Jon Bon Jovi, Mary J. Blige, John Mellencamp, Wyclef Jean and Whoopi Goldberg
When the Dave Matthews Band takes the stage at Radio City on Thursday as part of a benefit concert for presidential candidate John Kerry, it might seem like a spontaneous outpouring of support.
After all, the band was hastily signed up for the show only a few weeks ago. It was a last-minute stand-in for acts such as James Taylor and Bette Midler, who couldn't reschedule when the event was postponed from June 10 because of Ronald Reagan's death.
But the seeds of Matthews' participation were planted nearly a year ago, when the singer met with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, who organized both Thursday's concert and a similar Kerry benefit June 24 in Los Angeles.
Wenner invited the singer to his midtown office to chat with editors and writers from his various magazines. The two quickly found common ground in their dislike of President Bush.
"Jann and I began talking about the importance of the election, so he knew how strongly I felt close to a year ago," Matthews says. "He and I were talking about getting [Bush] out of the White House before anybody even knew that John Kerry would be the candidate."
Thursday's show - tickets are still available - will also include appearances by Jon Bon Jovi, Mary J. Blige, John Mellencamp, Wyclef Jean and Whoopi Goldberg. Like Matthews, Blige was a late addition to the lineup.
Finding well-known performers to support Kerry on short notice was not a problem, according to Wenner.
With the heightened stakes of a contentious presidential race, an unusually large number of stars have been willing to align themselves with a particular candidate, not just a broader social cause.
"There was a policy in the rock 'n' roll world that it wasn't cool or hip to support a candidate, because they didn't want to get involved with any compromises," Wenner says.
"But this fantasy that you can stand aside and maintain your own purity while the world is in trouble is a fast-dying one. And it never dies faster than when a war is going badly."
Indeed, from major stars to indie rockers, Kerry has attracted plenty of support from the entertainment world . In Los Angeles, the Hollywood-heavy concert took in nearly $5 million.
And on a smaller scale, a grass-roots group called Concerts for Kerry is organizing club and theater shows, raising more than $100,000 so far with performances by dancer Savion Glover, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Jack Black's band, Tenacious D, among others.
Bush's campaign events have included appearances by musicians including country rocker Billy Ray Cyrus, Nashville's Larry Gatlin and Travis Tritt and the Christian rock band Third Day.
Since Kerry once played bass in a high-school surf-rock band called the Electras, benefit concerts seem like an automatic hit. A fund-raiser dubbed "John Kerry Unplugged" recalled Bill Clinton's saxophone moment on "The Arsenio Hall Show" when Kerry played guitar with Moby and strummed along to a Boston band's cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out."
But Wenner says that loud voices in the Kerry campaign weren't sure it was such a great idea.
Some advisers were worried that bad behavior by one of the performers - or a misplayed note by the candidate - might tarnish Kerry's image.
"Some people were nervous about having an association with musicians," Wenner said. "But within the campaign, Kerry was the strongest advocate for doing it."
Wenner says he "wouldn't be shocked" if Kerry made another musical cameo on Thursday. But don't expect to hear him belting out "What's the 411" with Blige or "Wanted Dead or Alive" with Bon Jovi.
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