Feature: Entertaining the GOP troops

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Aug. 30, 2004 at 6:37 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Country star Mark Chesnutt, one of the entertainers lending star power to the Republican National Convention in New York this week, insists he is not political, but he acknowledges he is gung-ho for re-electing President George W. Bush.

Chesnutt will entertain the Texas Delegation to the RNC Thursday, and he will follow that with an appearance at a rally for Bush in Pennsylvania. He played at Bush's inauguration in 2000, and also played for Bush in Austin when he was elected Texas governor.

However, when it comes to talking politics, the Beaumont, Texas, native draws the line.

"I keep all those views to myself," said Chesnutt in an interview with United Press International. "If anybody's undecided, all they've got to do is read the magazines and the papers."

But Chesnutt doesn't mind letting it be known that he is pro-Bush.

"Yeah, I am," he said. "I always have been. Of course, a lot of that has to do with being from Texas."

As for his appearance in New York this week, Chesnutt said his only purpose for being there is to entertain.

"I'm not going to be making a speech," he said

Which invites the question: If he isn't going to talk politics, why has Bill O'Reilly invited him to appear Wednesday on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor"?

"I guess he's fascinated that I've played functions for Bush in the past," said Chesnutt. "They know that I'm not going to get up and preach about anything or lecture about anything. I'm just an old country boy."

Common wisdom holds that the Democratic Party has most of the entertainment-industry support sowed up, but there are plenty of entertainers to go around for the Republican convention.

The venerable Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd performed in Chelsea Sunday to honor Southern Republicans in Congress. Other acts performing for Republican audiences this week include ZZ Top, the Charlie Daniels Band, .38 Special, the Marshall Tucker Band and the Dickey Betts Band. Betts was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.

Some well-known Hollywood conservatives are skipping the event.

According to the New York Observer, Bruce Willis was invited by the Republican National Committee, but a publicist said the star of "Die Hard" and "Pulp Fiction" would be busy -- on the road with his band, The Accelerators.

The paper said Republicans reached out several times to pop star Britney Spears -- whose brief sound bite appearance in "Fahrenheit 9/11" showed her supporting Bush and the war in Iraq -- but Spears has declined to attend the convention.

The Observer quoted an unidentified convention planner as saying the GOP is ambivalent about celebrity involvement in the convention.

"On the one hand, they want the star power to light up the parties and give a little thrill to these delegates who've come all the way from Nebraska," said the event planner. "But down deep, they know that a majority of their base don't go for that Hollywood thing; they're suspicious of it."

Like all recording artists -- the ones who are singing for Republicans in New York this week as well as the ones heading out on the Vote for Change anti-Bush tour in October -- Chesnutt is not about to get too far from the business imperative of selling concert tickets and record albums.

He's touring this fall in support of his latest CD, "Save the Honky Tonk." He told UPI the honky-tonk tradition is in trouble.

"Growing up in southeast Texas, I made my living singing in the honky-tonks for 10 years before I learned my craft," he said. "There's not as many as there used to be. Some of them are hip-hop joints, some of them are techno. They seem like they're just disappearing."

Chesnutt was quick to point out that honky-tonks are not disappearing in his home state.

"They're building honky-tonks there," he said.

Just for the record, what is a honky-tonk, anyhow?

"A place where people go get together and dance, and there's a live band," said Chesnutt. "There's neon signs, maybe a jukebox and cigarette smoking is allowed. There is lots of beer drinking, whiskey drinking, maybe a fight or two."

And there is a certain type of country music that belongs in a honky-tonk, the way Chesnutt sees it.

"I'm not talking about Shania Twain," he said. "It's George Jones, Merle Haggard and George Strait."

Not that Chesnutt has anything against Shania Twain, mind you.

"I'm just not a fan of that kind of music," he said. "It's too pop for me. I like hard rock and hard country. I'm not a fan of the in-between stuff. I like to listen to an Aerosmith record as much as I like a George Jones record. I'm glad for all of her (Twain's) success. She's a great artist."

Chesnutt said he's never been more excited about a new album than he is about "Save the Honky Tonk." He said he and his band perform four songs from the CD, and audiences are liking them.

"It's good, rowdy stuff," he said. "We're doing the kind of music I've always loved and I don't have to worry about whether it's politically correct."


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

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