Protest music has a long, long history in this country, probably going back as far as the first realization that music had a democratizing function that could be used to proselytize for a point of view. Certainly "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a type of protest song, and probably "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Arguably, the height of protest music was in the '60s, when it was not just popular to protest, but protest was popular music.
So, asks contributor Michael Popke in "Alive and Screaming," this week's cover story, has protest gone away, or can it still be found on today's recordings and stages? Yes, it's still around, he says, but the delivery is different. As proof he offers an array of lyrics and bands that try to get a point across, including an outfit called "The Raging Grannies."
Historically, the union movement has made extensive use of music to promote the cause of workers' rights and to attack many of society's inequities. And it has not abandoned that tactic to make a public statement, even if indirectly. Into the office this week came faxes announcing a concert with avowed political intent sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It's called the Take Back Labor Day Festival, and it's scheduled for Labor Day (Sept. 1) on Harriet Island in St. Paul, Minn., across the Mississippi River from the site of the Republican National Convention, which begins the next day.
The show features quite a lineup of musical stars, not one of whom has ever been sighted strumming an acoustic guitar while playing a harmonica. Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Tom Morello, Mos Def, Billy Bragg and Atmosphere are all national acts, but on Labor Day they will be activists too simply by taking part in this politically intended public gathering. (For more information see takebacklaborday.com.)
The festival will be the culmination of a three-day Take Back Labor Day Caravan comprising three vehicles that will make stops in various towns on the way to St. Paul for political rallies. The caravan will be in Madison on Aug. 30. Watch press reports for further information.
If you like gatherings for purposes of nonpolitical fun, join us this Saturday evening on the 100 block of East Main Street for the annual Madison's Favorites Block Party. We'll have bands (Reptile Palace Orchestra, Houses in Motion), food and potables, not to mention a preview of Madison's Favorites, to be published next week in the Annual Manual. For more details see the ad on page 31. The rain date is Sunday at 4 p.m., same place.