter interrupted the moderator, Lennon broke the room’s uncomfortable silence. “You do have the power,” he said. “People have the power.”
Lennon’s quip was one of the few spontaneous moments. After the power went back up, the nine straight-faced panelists spoke about the promising success that Milarepa has had raising money — $1.2 million at the 1998 concert — and that Tibetan activists have had pressuring the Chinese government to respond to accusations of human rights abuses. Milarepa and the activists also focused on forcing the U.S. government to advocate for Tibet, which China invaded 40 years ago and claims is a province.
During his short presentation, Lennon attempted to connect rock concerts and political activism. “The policy of our government is really decided by what the people think,” said Lennon. In a conference where speakers invoked nonviolent direct action, student protest and the success of the anti-apartheid campus movement in the 1980s, no one questioned his idealism.
When most of the panelists had delivered their message, Tethong rattled off a list of performers. All acts are confirmed and Milarepa expects that there will be a few more additions before the concert. For those who can’t make it, there will be a Webcast and a two-hour syndicated radio program, hosted by Stewart. A list of the lineups:
CHICAGO — Alpine Valley Music Theater
Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam)
AMSTERDAM — RAI Parkhal
Rage Against the Machine
Joe Strummer (ex-Clash)
Thom Yorke (of Radiohead)
TOKYO — Tokyo Bay NK Hall
Scha Dara Parr (SDP)
SYDNEY — Sydney Showgrounds (pending)
The Living End
During a brief question and answer period, one reporter asked Yauch if this would be the last year of concerts, which have turned into an annual event (to the surprise of its organizers). Yauch said that the shows would continue in the future, even though he’d prefer to see the situation in Tibet resolved, which would stop the event. “Hopefully some changes will occur,” he said.