On Thursday, July 8, the Concert for John Kerry at Radio City Music Hall raised $7.5 million for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, with tickets starting at $250 (just for the concert) to $25,000 (for the concert and reception).
On Friday, July 9, a grassroots group with a similar name that’s existed since April, Concerts for Kerry, presents a comedy show at Southpaw in Brooklyn. It will be hosted by cult comics David Cross, Todd Barry, and Jon Benjamin (a/k/a Tinkle), and will feature Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen and Air America Radio‘s Marc Maron.
Cross, who drew criticism for using the N-word at an official Howard Dean rally last summer, may be a loose comedic cannon, but Nikki Columbus, a Concerts for Kerry founder, is not worried about any controversy. All Concerts for Kerry events are not official fundraisers. But just in case, the requisite “The opinions expressed here tonight are not the opinions of John Kerry” will be announced, so that no Post reporter can deem any potentially caustic comments as being endorsed by Kerry himself.
After shaking Walter Mondale’s hand at Zabar’s, Columbus started her political volunteer career in 1988, passing out flyers for Dukakis outside the 72nd Street and Broadway subway station near her parents’ house. She was 13. Looking back, she deadpans that it was “preaching to the choir, or I should say, the synagogue.”
Later, she left the neighborhood and volunteered for campaigns for Al Gore (spending the last few weekends of October 2000 in Pennsylvania) and former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen. But after John Kerry emerged the front-runner on Super Tuesday of this year, Columbus approached her friend Arkady Gerney and wondered what they could do now.
At the time Kerry’s campaign had raised an anemic $70 million, while Bush’s boasted $200 million. To combat what Columbus perceived to be “ads filled with lies and distortions,” she and Gerney thought of concerts with a positive message, specifically for Kerry and not intrinsically against Bush. Without many contacts in the music business, they found bands they knew through friends and college; and on April 7 the first Concert for Kerry with Bishop Allen, Silent League, and the Head Set launched at the Knitting Factory.
Soon, people all across the country found the Concerts for Kerry website and asked how they could help. In response, the group made a coordinator kit available for download that contained rules, guidelines, and a contribution form. A June 6 comedy night in Los Angeles, California, featured Kevin Nealon, Bob Odenkirk, and Tenacious D (with Jack Black).
Concerts for Kerry’s outreach catches the eye of the 18-to-35-year-old demographic with relatively low ticket prices (roughly ranging from $10 to $40). Every single penny goes to the Kerry campaign. All the artists involved volunteer their time, as do all the people behind the scenes (venues only profit from food and beverage sales).
Most of the audience are first-time contributors, some politically opinionated, others musically interested. For the latter, Concerts for Kerry hopes to impart the importance of this year’s election. Those who cannot afford $500 for a seat at an official fundraiser might think $15 is insignificant to the Kerry campaign, yet Concerts for Kerry enables them to make affordable contributions with the added bonus of a party thrown in as thanks.
So far they’ve raised over $140,000, which the better-funded and promoted Concert for John Kerry surpassed after selling just six tables at the reception. Their efforts are still impressive for a core group of four people (Columbus and Gerney along with Tim Cullen and Nancy Meakem).
They have spoken to the Kerry campaign, who’ve been “encouraging” but Concerts for Kerry makes it clear they are “separate but supportive.”
The website serves as a conduit between concertgoer and the Kerry campaign. After reserving tickets on the Concerts for Kerry website you’re forwarded to the Concerts for Kerry volunteer page on the Kerry campaign’s website so your donation goes directly to the Kerry campaign.
Concerts for Kerry has until July 29 to raise money for Kerry. On that day at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Kerry officially accepts the nomination and can only receive federal funds for his campaign, limited to $75 million. Concerts for Kerry plans to go on after that and find another group to support that would bolster Kerry as he campaigns through November.
Friday night’s show is sold out but people are invited to come to the door and check the waiting list. The next NYC Concert for Kerry is on July 20 with David Poe, Duncan Sheik, and Joseph Arthur.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2004