EW rates the Vote for Change tour -- Here are the musical highlights and lowlights of the star-studded swing state tour staged to encourage people to vote in the presidential election

By EW Staff
Updated October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

The tailgate parties, the $48 souvenir sweatshirts, the alcohol-stoked fans: Outside most of the six Pennsylvania venues that hosted the launch of the Vote for Change tour on Oct. 1, the scene was pretty mundane. Inside, though, it was anything but routine, as a cavalcade of largely white, VH1 Classic-approved musicians — from Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne to R.E.M. and Dave Matthews — along with a handful of indie acts (like Death Cab for Cutie) began an unprecedented 33-city tour to persuade swing-state voters to fire an American president. To see how music and message stood side by side on what is surely one of the year’s most unusual tours, we attended each of the opening nights to see if ”rock the vote” took on new meaning.

Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., John Fogerty, Bright Eyes

Wachovia Center, Philadelphia

An evening of three generations of mythic (or quasi-mythic) American rock: Springsteen and Fogerty for the boomers, R.E.M. for Gen-X, and Bright Eyes for Gen-Y. The oldsters won, but not without a fight.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush

Other than Michael Stipe’s Kerry T-shirt, the music did most of the talking, with an emphasis on songs heavy on social commentary, from R.E.M.’s ”World Leader Pretend” to Springsteen’s ”Lost in the Flood” and Bright Eyes’ life-during-wartime tune ”Trees Get Wheeled Away.”

Musical Highlights

Stipe singing ”Because the Night” with the E Street Band; Springsteen joining R.E.M. for ”Man on the Moon”; and Fogerty, backed by the E Street Band, snarling ”Fortunate Son.”

Ticket-Holder Profile

Video screens broadcast anti-Bush, antiwar sound bites by many of the musicians on the tour, but the biggest applause went to E Street drummer Max Weinberg. ‘Nuff said.

Random Audience Quote

”Who’s Bright Eyes?”

A- (David Browne)

Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie Sovereign Center, Reading

Death Cab were solid but neglected as 8,000 mostly pro-Kerry faithful came to bow at the altar of Eddie Vedder.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush

Nothing specific, though the message was clear. ”We were gonna play ‘Bushleaguer,’ but the approach is to play a love song instead,” said Vedder, launching into ”Nothingman.”

Musical Highlight

Jam combined ”Daughter” with the Ramones’ ”Blitzkrieg Bop” for a sing-along: ”Hey! Ho! Let’s vote!”

Ticket-Holder Profile

Frat-guy types who knew the words to every song.

Random Audience Quote

”This whole thing is supposed to be about voting and freedom of speech, but there’s no beer?” whined one fan about the 9:30 p.m. alcohol cutoff. Nice priorities, dude.

B+ (Whitney Pastorek)

Dave Matthews Band, Jurassic 5, Ben Harper, My Morning Jacket

Bryce Jordan Center, State College

Dave Matthews Band electrified the base and converted all DMB undecideds.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush

Only Matthews’ coy ”Thank you for voting, whoever you vote for.”

Musical Highlight Matthews’ rawking scat on Buffalo Springfield’s ”For What It’s Worth.”

Ticket-Holder Profile Put it this way: There were more African Americans in Jurassic 5 — and slackers in My Morning Jacket — than there were in the audience.

Random Audience Quote ”WE ARE! KERRY’S STATE!” the crowd seemed to be chanting before the encore. Wow! It was awesome. Turns out they were actually chanting ”WE ARE! PENN STATE!” Not as cool.

A- (Gregory Kirschling)

John Mellencamp, Babyface F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre

Mellencamp electrified the 1,800-strong crowd with over an hour of folksy Americana and fist-pumping rock hits, followed by a 25-minute miniset by smoothed-out soul singer Babyface.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush

Zero. Mellencamp let the proletarian lyrics on ”Rain on the Scarecrow” and ”Authority Song” do the speechifying.

Musical Highlight A super-extended ”Pink Houses,” proof that Toby Keith doesn’t have a stranglehold on pop patriotism.

Ticket-Holder Profile

Blue-collar folks straight out of Mellencamp’s ”Small Town.” Random Audience Quote Overheard in the beer line: ”Who’s Babyface anyway?”

B+ (Michael Endelman)

Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo’ Warner Theatre, Erie

This ain’t your parents’…oh, wait, it is your parents’ protest concert. Thankfully, Hall of Famers Raitt and Browne, and bluesman Keb’ Mo’ didn’t rock anyone to sleep.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush One. ”We’re not gonna do ‘Running on Empty’ tonight,”Browne said, ”’cause we’d be singing it for George Bush.”

Musical Highlight Slide-guitar pro Raitt capped a magical acoustic set with John Prine’s ”Angel From Montgomery.” Gorgeously apolitical.

Ticket-Holder Profile

Tame,toe-tapping boomers.

Random Audience Quote ”Maybe if Kerry wins, music will get good again, like in the ’60s and ’70s.”

B (Raymond Fiore)

Dixie Chicks, James Taylor Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh

Anti-abortion and pro-peace picketers exchanged words on the streets, but inside, the Chicks and Taylor were the model of harmony in two joint sets, often co-opting each other’s hits.

Number of References to Bush or Need to Oust Bush

Four. ”People have asked if I wanted to take back what I said,” Natalie Maines noted. ”But I didn’t want to be a flip-flopper. I knew Bush would hate that.”

Musical Highlight Maines serenaded ”Sweet Baby James,” while Taylor ran with ”Ready to Run.”

Ticket-Holder Profile Well-dressed fortysomething Demo stalwarts.

Random Audience Quote

A nervous Bush supporter: ”I’m trying to keep my voice down.”

A- (Chris Willman)