Some big name musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Dave Mathews played concerts in Iowa this week for democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, but another nationally-known musician who lives near Iowa City will perform tomorrow night for another candidate — a democrat running for Congress.
Greg Brown has played in lots of benefit concers for various causes, but in a rare move he will perform Friday night in Ames for Paul Johnson who is challenging republican Congressman Tom Latham. Brown says he respects Johnson and what he’s trying to do, and Brown says he thinks “it’s crisis time in our country. Everybody’s got to put their shoulder to the wheel where they can.”
Brown says he’s a singer, not a politician, so he’ll just tell concert-goers to vote and then sing his songs. A few of those songs are new, and Brown says they offer his take on the status of the country. One of them is titled “I Want My Country Back.” Another of the new songs is called “A Good Dream To Stand Up For.” Brown says “what’s happened in our country is a disaster, pretty much and part of a big process of corporations taking things over to the point where individuals feel they don’t have a voice in things anymore.”
So, what is the role of the “balladeer” or song-writer in American culture? Brown says artists don’t necessarily have a moral responsibility to speak out about political things.
“When I do write about political issues, I generally do it in the context of a story where things are inferred in the way they’re impacting people’s lives.”
Brown says he personally finds a lot of political songwriting lacking. “It doesn’t do it for me, musically,” he says. “But sometimes…I’m moved by things going on to the point where I feel I’ve got to try to sing out something about it.”
Brown grew up in the church — his father was, as Brown describes it, a “Holy Roller” preacher. Brown grew up in southern Iowa, played what he calls “old hill music” with his grandparents” and listened to early rock and roll and what he calls the “grew stew” of American music.
“I just kind of put my dipper in there to see what I can come up with.” Brown says. Brown has met Johnson twice, most recently at a concert in Lansing, Iowa. Brown says there was a little music festival on the river, and the two started talking afterwards. Johnson told Brown about his congressional campaign, Brown offered to help, and Brown says the concert started rolling after that.
Brown will be among the performers next week in New York City at a benefit concert for democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Brown has twice been nomined for a Grammy award and two of his 12 albums have won “Indie” awards from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors.