It looked like Fan Fair for political junkies.
As one star after another took the stage Tuesday night (Oct. 24) to sing their hits and the praises of Al Gore, the crowd that packed Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon repeatedly turned their backs to the music and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Democratic presidential candidate.
All three levels of the popular dance club were filled with supporters who had paid from $100 a ticket upward to see Gore, his running mate Joseph Lieberman and the candidates’ wives.
Ageless crooner Tony Bennett headlined a bill of performers that included Monty Holmes, Radney Foster, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kim Richey, Patty Loveless and BeBe Winans. Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George hosted the evening’s entertainment.
Holmes, who opened the show while the audience was still filtering through the metal detectors, capped his segment with his wistful salute to World War II vets, “The Boys of ’44.”
Introducing his first song, Radney Foster cracked, “I had a hit with this one a few years back, and it’s what George Bush is going to be singing after the election.” He then launched into “Just Call Me Lonesome.”
The most vocally partisan of the performers, Foster praised Gore for his pledge to reform campaign financing and ended his set with the shout, “Al Gore! Joe Lieberman! Take back the Senate! Take back the House!”
While the acts were originally scheduled to perform in tight sequence, more than an hour elapsed before the next act, Billy Ray Cyrus, went on. Cyrus managed to hold his audience, even though the arrival of Gore’s contingent was announced shortly before he went on. Accompanying himself on guitar (as Holmes and Foster had done), Cyrus opened with “You Won’t Be Lonely Now.”
“You all looking toward Nov. 7 so your voice can be heard?” Cyrus asked the crowd. The people buzzed affirmatively. Explaining how his next song, “Some Gave All,” had been inspired by a Vietnam veteran in Huntington, W. Va., Cyrus noted, “Al Gore has the chance to be the first commander-in-chief who is a Vietnam veteran himself.”
To the crowd’s delight, Cyrus wrapped up his segment with “Achy Breaky Heart.” He pranced, wiggled, shimmied and came down into the audience as the partygoers clapped, swayed and sang along.
“Go, Titans,” Cyrus shouted as he strode off.
Kim Richey came next with a brief three-song cluster. Following her opener, “Those Words We Said,” she accepted a glass of water from a stagehand and lifted it in a toast. “Cheers,” she said, “to Al Gore, the next president.”
Patty Loveless performed with a four-piece band. “I am so excited,” she beamed, after her introductory “A Handful of Dust.” “I was just back there with Mr. Tony Bennett. I’m just tore up.” Loveless sang a second song, “My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again,” before looking up at the Gore/Lieberman party standing on the upper tier. “I have to stop here,” she said, “and say hello to my old buddy, Al. I’m rooting for you. You too, Joe.” For her concluding number, Loveless offered a rocking, sing-along version of “Blame It on Your Heart.”
High-spirited BeBe Winans led his five-member backup ensemble onstage to further fire the crowd with his evangelistic “I Have a Dream” and “Love & Freedom.” Addressing Gore directly, Winans said, “I was honored to be with you when you started your campaign; I’m honored to be with you here at the end; and I’ll be honored to see you at the White House.” A choir of 20 joined him onstage for his uplifting finale, “Stand,” the refrain of which counsels, “After you’ve done all you can/You just stand.”
Supported by the ultracool Ralph Sharon Quartet, Tony Bennett charmed the throng with such standards as “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “I Got Rhythm,” “I Want to Be Around” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Following the band showcase piece “It Don’t Mean A Thing,” Bennett called the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their wives to the stage. Clearly, this was the moment the crowd had been waiting-for all evening. With a delivery as smooth and casual as Bennett’s singing style, Lieberman thanked the still-cheering supporters and introduced Gore. True to the event’s country flavor, Gore was dressed in denim shirt and blue jeans. “This is by far and away the most successful political event in the state of Tennessee,” he proclaimed.
Noting that the polls were predicting the closest presidential race since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, Gore urged the crowd to work hard for him during the remaining two weeks of the campaign. To spur them on, he humorously laid out their two morning-after-the-election choices: Waking to a grim, gray, rainy day, stumbling to the door and peeling a frozen newspaper from the front step to read, “Bush, Cheney Win” or waking to a single beam of bright, warm sunlight, the smell of freshly ground coffee and the sound of Tony Bennett and then seeing the headline “Gore, Lieberman Win.” The crowd seemed audibly inclined toward Option 2.