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Concerts for Kerry

By Camille Dodero

John Kerry’s been criticized for completely ignoring the younger vote, never mind not knowing cool if it bit him in the ass — playing light jazz before a speech at Harlem’s City College definitely isn’t the best way to convince the kids you’re down, as the Village Voice pointed out in April. And last week, when Kerry postponed two sit-down celebrity extravaganzas in deference to Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the big Genesis video in the sky, the canceled-concert line-ups made it painfully clear that Kerry’s fundraising team was angling more to attract soccer grandmoms than anyone under the age of 35. In Los Angeles, the benefit bill consisted of hairy-chested clod Neil Diamond, stage-fright maven Babs Streisand, and converted Kucitizen Willie Nelson; on this coast, a Radio City Music Hall show was less antediluvian, but still populated with a heavy load of performers past their prime, like apostate Deaniac Robin Williams, adult-contemporary crier Bette Midler, easy-listening fogy James Taylor, and hair-metal has-been Jon Bon Jovi.

Yes, political benefits are all about filling the war chest — and impecunious indie rockers and rock-club rats don’t have the cash to carry a candidate. But they’re still voters — and typically not the elephant-riding kind. So that’s where Concerts for Kerry comes in, a grassroots New York City–based organization created this past March by the architects behind KerryConnector.com — essentially, MeetUp.com for Kerry supporters. Conceived as simply another attempt to figure out, as co-founder Arkadi Gerney puts it, "what else we could do," Concerts for Kerry isn’t officially affiliated with the Kerry campaign, but the two organizations have been in contact. "They’ve been very encouraging," says Gerney, a Manhattan lawyer by day. "Frankly, they’ve got a lot of sort of bigger, higher-dollar fundraising things to deal with. So we’ve been trying to focus on creating events for people who don’t have that kind of money to shell out."

Relying on a national network of pro bono performers, event promoters, and club owners who’re willing to forgo ticket-sale profits to help unseat George W. Bush, Concerts for Kerry has already pulled in 2500 concertgoers, organized 17 shows, and raised more than $70,000. Everything’s happened essentially through networking and no-budget efforts, says Gerney, including the involvement of punk-pub rocker Ted Leo (who’ll be playing a June 27 show in Philly) and hipster-darling dark comic David Cross. The biggest name to appear under the Concerts for Kerry banner thus far is Jack Black, who, Gerney explains, "was a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend."

Here in the Ketchup King’s hometown, there’s been tremendous support for Concerts for Kerry. "The one phrase I keep hearing is ‘anything I can do,’" says local coordinator and filmmaker Maria Gambale. "People really want change, so if there’s something they can do — play guitar on stage for a half-hour, co-organize an event — they’re just right there and willing to help." Lockgroove bassist Dave Goodman, who, under the name Compass, played a Concerts for Kerry benefit last week at the Cantab Lounge, admits that the upcoming election is hip. "In the ’90s, it wasn’t that cool to be into politics," says Goodman. "Now, there is a radicalization of people. Everybody is activated — they want to help and want to feel involved." Two local shows have taken place so far, with another one slated for next Thursday featuring synth-pop vets Count Zero; Dear Leader, the new band of former Sheila Divine singer Aaron Perrino; and chick-robots and fog-machine lovers U.V. Protection. Gerney says more Boston-area shows will be announced.

Bands don’t exactly need the outspoken convictions of Jello Biafra to join the cause: "Normally, we are not a political band," reads the Web site of the Fly Seville, a Boston rock trio who’re also on the Middle East bill. "This is a no-brainer." Or as volunteer promoter Chip Keating writes in an e-mail, "I would vote for a day-old egg salad sandwich before I would even consider voting for Bush."

On Thursday, June 24, Count Zero, Dear Leader, the Fly Seville, Freezepop, and U.V. Protection will be at the Middle East Downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, in Central Square; call (617) 864-EAST. Tickets are $15 online, $20 at the door, and the event is 18-plus. Visit ConcertsforKerry.org.

Issue Date: June 18 - 24, 2004
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