The rock world serenaded the new Democratic presidential ticket Thursday night in New York, as the Dave Matthews Band, Jon Bon Jovi, Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty literally sang the praises of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards at Radio City Music Hall. The concert, produced by Infinity Broadcasting chairman and CEO John Sykes, Miramax films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner, raised $7.5 million for the presidential and vice presidential hopefuls.
“The beginning of the future starts right here tonight,” said Bon Jovi, who kicked off the proceedings with a side-stage rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” belting out the opening “Tommy used to work on the docks” just as Edwards, the now-famous son of a mill worker, took his seat.
Bon Jovi, a Democratic powerbroker who hosted another Kerry fundraiser at his New Jersey home last month, performed the Beatles” “Here Comes the Sun” and drew approving hoots and hollers when he altered George Harrison’s lyrics from “it seems like years . . .” to “it’s been four years since it’s been clear.”
It was then open season on George W. Bush, as the celebrity hosts took turns blasting the president the month before he is to arrive in New York for the Republican National Convention. Paul Newman — still the sexiest man in America, according to Kerry’s wife Teresa — confessed to being a “traitor to his class” before criticizing Bush’s tax cuts. Meryl Streep took issue with the president’s actions in light of his Christian faith, pointing out that Jesus Christ never said, “Blessed is the preemptive strike.” John Leguizamo drew laughs when he compared Latinos supporting Republicans to roaches supporting Raid — as did Chevy Chase, who mocked Bush’s use of non-words like “nucular” and “tearists.” Sarah Jessica Parker listed qualities she wanted in a leader, namely one “who looks after all the people, not just the privileged few,” while Jessica Lange summed up her feelings with a bumper sticker she saw in Minnesota: “Defend America, Defeat Bush.”
Wyclef Jean stuck to praising the Democratic candidates, frequently weaving their names into his compositions. His reggae-fied new single “If I Was President” included “I’d hire Edwards” in its to-do list and closed with a chant of “Kerry is the president.” Blige joined Jean for a spirited renditions of their duet “911” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” Wailing lines like “Things ain’t what they used to be,” Blige transformed Marvin Gaye’s ballad of discontent into an aggressive protest song.
Dave Matthews and Co. said the least and played the most, offering up a career-spanning five-song set. Matthews surveyed the sea of jackets and ties and said, “It’s an unusual crowd for us. I hope you don’t find us too frightening.” The DMB faithful — mostly up in the balcony — then made their presence known by punctuating the breaks in “Warehouse” with “wooh”s. By the end of Boyd Tinsley’s violin solo to close “Ants Marching,” the band had won over the entire crowd, as evident by Kerry’s fist pump.
True to form, Whoopi Goldberg provided the night’s funniest — and sassiest — moments. Continually addressing Kerry as “John, baby” and Edwards as “Kid,” she advised the candidates on everything from what to do if a foreign dignitary expects them to eat “bear balls” to making sure they don’t make the same mistake Bush did: waving to Stevie Wonder.
In between his most famous American anthems, “Small Town” and “Pink Houses,” John Mellencamp played the caustic, acoustic ditty, “Texas Bandito” (sample lyrics: “What’s a life to him if he can get some oil dug” . . . “Won’t you please go back to your Texas home?”). Bon Jovi returned to trade verses on “Houses,” and the two belted out the lyrics “home of the free” arm in arm.
John Fogerty, the evening’s link to the Vietnam era (Kerry’s heroism in combat was chronicled by members of his boat crew in a video shown earlier), tied Iraq to that war by debuting his new single, “Deja Vu (All Over Again).” The song combines grim passages like “Another momma’s crying/She’s lost her precious child/To a war that has no end” with a toe-tapping melody reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” Fogerty then plugged in the electric guitar and delivered a blistering version of CCR’s anti-war song “Fortunate Son,” replacing “I ain’t no senator’s son” with “I ain’t no president’s son.”
Proving to be their own headliners, Kerry and Edwards — along with wives Teresa and Elizabeth — took the stage to the night’s loudest applause. Edwards, named Kerry’s running mate on Tuesday, showed off his million-vote smile and joked that, like Whoopi Goldberg, he was afraid he wasn’t going to get the call to attend the event. He then ran down the Democrats’ major issues — from restoring alliances abroad to affordable healthcare at home — before promising that “everyday he is in the White House, [Kerry] will tell the American people the truth.”
Kerry deflected the ovation right back to Edwards by saying, “Did I make a good choice for vice president?” He then countered recent Republican rhetoric by stressing that his is the campaign of hope and rebuilding America, before closing with the words of poet Langston Hughes, “Let America be America again.”
Kerry called the musicians back to the stage, and John Mellencamp led the house through “This Land Is Your Land,” with Matthews, Fogerty and Bon Jovi taking over lead vocals on the subsequent verses. Kerry strapped on a guitar and strummed along, while Edwards and Bon Jovi shared a mike. As the show came to its close, Fogerty jokingly gestured to Kerry to smash his guitar, but the candidate demurred . . . he’s in rebuilding mode.