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Analysis: Rocking the battleground states

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- Linda Ronstadt may have lost a singing gig for blending political expression with her music, but more than 20 top musical artists -- including Dave Matthews Band, the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp -- are planning to fan out in electoral battleground states in October for concerts intended to work against the re-election of President George W. Bush.

The tour, titled Vote for Change, will feature performances in nine states -- including Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The lineup of artists also includes Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Keb' Mo' and James Taylor.

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The tour is being presented by MoveOn.org. Proceeds will benefit America Coming Together, a liberal group dedicated to building what it called "the largest voter-mobilization effort in history to elect progressive candidates to federal, state and local offices in November."

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Ellen Malcolm, president of ACT, said the tour is expected to raise millions of dollars for ACT to use in a planned $125 million campaign to reach out to Democratic and swing voters. Several of the artists have issued statements plainly stating their desire to unseat Bush.

Organizers said all the artists were donating their services.

"A vote for change is a vote for a stronger, safer, healthier America," said Matthews. "A vote for Bush is a vote for a divided, unstable, paranoid America."

Although Springsteen has sung for most of his career about social problems and themes, it is rare -- if not unprecedented -- for him to lend his voice to so explicit a political cause as the unseating of a president. During his 2003 tour, he advised audiences to read Al Franken's best-selling book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" -- and even introduced Franken from the stage at Shea Stadium during the final stop of the tour.

"I felt like I couldn't have written the music I've written and been on stage singing about the things that I've sung about for the last 25 years and not taken part in this particular election," said Springsteen in a statement promoting the concert series.

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Responding to the announcement, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson compared the tour to a recent Democratic Party fundraiser in New York that drew national attention when actress Whoopi Goldberg used vulgar puns on the president's last name.

"John Kerry stated recently that Whoopi Goldberg and the Hollywood entertainment industry represent the heart and soul of America," said Iverson. "We believe that the heart and soul of America is represented by average, hardworking Americans all across the country, and those are the people we plan to be reaching out to on Election Day."

The mobilization of so many top rock acts for one purpose has some precedent. In 1986 Peter Gabriel, U2, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, The Police and Bob Dylan performed together in Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope Tour. Gabriel and Amnesty International put together the Human Rights Now tour the following year, featuring performances by Sting, Springsteen and Tracey Chapman.

Rolling Stone music editor Joe Levy said those tours were substantially different from the Vote for Change tour.

"These were rock stars in the aid of humanitarian good deeds, not partisan politics," he said. "To say that we ought to feed the hungry or free prisoners is one thing. To say we ought to make a change in the presidency is quite another."

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Considering Ronstadt's recent experience in Las Vegas -- when management at the Aladdin Hotel/Casino showed her the door because she praised "Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker Michael Moore during her encore -- artists might wonder whether there will be any political repercussions for opposing the president so openly. Pariser said he doubted it.

Levy said that even if there are complaints, he doubted the artists would be very much affected by it.

"It's possible that they might anger some of their audiences," he said, "but it's also true that Dixie Chicks faced a media firestorm that turned out to exist almost exclusively in the media."

The country trio incurred the wrath of American conservatives during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq when singer Natalie Maines told an audience in London that she and her band mates were ashamed to be from the same state as President Bush. There were calls to boycott their music, but Levy said the group returned home to play sold-out concerts and enjoy vigorous record sales.

Asked why voters should be influenced by what singers and musicians have to say on national affairs, Malcolm said many voters think Springsteen and Matthews understand the lives of average people better than politicians do.

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"(People) think the artists have a passion and an interest in regular folks that comes through in their music," she said.

There is a possibility that a significant number of people who buy Vote for Change tickets will be apolitical music consumers, interested only in enjoying the music.

"Some people are going to come because they agree with the cause and some people are going to come just to hear the music," said Levy. "Even if the venue is full of people who came only for the music, if a few of them listen to the message, then the tour is successful."

Pariser said those are the voters -- or non-voters, as the case may be -- that he hopes will be most influenced by the concerts.

"This is an election where people who have never voted before are going to be the key to who wins and who loses," he said.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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