Inside the ''Gathering of the Tribes'' music festival -- The unlikely mix of performers sharing the stage for the two-day/two-city concert

Breaking the Sound Barriers
”It’s a lot to swallow in one day,” said Iggy Pop, backstage at the ”Gathering of the Tribes” concert in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Oct. 7. ”It’s like the old pop festivals.” Well, not exactly. The barrier-smashing two-day/ two-city musical extravaganza (which also played San Francisco’s Shoreline Amphitheatre Oct. 6) drew more than 10,000 fans for each 10-hour concert, just like the old days. But the shows exhibited a range of musical styles all but forbidden on pop radio, let alone in concert. Rappers like Ice-T shared the stage with hard-rockers like Soundgarden and the London Quireboys, punk-rock veterans like Pop and the Cramps, and politically minded folkies like the Indigo Girls and Michelle Shocked. The idea, according to Cult lead singer and co-organizer Ian Astbury, was to take a stand against the musical and racial segregation that, even in 1990, dominates the pop music world.

When the predominantly young, white concertgoers weren’t pumping their fists at Ice-T or Queen Latifah, or singing along with Soundgarden’s ”Big Dumb Sex,” they could wander through tents set up for Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the gay-rights organization Act Up, Rock the Vote (a voter- registration drive), and local animal-rights groups. To the surprise of the more jaded in the crowd, concertgoers could be found standing in long lines to sign up for causes or simply grab pamphlets. Elsewhere they could drop by pottery and silk-screen exhibits, receive an erasable tattoo, or relive their childhood with what was billed as the world’s largest bubble-blowing machine.

Sinéad O’Connor and Drew Barrymore were among the backstage celebrities, but that wasn’t the big news. As a show of strength for rock of the future, ”A Gathering of the Tribes” made its point with the accuracy of a CD laser beam. Remarked one concertgoer, ”It seems there are so many of us. It’s like the good guys won after all.”

(Additional reporting from Gina Arnold and Chris Morris)