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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2004

Concert tunes voters to issues

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fans at the Toledo Sports Arena cheer on the ban Death Cab for Cutie yesterday during the Vote for Change Tour that mixes music and politics. Fans at the Toledo Sports Arena cheer on the ban Death Cab for Cutie yesterday during the Vote for Change Tour that mixes music and politics.
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Dale Nowak knows who he's voting for on Nov. 2, but he didn't want to talk about it last night.

"I'm just here for the music," said Mr. Nowak, eyes darting around at the rock 'n' roll throngs streaming into the Toledo Sports Arena for a concert by the Seattle supergroup Pearl Jam.

"I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan. This is the 10th time I'm seeing them. But seriously, I'm voting for [President] Bush. I was going to wear a big "W '04" T-shirt' but I didn't want to be a [jerk]," said Mr. Nowak, 29, a field technician for an electronics firm based in Cleveland.

Last night's event was part of the Vote for Change concert blitz presented by MoveOn PAC, a political action committee whose stated goal is "to take back our government."

Proceeds from ticket sales go to MoveOn PAC. Everyone who bought the $50 tickets had to be a registered voter and sign a campaign contribution form.

Along with Pearl Jam and last night's opening act, Death Cab for Cutie, the 33-city Vote for Change concert lineup features shows by such stars as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, R.E.M., the Dave Matthews Band, Bonnie Raitt, the Dixie Chicks, James Taylor, and Kenny "Babyface" Edmunds.

Even Neil Young, the rock icon whose strident "Ohio" captured the pain of the 1970 Kent State shootings, Peter Frampton, and actor Tim Robbins made unannounced appearances last night at the Toledo show.

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder rocks at the Toledo Sports Arena. He also spoke on politcal issues. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder rocks at the Toledo Sports Arena. He also spoke on politcal issues.
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About a half-hour into Pearl Jam's two-hour set, lead singer Eddie Vedder paused and held up a copy of The Blade. "I just want to read a couple of statistics from the newspaper, then get back to the songs," he said. "Four percent of the whole U.S. population is in Ohio. You account for 25 percent of the jobs that have been lost in the last four years. That's staggering. And this is a swing state?"

Most of the 6,000 fans - tickets sold out in less than 10 minutes - appeared to be political allies of Pearl Jam in seeking to help Democratic Sen. John Kerry move into the White House.

Some fans came from as far away as California and Massachusetts for the concert/political rally.

"I'm here for the music - and anything the band supports, we support," said Karen Thompson, 39, of Boston, wearing a Red Sox jersey.

About three hours before the show, Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie Vedder wandered outside the cement-block building and chatted with a small group of fans.

"I went up to him and asked if I could have his autograph and he said, 'Whoa, first let's talk about the election,'●" said Steve Miller, 25, of Youngstown.

"He asked me who I'm voting for and I said Kerry and he said, 'Why?'●" Mr. Miller said. "I told him, and then, since I'm a fourth-year medical student, I asked him what he thought Kerry would do for Medicare and Medicaid. He said I probably know more about that subject than he does."

But Mr. Vedder talked at length about other political issues, from the war in Iraq to luxury taxes, according to Joe Scalfaro, 23, of Akron and Terissa Brokaw, 29, of Youngstown.

"He was very calm. He listened to everybody's comments. I kind of forgot who we were talking to for a minute there," said Ms. Brokaw, who said she is "leaning toward Kerry" but is still undecided.

"I want to wait until the rest of the debates before I make up my mind," she said.

The parking lot of the East Toledo venue was filled with Pearl Jam songs blaring from car stereos, anti-Bush demonstrators handing out bumper stickers and pamphlets, and volunteers seeking to sign up new voters.

A group of gaudily dressed protesters, wearing formal attire with fake currency spilling out of their pockets, held a facetious "Billionaires for Bush" sign. "I'm as much a billionaire as I am a Bush supporter," one quipped.

Members of the organization America Coming Together, which helped organize the concerts, set up a table and sent volunteers into the crowd armed with voter-registration forms.

"We got a few people signed up," said Kathryn Dennler, 23, of ACT. "But ACT has had more than 1,000 total registrations in Toledo so far and 150,000 in Ohio - and every vote counts."

Backstage before the concert, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron discussed their involvement in Vote for Change.

While they both are strong supporters of Senator Kerry, they said the goal of the concert is to make music fans aware of the issues and get them involved in the political process.

"It's an awareness campaign," said Mr. Cameron, sipping a cup of coffee. "The name 'Vote for Change' might be an implicit endorsement for Kerry, but we're not explicitly endorsing him. We just want to tell people it's really important that they register to vote."

"We're trying to use this opportunity to do our duty as citizens," said Mr. Ament, drinking bottled water and eating a Nutri-Grain bar. "Like Bruce [Springsteen] said the other night: Is what we're doing any worse than what lobbyists do? They get paid for it. We're not even getting paid."

Mr. Ament said that once the show starts, the performers don't harp on political issues.

"We're here to play and to put on a good rock show," Mr. Cameron added. "That's why people buy the tickets."

Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer of Death Cab for Cutie, an up-and-coming Seattle rock quartet, said they feel an obligation to use their time in the spotlight to promote Mr. Kerry's presidential campaign.

"It's our duty, to turn a phrase from the Republicans, as patriots," Mr. Gibbard said. "If we wake up Nov. 3 and we find out we were in the minority and George Bush is re-elected, then at least we can say we did everything we could."

"We'd be completely remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity," Mr. Harmer said.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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