LOS ANGELES—In an effort to motivate Americans to go to the polls on Nov. 2, a coalition of irrelevant pop stars is winding up a 36-city tour that will culminate in a concert on Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C.
"The Vote For Change tour has been put together by a wide cross-section of artists with one purpose: to remove Bush from office," said Stone Gossard, whose band Pearl Jam enjoyed popularity during the grunge phase of the early to mid-'90s. "Not everyone here is pro-Kerry, but everyone here agrees that Bush has to go. Just rocking the vote isn't enough. You've gotta rock for change."
Pearl Jam will share the stage with such onetime chart-toppers as Jackson Browne, John Fogerty, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
"I can't let this election take place without knowing I fought as hard as I could for a more compassionate leader," 51-year-old John Mellencamp said. "If playing my 1986 hit 'R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.' at the Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City will dissuade people from voting for Bush, then I'm going to do it."
The Vote For Change bill contains a wide range of artists whose actual relationship with American politics remains unclear. Rock group R.E.M., blues artist Bonnie Raitt, and the country group Dixie Chicks will join R&B artists such as Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, co-founder of LaFace Records, which released the Bodyguard soundtrack.
"I couldn't ignore all the bad that's going on," said Edmonds, who co-wrote Bobby Brown's 1992 single "Humpin' Around." "I had to do my part to stop all the... bad things."
Rounding out the bill are such lesser-known indie artists as 24-year-old singer-songwriter Conor Oberst (a.k.a. Bright Eyes), and Seattle-based rock band Death Cab For Cutie.
"Bush is fucking evil," said Nick Harmer, bassist for Death Cab For Cutie. "The economy is for shit, and we're stuck in this unjust war that he lied about to get us to agree to. Me and the other guys in the band wanted to do something real to get him out of office. We were like, 'We gotta do a concert.'"
David Corn, Washington, D.C. editor of The Nation, said he appreciated the musicians' efforts.
"It's really great to get more young people involved in politics, and if Keb Mo singing 'This Land Is Your Land' helps, so be it," Corn said. "Of course, in addition to watching MTV to find out what Moby has to say about Bush, you could watch C-SPAN, or even visit the candidates' web sites. You're probably not going to learn a lot about the candidates' positions on Social Security reform by listening to Dave Matthews gas on while his bassist tunes up."
After being informed of the existence of the Vote For Change tour, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman called it "a cute idea."
"It's wonderful that these singers are getting involved," Mehlman said. "While I respectfully disagree with Tracy Chapman and Sheryl Crow's opinion of our president, I think it's great that they're doing something with their time."
Concert organizers said the show, with its extraordinary lineup of soft-rock artists, is getting a boost in ticket sales from an unexpected demographic. John Linner of Orlando, FL is one of the tens of thousands of registered Republicans planning to attend a Vote For Change concert.
"It's going to be kind of annoying, with all the liberal bullshit between sets, but I can't imagine missing this kind of line-up," Linner said. "R.E.M. is a little weird, except for that one song, 'Shiny Happy People.' But how many times do you get a chance to see a tour that has Springsteen and John Fogerty?"
Similar in spirit to Vote For Change, Rock Against Bush is a concert tour created by NOFX vocalist and bassist Fat Mike to mobilize voters against the president.
"We're psyched to have Strike Anywhere, Anti-Flag, and Bouncing Souls on board," Fat Mike said, naming acts a few people might recognize as punk bands. "We're especially hoping we pull in some audience members who are older than 17, so they can vote."
Rock Against Bush publicist Donna Wolff said campaign-related concerts are "an important way for musicians to express their political views."
"Contrary to what many people think, rock artists want to be involved," Wolff said. "While some of the musicians billed on our tour can't even name the U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services, or list more than two Bush policies they oppose, they all know the difference between right and wrong."