R•O•C•K in the RNC

Next week's Republican convention will bring a surprising amount of live music (and not all of it raging against the machinery).

Gretchen Wilson performs at the Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, Calif.

Photo: Dan Steinberg, Associated Press

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Who knew the Republican National Convention would amount to such a great week in live music?

Granted, next week's lineup won't be as star-studded as the Democratic National Convention in Denver, which has seen the likes of Kanye West, Death Cab for Cutie, Fall Out Boy, Sheryl Crow and, as was rumored at press time, Bruce Springsteen. But still, just the list of names for private GOP-friendly gigs next week is a lot more than what we usually see around Labor Day, including Gretchen Wilson, Daughtry, Sammy Hagar, LeAnn Rimes and Charlie Daniels.

Of course, the undisputable truth is that more of the noteworthy musicians coming to town are doing so to protest the Republican agenda, or at least to try to change it. Foremost among these is Rage Against the Machine, who perform Wednesday at the Target Center after playing in Denver this week.

"While there's a lot of clinking of champagne glasses and toasting one another and passing big checks back and forth inside the convention, there's a reality on the streets outside that will be represented by the Nightwatchman and Rage Against the Machine and Anti-Flag and all the other bands playing to protest in Minneapolis-St. Paul," said Rage guitarist Tom Morello. "We'll be outside the barbed-wire fences throwing musical Molotov cocktails toward the fences."

Other big concerts going against the GOP grain include Monday's Take Back Labor Day rally on Harriet Island -- featuring Morello's solo act the Nightwatchman, Steve Earle, Mos Def and lots more -- and Tuesday's free Ripple Effect festival at the State Capitol grounds, headlined by longtime political activist Michael Franti and his reggae/rock/rap band Spearhead.

"Because these things attract so much media from around the world, it's a great place to go and be heard," said Franti, who also performed during conventions for both sides in 2000 and 2004.

While Morello is a staunch supporter of third-party candidates such as Ralph Nader, Franti said he is a true independent and has made it a practice not to endorse candidates. However, he did make it clear that his No. 1 issue will put him directly across the aisle from McCain next week.

"I'm coming to [St. Paul] to join the voices saying we want our troops and our tax dollars to come back from Iraq," Franti said. "I've been to Iraq, and I've seen the futility and despair there. I feel strongly enough about the failure of our policies there to do what I can to change them."

Some of the private, invite-only gigs for GOP delegates are being staged by groups lobbying for musicians' causes. That includes the One Campaign and Recording Industry Association of America party on Wednesday with Daughtry and the impressively talent-packed Friends of New Orleans benefit at First Avenue on Monday.

"Both the Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast miserably," said Louisiana blues-rocker Tab Benoit, a longtime activist for Voice of the Wetlands and one of Monday's performers. "It's no surprise none of them are talking about Louisiana going into this election. We're playing both conventions to, hopefully, finally become a part of the conversation."

A chance to shine

Many local musicians are relishing the chance to be a bigger part of the rock-in-politics picture this year. A lineup of local all-stars is putting on Tuesday's ProVention concert at the Fitzgerald Theater, including members of Semisonic, the Honeydogs and Suburbs. Lots more are performing at Spark24, a 24-hour festival at Orchestra Hall.

"Whether you are liberal or conservative, having the national media focused on your community offers a rare spotlight," said Cloud Cult frontman Craig Minowa, whose band of staunch environmentalists will play the festival early Sunday. "We can let the world see that Minnesotans want to see some dramatic positive changes take place in our economy, environment and international relations."

By design, the Spark24 fest is one of the few RNC-related events created without politics in mind.

"We have no agenda other than to show off and support our local theater, arts and music scenes," said Spark24 originator Scott Mayer, who also organizes the annual Ivey Awards for the Twin Cities theater community.

Mayer thinks the Twin Cities will have good reason to brag over Denver in the end.

"Denver got more big names and world-class entertainment, but what [did] it show off in terms of its local arts and entertainment? Reporters from around the world will get to see just how rich Minneapolis and St. Paul are in that department."

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

On Stage
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