Local Rhythms – Conventional Music

Politics and music make strange bedfellows – well, for one party anyway.  When fellow Georgians the Allman Brothers played to raise money for Jimmy Carter in 1976, it made complete sense. Linda Ronstadt singing for Jerry Brown was another no-brainer.  The two were dating at the time.

But when Ronald Reagan’s campaign tried to appropriate Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984, all I could think was – has anyone actually listened to this song?

The same thought crossed my mind when John McCain brought Reggaeton phenom Daddy Yankee to a rally the other day.  I don’t think “Gasolina” means what you think it does, Senator – not to mention “zorra.”

Perhaps McCain’s too crazy by half.   “A ‘genre’ of music with exactly one beat … the same song, over and over, and only the faces and presentation change,” wrote blogger Adam Serwer.  “Which is perfect for a campaign and a candidate who are offering more of the same.”

This brings me to the currently ongoing political conventions.  If you think the two parties can’t agree on health care, then check out their differences in music.

The Democrats brought the Black Eyed Peas to Denver, along with Rage Against the Machine and hemp spokesman Willie Nelson.  They will entertain a crowd that’s on average 20 years younger than their Republican counterparts who meet next week in Minnesota.

“I don’t think we can party as hard as they are now, but 20 years ago we could,” said a GOP convention talent organizer.  That explains their decades-old headliners: Styx, Sammy Hagar and the Beach Boys.

For the Dems, “old school” means Moby and Melissa Etheridge, both of whom play convention after-parties.  The Republicans?  Maybe Wayne Newton wasn’t available.

That’s not totally fair – the right does have a cutting edge of sorts.  Smashmouth plays St. Paul, but their biggest hit was a Monkees cover.  Country music, both new and old, is still reliably in the Republican corner, though, with LeAnn Rimes and the Bellamy Brothers topping a “Keep Florida Red” concert.

The GOP has “Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson, while the left’s convention parties include “Punk Rock 2008” and “Naughty Pierre’s Burlesque and Comedy Extravaganza.”

“Rock the Vote” didn’t even bother to send a band to the Twin Cities. That about says it all.

There’s a glimmer of bipartisan hope, however.  Colorado native son Big Head Todd is playing both conventions – a true independent.

How do things look closer to home?

Thursday: Mike & Mike, Lebanon Farmer’s Market – This duo play “progressive acoustic folk,” which could mean anything.  My recommendation isn’t about music – eating locally grown food is important.  It’s a small gesture in a world of mega-stores, but a vital one nonetheless.  Right now, the quality of produce available at Farmer’s Markets like this one – and others, in Claremont, Hanover, Bellows Falls – is superb.  You owe it to yourself to partake while the calendar still says “summer.”

Friday: Amity Front, Salt Hill Pub – Since this roots-rocking combo from Western Massachusetts cancelled a planned visit to Lebanon last spring, the Pub’s been trying to get them back.  They have a new album, “Border Towns,” with some real gems – the honky tonkin’  “Leave It All Behind” and the rave up “Cold Steel Bars” in particular.  It’s a fuller-sounding work that’s probably awesome live.

Saturday: Pariah Beat, Main Street Museum – Much to my regret, I missed the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival due to prior commitments. Pariah Beat and the aforementioned Amity Front performed at the mud-soaked affair, as did 12-year old musical prodigy Jason Meese, who joined PB for a bang-up version of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.” They then invited him to tonight’s show in White River Junction.  The Beat is celebrating the end of its recent East Coast tour.

Sunday: New World Music Festival, Chandler Music Hall – Cape Breton fiddle master Jerry Holland has been in town recently, giving seminars.  Today he performs, along with another 20 or so bands, at this all-day (noon till midnight) extravaganza.  The festival features Celtic and French Canadian music and dance performed on five stages.  Performers include John Doyle, Triptych and Yankee Chank (described as “Cajun and Creole dance music Vermont style”).

Tuesday: Hot Tuna & David Lindley, Higher Ground – What began as a Jefferson Airplane spin-off is still going strong forty years later.  Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were Americana before anyone knew it was called that, weaving many musical threads together into something truly unique.  David Lindley, who can play anything with strings, could and does headline all the time, making this show a real bargain. (Also Thursday @ Calvin, Northampton)

Wednesday: Hunger Mountain Boys, West Whately (MA) Chapel – A few miles south of the Vermont border, something called “Watermelon Wednesday” has been happening all summer. Today, a twangy trio that pleased fans at Lebanon Opera House a few years back, settles in for an evening of retro fun.

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