Art & Activism: Causes or Candidates?

I am attending a Bruce Springsteen/REM/John Fogerty/Bright Eyes concert this weekend at Gund Arena in Cleveland. It is one of two Vote for Change concerts happening in my hometown Saturday night; James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks are also in town. The concert I’m attending is obviously not a folk show, and I don’t mention it here to advance any political agenda, including that of the MoveOnPac, who are presenting the shows.

But it raises the already hotly debated question: What is appropriate in the arena of artist activism? From the early days of folk music, the music has been linked to social causes, politics, and activism. The work of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger is inextricably linked to their efforts in these areas. But these current concerts – scheduled for swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan – have ignited this debate. Audiences seem to be comfortable with artists working on behalf of causes, but advocating specific candidates is another matter. Springsteen’s fans, in particular, seem to be deeply divided on this issue. The Dixie Chicks’ comments about President Bush and the ensuing controversy showed how explosive this can be.

What do you feel is appropriate? Do we need to be “comfortable” with artist’s choices? Do you stop listening or supporting an artist who espouses a cause or a candidate you don’t agree with?

(After writing this post, I went to lunch and picked up a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which has an excellent piece on this issue by music writer John Soeder. It is online at Cleveland.com here.)

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