Rockers perform to get out vote, boot out Bush

October 02, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl and Ellen Gamerman | Stephen Kiehl and Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - There is politics, and then there is Bruce - but not necessarily in that order.

Last night, when Bruce Springsteen and a high-voltage group of pop stars launched an unprecedented series of concerts through the swing states that could decide the presidential election, the politics came with the music.

"We want to thank you for coming out tonight and for raising your voice for change in the direction of our country," Springsteen told a sold-out audience of 18,000 at the Wachovia Center here.

"We're here tonight to fight for a government that is open, rational, forward-looking and humane."

Springsteen teamed with 16 other musicians, including R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band and Bonnie Raitt, to fan out across Pennsylvania last night and begin the Vote for Change concert tour, which hopes to raise $10 million in an effort to defeat President Bush in November.

While many in their audiences clearly supported the artists' liberal politics, others were simply there for the music.

"We came for Bruce," said Brad Korbel, 46, of New Jersey, a Republican who winced a bit at having to pay $75 that would go toward a group trying to topple Bush. "I can rationalize giving something I don't believe in a little bit of money because it's not going to change the world."

Added his friend and co-worker Mary Vargas, 40: "We don't hold it against Bruce. He just makes bad political choices."

While rock musicians are generally assumed to be liberal, it's rare for them to so closely align with a particular party. They tend to favor causes over politicians. But this year many of them say they are united by a common belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction and that change is needed.

While it is clear they will succeed in raising millions of dollars for Democratic-leaning groups, it's less clear how any of this will affect their fans come November. Springsteen and the other artists often seemed to be preaching to a liberal choir last night.

Politics and music

Some in the Wachovia crowd said they were considering donating to Democratic nominee John Kerry, and the concert was a perfect way to combine their politics with their taste in music. One group of concert-goers shouted "Kerry! Kerry!" whenever a TV camera came near.

They said that while Springsteen previously was nonpartisan, at least publicly, they weren't surprised by his coming out for the Democrats this year.

"You can tell what he stands for if you listen to his lyrics. He's a man of the people," said Felicia Watson, 44, of Langhorne, Pa., who was wearing a Kerry/Edwards T-shirt. "He's never endorsed a candidate. That's a lot of capital he's built up over the years, and now he's spending it."

Vote for Change will have hit nine swing states by the time it wraps up with a blockbuster concert in Washington on Oct. 11. The participating artists will have played 37 shows, with all the proceeds going to America Coming Together, a political group with a stated goal of ousting Bush.

The concerts themselves, based at least on last night's show, promise not to be too strident. Last night Springsteen and R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe took the stage at 7:40 p.m. for five minutes of remarks.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very important moment for each and every one of us, and for our country," Stipe said, to loud cheers from the crowd.

That was it. No name-calling or diatribes. Though later, during R.E.M.'s set, Stipe said, "We're R.E.M. and we approve of this concert," mimicking the line politicians must use in their television ads.

And in between sets, messages taped by the tour artists were played on large video screens. Dave Matthews said in his message: "In a sense, it seems this is a battle for the survival of democracy. It seems the administration in power is against democratic ideals."

In his own taped message, Springsteen said, "I think that if you mislead the country and take the country to war and put our sons and daughters on the line - if you do it for a false reason, you lose your job. When you do that, you lose your job."

R.E.M. was preceded on stage by Bright Eyes, a band led by young Nebraskan Conor Oberst. His band opened its set with "One Foot in Front of the Other," a song that includes the line, "The future hangs over our head."

On stage, at least, it didn't get much more pointed than that - something for which some fans said they were grateful.

Godzilla for president

"If anybody comes up to us with any political manifesto, they'll get a kick in the butt," said John Rostock, 37, from Pittston, Pa., who says he likes Kerry but likes Bruce Springsteen even more.

"We don't care if Godzilla is running for president," he said. "Bruce is here."

Springsteen began his set shortly after 10 p.m. He stood in the spotlight in the center of a dark stage and played a wordless, soulful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then he and his E Street Band launched into "Born in the U.S.A.," and the crowd went nuts.

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