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Mixing music, politics no longer a surprise

I was there two years ago when Crosby Stills Nash & Young rolled through Washington on their "Freedom of Speech Tour." But it wasn’t until just this week that I realized the true impact of the show.

"Deja Vu," Neil Young's own document of that 2006 tour, recently came out, and it's a compelling look at how four guys, each a music giant in his own right, came together to do what they've always done: Play the songs that are windows into our world and speak out against government gone wrong.

At the show I went to in Ridgefield, outside Vancouver, the blue crowd of the Northwest embraced everything the band dished out. From the sing-along "Let's Impeach the President" all the way to changing up Graham Nash's "Military Madness" to refocus his ire toward President Bush.

But after watching the "Deja Vu" documentary, while that may have been the usual take in the blue states, it certainly didn't go over the same way in Atlanta.

Hundreds of "fans" streamed out of the show about midway through the show when Neil Young began the "Impeach" sing-along. Some stood for a while waving their outstretched middle fingers before leaving. And many found cameras outside waiting for their reactions. Several were upset about paying hundreds of dollars for tickets, only to be exposed to a "political rally."

Naive comes to mind. Exhibit 1: "Freedom of Speech Tour." Exhibit 2: Songs like "Ohio," "Military Madness" and "Immigration Man."

That's exactly the thing I don't understand about critics of musicians taking political stances. When have music and politics not been intertwined? From Seeger to Dylan all the way to Pearl Jam and R.E.M. (even someone as diminutive as Norah Jones has written a song bashing Bush), music has been filled with politics and a rallying point for all sorts of conflicts.

Seeing it all myself, it made it even more maddening to see many of the reactions in Atlanta. The show was split into sections with much of Neil Young's "Living with War" being played in the beginning. But they also played many of the group's hits. If they had bothered to stick around they would have seen a stirring tribute to the troops along with an epic rendition of "Rockin' in the Free World" and a stellar "Woodstock."

What stuck out the most was how these four 60-somethings could still wail on their guitars and still hit those amazing harmonies and still sing songs about moments that happened 40 years ago like they were unfolding today.

Maybe there is something to that "Deja Vu" title.

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