Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Ne-Yo, The Goo Goo Dolls and, Oh, Yes, Barack"

Ne-Yo performs during the Los Angeles Generation Obama Concert. (Photo: Andrew Gombert/European Pressphoto Agency)

The Caucus (NY Times political blog):
When the doors of the Gibson Amphitheatre in Hollywood, Calif., opened last night, 4,500 Barack Obama supporters and volunteers surged down the tiered aisles to their seats.
Natalie Rojas, 22, the state coordinator for Students for Barack Obama, had already settled in for the rally/fund-raiser/concert. She had arrived early to greet student groups from USC and UCLA. Students for Obama has 24 California chapters, according to Ms. Rojas, who drove five hours from the University of Santa Cruz to attend the event.

“This is the first politician to really inspire me,” she said as she watched the arrivals. “You can just feel that he has a lot of integrity, and that kind of bold honesty is new to my generation.”

She fished in her leather briefcase for a clipboard to write on. “We have a public relations person, but she had finals,” said Ms. Rojas, “so she couldn’t come.”

Shelley Peterson, 50, stood by, a beatific look on her face. Ms. Peterson, a campaign volunteer who distributed volunteer forms and call lists by the theater entrance, said Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, was the first politician in years to inspire her to become politically active. “He says illuminating, magnetizing things,” she said.

She wore 11 Obama buttons on the front of her long-sleeved shirt. The buttons showed Mr. Obama smiling amid red and blue stars, standing in profile against an orange sunset, and looking thoughtfully toward distant mountains. One was powder pink with roses bordering a smiling Michelle Obama in a pink shirt by the words, “Our next first lady,” written in dainty script.

“I’m always wearing Obama buttons,” said Ms. Peterson. “I usually give them away to people.”

Inside, cameras swarmed around Taye Diggs, the actor, as he walked toward the orchestra seats.

In addition to sporadic celebrity sightings, the fund-raiser included performances by ’90s alt-rockers The Goo Goo Dolls and R&B singer Ne-Yo. Tickets cost $25-$250.

“I don’t know who that Ne-Yo guy is,” said Ms. Peterson, “but my daughter loves him.”

The event in Hollywood was one in series of “Generation Obama” fund-raisers, events that include live music in a bid to draw a younger crowd. Last night was a book end, along with the music-packed event in Chicago in November, to Mr. Obama’s three state tour with Oprah Winfrey, which drew record crowds.

Unlike in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, Mr. Obama was the biggest name on the marquee at the Hollywood event, according to people in the crowd. The Goo Goo Dolls are no Oprah.

But the Goo Goo Dolls have a history of playing political events, including a Boston fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton in early October.

After a short speech by Nick Cannon, host of MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out,” and Kal Penn, of “Harold and Kumar” fame, Ne-Yo took the stage amid a din of screaming female voices.

He wore a black suit, fedora and a diamond earring that sparkled above his jaw as he sang beneath an Obama ‘08 banner lit with red and blue stage lights.

“This is for Barack,” he said, “our next president.”

In the uppermost tier of the theater, a row of elderly men and women sat in wheelchairs, craning their necks to see the R&B singer as he crooned the lyrics to “Go on Girl,” rising to his toes, snapping his knees forward, and resting a fingertip on the brim of his hat.

When Senator Obama took the stage, the amphitheater seemed to rattle with the force of the crowd as they whistled and yelled his name. He catalogued the mistakes of the Bush Administration, describing his plans to “bring America back.” He whipped the audience into a lather as he moved from slow, measured words to a loud, fast call for “change,” an “end to fear,” and the eviction of “lobbyists” from the White House.

Tony B.Conscious, a street poet, sat with his head tilted back so that he could see through the short dreadlocks that fell over his eyes. He wore a black shirt with a portrait of Mr. Obama on the front next to the words “He’s Black and I’m Proud.”

Mr. B.Conscious, 30, makes the shirts and sells them on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, where he is known for his graffiti and the portraits he paints of Mr. Obama.

“I’m famous for those portraits in Venice,” he said, referring a reporter to the You Tube videos he has made of his work.

“I believe in him,” he added. “It’s not just because he’s black. But being black is the icing on the cake.”

Toward the back of the theater, actress Kerry Washington walked slowly up and down an aisle at the request of some photographers who crouched and moved around her, cameras flashing.

She wove her black stilettos around the long legs of Mr. B.Conscious, who was sprawled in the aisle. She paused and leaned toward him. A dark curl fell across her forehead. She grinned.

“I like your shirt,” she said.

“Why, thank you,” said Mr. B.Conscious.



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