"People Have the Power"

Published October 12, 2004 2:41PM (EDT)

There was more music than politicking at the Vote for Change Finale concert in Washington, D.C., last night -- a show that went nearly five and a half hours and included Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, REM, John Fogerty, Jackson Browne, Dixie Chicks, Jurassic 5, Babyface, James Taylor, Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt, John Cougar Mellencamp, and ... are we forgetting anybody? Some of the highlights were a powerful Fortunate Son, with Fogerty, Springsteen and the E Street Band, Michael Stipe of REM singing Because the Night with Springsteen et al., Bruce helping REM out on Man on the Moon, and of course, the entire lineup ending the night with Peace, Love, and Understanding, and People Have the Power.

Most musicians kept political sermonizing to a minimum, but several artists got off some good lines that riled the partisan crowd, and every act let the crowd know why they were there. James Taylor, believe it or not, had the place going wild with his retort to the Republican question of "Why change horses in midstream?" It makes sense to change horses, Taylor said, if your "horse is in way over his head."

Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who stirred controversy last year when she said she was ashamed Bush was also a Texan (she now refers to all that just as "the incident"), got laughs when she said she'd been asked whether she would take it back: "I thought about it," she said, "and I thought if I did that, Bush would just call me a flip-flopper."

Michael Stipe of REM had a few words for cynics who don't think musicians should meddle in politics: "We are all Americans, and we have all been U.S. citizens longer than we have been singers, songwriters, pop stars, public figures, celebrities with a public voice. We are each of us placing our yardsigns in our front yards. Our front yard just happens to be a stage. And tonight it is this stage; thank you all for listening." At times during the entire cast's "Peace, Love, and Understanding," Stipe was running around on stage in a Kerry T-shirt while his colleagues were singing, pointing to his shirt and using it as his own little campaign poster.

But there wasn't much talk of John Kerry. Although many, many concert-goers wore Kerry-Edwards T-shirts and pins, and it was a clearly partisan crowd with just a few hecklers and protesters, from the stage, the concert was less of a Kerry rally and more about mobilizing progressive voters to turn out against Bush -- the money goes to America Coming Together's get out the vote efforts -- and in general, feel empowered and listen to some great music while they're at it.

Springsteen, the last act, was the first to mention Kerry's name, and he only did it once, when he told the audience that when it came to what these artists cared about, from the environment to jobs, he believed Kerry and Edwards were the candidates who "understand these are important issues." He also served up the longest political homily of the night -- a preacher-man, come to Jesus spiel during Mary's Place. At one point, he said: "All this fuss about 'the swing voter'... All I wanna say is, it's October 11, what the hell are you waiting for? You mislead the nation to war, you lose your job. It ain't rocket science!" Springsteen's sermon was light-hearted, with Bruce exhorting the TV audience watching live at home on the Sundance Channel to get up off their couches, turn the volume up high, take off all their clothes, put one hand on the TV and say "Halliburton, Halliburton, Halliburton" three times, real fast. But Springsteen also got serious when he talked about the issues at stake in the election, like civil rights, the environment, the war, and the need for a "living wage."

In the end, the Vote for Change concerts raised $15 million for America Coming Together. ACT President Ellen Malcolm told the Los Angeles Times: "We will use the money to put together the biggest get-out-the-vote operation the country has ever seen." As Eddie Vedder said last night, with all of the talk of Nov. 3 -- everything will be different on Nov. 3! -- here's hoping everyone inspired by the tour gets to the polls on Nov. 2.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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