St. Paul, Minn. — For pop music fans, especially those 35 and older, a concert featuring the likes of R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen all on the same bill, has the potential to be the show of a lifetime. It became even more so, when folk rocker Neil Young made a surprise appearance.
Initially however, Tuesday night's concert also had many of the markings of a presidential campaign event.
Every Xcel Energy entrance was awash with the John Kerry/ John Edwards campaign logo -- on shirts, signs, buttons and hats. Some 19,000 people attended the concert, and the proceeds from those ticket sales -- an estimated $1 million -- will go to groups trying to defeat President Bush in the November election.
Some of the concertgoers said they were there more for the music than the political message, but Ken from Crookston said the show convinced him that his decision to support John Kerry for President was right.
"This has solidified not being on the fence. Not looking to the fence. Tonight was awesome. Tonight epitomized what George Bush isn't to me," he said.
Across the street, a group of Bush supporters calling themselves Protest Warriors picketed the concert. Members carried signs mocking what they called liberal ideology. One sign was even more to the point. It read, "Don't tell us how to vote, and we won't tell you how to sing."
Tim Sigler feels the same way. Sigler's full-time job is being a Bruce Springsteen surrogate for die-hard fans who -- for one reason or another -- aren't able to get enough Bruce in their lives.
"When you can't afford to see Bruce Springsteen, or when Bruce Springsteen's not touring, then the next best thing is to come see Lucky Town," says Sigler.
Lucky Town is Sigler's Springsteen tribute band. He formed it three years ago after attending his first Springsteen concert and having, like many other Springsteen fanatics, a "near-religious experience." Sigler sings, plays rhythm guitar and harmonica. He and his bandmates don't look like Bruce and the E Street band, but they try their darndest to sound like them.
Many fans strongly support Springsteen's decision to stage a series of concerts on behalf of John Kerry and other Democratic candidates. They see it as a natural outgrowth of the social conscience of his songwriting. Others, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty included, were crestfallen. Tim Sigler, who backs President Bush, says he was disappointed too, though not surprised.
"It's never been a mystery what Bruce's political beliefs were. But at the same time, he's never come out and endorsed a candidate like this, and come out on tour to raise money. So it's created division among the fans," says Sigler.
To Sigler, Springsteen's live shows always represented an opportunity for release and rejuvenation. He sees them as a chance to get away from life's challenges and have a good time, without having someone's political views thrown in your face. Sigler also appreciated how Springsteen left a window open in his songs for individual interpretation. He says now that the Boss has come out politically, that window's been closed.
"It does make it harder to have your own personal view or world view on the song, or your own interpretation, when he's kind of narrowing the outcome a little bit by revealing a little more of himself like this," says Sigler. "Some things like this are kind of better when they're mysterious, and you don't quite know, and you get to interpret it yourself."
Sigler describes Lucky Town as a politically diverse band. There are Republicans, Democrats, and independents, but Sigler says they've all agreed not to let politics get in the way of recreating Springsteen's music.
"Even though we have difference of opinions as individuals, as a band we agree to keep politics out of it, because there's enough of that on TV, you know?"
One person who doesn't share Sigler's oil-and-water view of politics and entertainment is Jeff F. Jeff F., who didn't want his last name disclosed, used to be Lucky Town's sax player, playing the Big Man -- Clarence Clemons to Sigler's Springsteen. A few weeks ago Sigler and Jeff F. had a mutual parting of ways, but not necessarily because of political differences.
Jeff F. says Bruce Springsteen not only has the right, but the obligation, to voice his views.
"I think it's kind of a responsibility for people who have the platform to speak out," he says.
Jeff F. says Springsteen's songs are more than just entertainment.
"I think it's deeper than your average pop song. I think he has a lot to say," says Jeff F. "And it's not to be taken with a grain of salt, as 'I'm just this pop performer.'"
While Tim Sigler feels let down by Bruce Springsteen's participation in the Vote for Change tour, he made plans to attend the show. He says he was able to circumvent the political donation process by buying a ticket dirt cheap from a scalper. Sigler admits if Springsteen was touring on behalf of President Bush, he would gladly pay full price.
"But at the same time, I still think that music and politics don't necessarily mix," says Sigler. "For me it's a release, it's a form of entertainment, and I think they should be separate."
Sigler doesn't think the Vote for Change tour will make it harder for Lucky Town to get gigs. To him, any publicity is good publicity.