Rock, pop acts take 2004 political showdown to new stage

HOLLYWOOD — Taking a tip from Spinal Tap, presidential politics are about to turn the volume up to 11.

Rockers and actors are stoking a political fire that hasn’t raged at this level since the Nixon elections of 1968 and ’72. Seeing the youth vote as a key step to victory, the “we need a change” forces are working to reach that demographic by inflaming the masses while tuning guitars.

But the showbiz activism threatens to make the campaign even more shrill and divisive, as President George W. Bush and his supporters rev up the us-vs.-them rhetoric with the sneering philosophy, “Why base your decisions on what actors and musicians have to say?”

In the latest and largest recruitment of artists to unseat Bush in November, political action committee MoveOn has enlisted 16 rock, country and R&B heavyweights to perform 34 shows in nine swing states during the first week of October.

The Vote for Change tour consists of six multi-act bills, the most formidable being the lineup of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes, which will play five cities Oct. 1-8. It marks the first time that Springsteen (long recognized for supporting social and political causes) has endorsed a candidate.

Concert proceeds will benefit America Coming Together, the leading group registering Democratic-leaning voters.

Tour, co-organized with America Coming Together, will also feature the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Babyface, Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Harper, Jurassic 5, My Morning Jacket and Keb’ Mo’. The intent is to attract audiences from a host of demographics.

Their timing could not be better. The acts will hit cities after the summer tours have wrapped but the weather for outdoor stadiums is still comfortable.This end-of-the-campaign push — which could easily swell the anti-Hollywood sentiment in a form of patriotic backlash — comes on the heels of several other musician-endorsed anti-Bush efforts.

Rapper-entrepreneur Sean “P. Diddy” Combs led a Citizen Change campaign to get 18-to-30-year-olds from inner-cities registered to vote. Fat Wreck Chords released a “Rock Against Bush Vol. 1” CD compilation in April; a second volume hits stores Aug. 10.

Concert stages have become political forums across the country, not just during Linda Ronstadt‘s show in Vegas. Punk acts on the Vans Warped Tour have spread an anti-Bush message; Patti Smith and Rickie Lee Jones have bashed the prez on their go-rounds; and k.d. lang heard her fair share of boos talking about her hopes for change.

“If it doesn’t go the right way,” the Canuck thrush told a Hollywood Bowl aud without mentioning candidates by name, “you can all move to Canada.”

“Fahrenheit 9/11,” it appears, was just the beginning.

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