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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Banned from the Portland zoo

Photo (c) 2004 by Jane Lightfoot. All rights reserved.

I had the great privilege of seeing Steve Earle and the Bluegrass Dukes up close at the Aladdin Theater in Portland last night. Singer-songwriter Earle was in fine voice, and he and his bluegrass chums ran through an excellent program for an enthusiastic, sellout crowd.

The show was done in the traditional style -- one mike, all five band members sharing it -- and the sounds were high, sweet, and lonesome. The songs were mostly all Earle's, with a couple of Gram Parsons-Chris Hillman numbers (including "Willin'") thrown in. The band -- Tim O'Brien on mandolin, Casey Driessen on fiddle, Dennis Crouch on bass, and Darrell Scott on banjo and dobro -- was extremely tight and smooth, sometimes running literally like clockwork, as the players weaved around the mike to "mix" the sound. O'Brien in particular is a master of the mandolin, and Scott coaxed some unfamiliar licks out of the banjo that didn't seem physically possible.

Earle, as many readers know, is a very political man these days. He performed a few of his more controversial numbers, which were very convincing when you're 15 feet away. He's got a highly political rock-band album coming out toward the end of August that will likely make a splash, and he's planning to spend a lot of time thereafter in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other battleground states stumping for Kerry. "This is the most important election of my lifetime," he said, and you could tell he meant it.

Earle proudly told the story of how he has been "banned from the Portland zoo." The last time he did a bluegrass show in town, up at that outdoor venue, he found out that the concert series was sponsored by a certain California-based bank. He proceeded to spend a good chunk of time on stage discussing with the audience how that particular bank specializes in bankrolling companies when they take over union shops and try to run the union out. Representatives of the bank were on hand to hear it all, and they threatened to pull the plug on the show right there. They reconsidered and let the Dukes finish, but Steve won't be invited back.

Good for him. As he said at one juncture last night, some people are criticizing artists these days for making political statements about what they see going on around them. "Hell, I thought that was our f*ckin' job," he said. Quoting from Pete Seeger, he reminded the audience that every song is political. "A lullaby is political -- to a baby."

Whatever you might think of his politics, Steve Earle is one of the very greatest artists working today. To hear his stories, told by the author himself in this compelling, uniquely American musical style, was balm for the soul. If he's coming to your town, run, don't walk, and get a ticket.

Comments (21)

Not commenting on Earle specifically, but the celebrity comments on the political world get a little old. As if the masses in the US should give a crap what Kirsten Dunst, Esther (or whatever her name is) or Leonardo DiCaprio think about world affairs.

Yep. But there's a difference between hearing what Madonna thinks and what Woody Guthrie thinks.

There really is not much of a difference between Madonna and Guthrie. Both speak out about the politics of their time. And both sing crappy music.

Celebreties are just like you and I, except they have a platform with which to express their opinions.

Yeah, that Woody Guthrie. What a hack.

Yes, celebrities ARE the same as everyone else in that regard. Meaning that some of them are very smart and aware about world events, and some of them are idiots.

You shouldn't care what Kirsten Dunst has to say because she's Kirsten Dunst, but if she were to get up and say something intelligent -- as, say, Pete Seeger would -- it's not as if you should tell her to shut up because she's Kirsten Dunst, either. I agree that there's a time and a place for things -- I'm not a big fan of hijacking awards shows to lecture people, for instance, since that's not the purpose of the event. But if you're an actor or a singer and you can also be intelligent or a political commentator -- and Woody Guthrie wasn't a political dabbler like Madonna, he was a social commentator -- then you have every right. Just like everybody else.

This is kind of off-topic, but how great was Britney Spears in Farenheit 9/11, when she gave her complete support for President Bush. Moore totally made her look foolish.

However, who knows when she made that statement. It could have been two years ago, right before the war, when everyone supported Bush, including Howard Stern.

It was a cheapshot by Moore, but entertaining nonetheless.

