CLEVELAND – The Boss wants to give President Bush the boot.

So do the Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M. and other like-minded musicians.

This fall, dozens of artists have added politics to their playlists, performing in high-profile tours and telling fans that the president doesn’t deserve an encore performance.

“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 take part in this particular election,” Bruce Springsteen tells fans who visit his Web site.

But do rock and the polls really mix?

Political experts question whether concertgoers are interested in the Democratic ticket – or the one that gets them into the Springsteen show. And Republicans say they’ve been betrayed and will boycott these artists’ future concerts.

In recent years, the politics of rock has centered on participation and nonpartisan causes. Rock the Vote, Farm Aid and Live Aid encouraged involvement without taking sides.

But now, the Vote for Change Tour is saturating nine swing states with all-star shows that present fans with tough choices – musically and politically. Saturday, Springsteen and R.E.M. headlined a one-of-a-kind concert here; across town, the Dixie Chicks and James Taylor took the stage. The proceeds from the concerts go to America Coming Together, a left-leaning voter mobilization group; MoveOn.org is organizing the tour.

“This is unprecedented,” said Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. “There’s been nothing on this scale, just the sheer number of artists and the sheer number of venues.”

More than 40 shows featuring A-list artists are enough to tempt even Republican rockers. But GOP officials in many of the targeted battleground states have warned conservatives to steer clear.

Musicians’ “arrogance and self-importance shows through on something like this,” said Jim Trakas, an Ohio legislator and Central Committee chairman for the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County. “People in northeast Ohio are making up their minds on who to vote for based on real issues.”

“Serial-marrying and serial-illegitimate-child-bearing” rock stars don’t represent Republican values, he said. “This has galvanized the president’s supporters.”

Still, concert organizers are hopeful that the star power will attract political fence-sitters and first-time voters.

“People are excited that artists who usually don’t speak out have indicated how important this election is,” said John Carey, deputy press secretary for America Coming Together. The musicians “are leading by example.”

They probably are performing for the converted, Kramer said. But “as artists, they have a platform. And as citizens, they have a right to express their opinions.”

Democrats don’t have a monopoly on musicians – artists as varied as Toby Keith and Ted Nugent are Bush backers. But they’re clearly outnumbered by the Vote for Change musicians, as well as by other anti-Republican efforts, including Punkvoter.com’s Rock Against Bush and the Democratic group Concerts for Change.

For many of the performers, these events mark their first foray into partisan politics. And while Springsteen, for example, has been a well-spoken advocate for the group, others on the tour might not prove to be as politically astute.

“Some of them are extraordinarily well informed,” said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. “Some of them are laughably ill-informed and embarrass themselves as they do this.”

All the artists are sticking their necks out by taking a stand, Thompson said.

“Celebrities are really putting themselves on the line,” he said. “They could potentially alienate half their customers.”

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Linda Ronstadt found herself at cross purposes with her fans in July when she lauded filmmaker Michael Moore during a show in Las Vegas. She was booed and unceremoniously escorted out.

And the Dixie Chicks did damage control after singer Natalie Maines told a London audience last year that she was embarrassed that the president is from her home state of Texas.

The incident didn’t deter them, though. The Dixie Chicks are scheduled to do six shows on the Vote for Change Tour.

Glenn Altschuler, the author of “All Shook Up: How Rock “n’ Roll Changed America,” dismissed the suggestion that musicians have much to lose by playing politics. Fans won’t hold a grudge, he said, and the performers benefit from the publicity.

In the current celebrity-obsessed climate, the line between performing and politicking is blurring, said Altschuler, who teaches American studies at Cornell University.

“Given the celebrification of American culture, quite frankly it’s getting difficult to tell one from the other,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean that musicians will make or break a candidate.

“The likelihood that a single voter is swayed … by an entertainer is remote,” Altschuler said.

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Shock rocker Alice Cooper, who supports Bush, agreed.

“If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are,” he told Canadian reporters when the Vote for Change Tour was announced. “Why are we rock stars? Because we’re morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night, and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal.”



(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News.

Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at http://www.dallasnews.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): VOTEFORCHANGE

AP-NY-10-02-04 1911EDT



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