Iíve got a timely query on Initiative Petitions. If someone paid a controversial rock band to perform at a venue where the payor expressly planned to obtain signatures, would it be a violation of the rule against paying people to sign if they did NOT charge admission? Receiving the benefit of good music is like food for the soul and is no less essential than substantive food for the genuinely hungry. I suppose that Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertsons, (each partly owned by our teachers via PERF and controlled by the Friendís of Neil) could sponsor a concert and then pass around signature sheets for their favorite agenda items as if it were a collection hat in church. The bright idea that there is a bright line test between politics and art is about as absurd as . . . _____________.

Steve Earle said that there is a backlash against "artists" making political statements. I don't know about you people, but the people I see out there making political statements on TV everyday are Esther, Leo, Richard Gere, or any other good looking "artist" who thinks they know what they were talking about because Rolling Stone magazine agrees with them.....

I don't know where Woody Guthrie entered this equation and I'm not aware of any criticism directed against him

i would much rather hear what Steve Earle has to say about something than George Bush. It sure as hell makes a lot more sense and instead of pseudo religious babble and blank stares you get some great music thrown in

"There really is not much of a difference between Madonna and Guthrie. Both speak out about the politics of their time. And both sing crappy music."

Nominated for stupidest post I have ever read on this site.

Further critique unnecessary.

Wow! Stupidest post on this site. As there have been some incredibly dumb posts, that is quite an achievement. But I accept your nomination and thank-you.

I imagine you take offense at my insult to Madonna. Well, I'm sorry. I just think her music is crappy. But if that offends you, I apologize.

'Concert' or 'Political Rally'? I'll pay for the first, not the second. And when folks get banned for confusing the two (at the Zoo, for example) that's not brilliance on their part - it's simply bad taste.

Performers aren't heroic for giving their personal opinions at perfomances, they are wasting my time.

I'd argue that for some performers, their beliefs and their music are inextricably intertwined - and anyone who's a fan of said performer ought to know that going in.

I'm just sorry I missed the show.

Betsy Ė I do wish I could one day write as succinctly as that. I always seem to leave one or two deductive reasoning steps up to the reader. I still think that politicians are performers . . . they just lack an instrumental accompaniment. Just dub in Mozart to any speech and a politician becomes an artist. Visa versa, remove the beat from hip hop and what do you get?

"...remove the beat from hip hop and what do you get?"

Grammatical errors?

Do you have suggested rewording? Like substituting the question mark with a period in the rhetorical question? Hip hop, minus instrumentals, is a political speech. This is a truism to me. Is it to you?


We were at that Zoo show where the Zoo staff also gave us a hard time for tabling and collecting signatures for Hatfield's anti-death penalty ballot measure. Staff said, "Sorry you can't do that here because it's a public place." Earle shot back, "Damn man, that's exactly why you should be able to do that here."

Earle later gave an amazing speech against the death penalty before laying into an amazing rendition of that tune about Texas Death Row.

"Hip hop, minus instrumentals, is a political speech."
At best, it's a heartfelt ballad. Most often it's an ode to basic desires. Politcal speech? Don't fool yourself.

Woody Guthrie = genius. Justin's opinion = crap & can't spell

I find it funny that right wingers say that entertainers shouldn't be listened to for their politics, but in reality someone like Madonna is a very successful businesswoman (in fact much more succesfull in business than our current president). So why shouldn't we listen to her, but listen to other business people, especially those, like Cheny-Haliburton, who have other conflicting interests?

Morgan - Apples and oranges. Madonna doesn't stop her concerts to tell folks who to vote for president. But we shouldn't listen to her political views during her music performances in any case - it's a music venue, not her politcal soapbox.

Halliburton's political interest IS business interest, it's one and the same. In the case of Halliburton, though, the Democrats gave them more business than the Republicans. Clinton gave Halliburton the no-bid contract that has so many folks on the left whining (see Clinton's debacle in the former Soviet Union).

To finish your point Morgan, right-wingers don't want to listen to political whining during music performances.

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