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Looking Back at the Concert That Tried to Save America

Jurassic 5 during Vote for Change Concert - Washington, DC - October 11, 2004 at MCI Center in Washington, DC, United States. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Editor’s note: It’s easy to forget now, but in 2004, we were a nation just as divided. George W. Bush was facing a tough reelection campaign against Democratic challenger John Kerry. That year, Bruce Springsteen and others joined forces to barnstorm through swing states on the Vote for Change tour. The tour hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa. The tour culminated with the biggest names from the tour performing on Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C. The lineup was star-studded: Springsteen, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, the Chicks, James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Jurassic 5, Keb’ Mo’ and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The five-and-half hour show culminated with several all-star collaborations. 

Zaakir aka Soup from Jurassic 5 remembers that night and gives his story on the hopefulness, hilarity and everything else that ensued behind the scenes at the MCI Center.

J5, we were political cats, but we’re more anti-political politics at that time. How we got on that tour was something dealing with Dave Matthews. And I think he it’s not like he came in was like, “Look, guys, won’t you do this?” It was more of one of those things to where we were at our height. There was just so much stuff coming at us, man. But when that came across our desk, we did it.

By the time we got to DC, we played all the swing states. A lot of people were in the venue when we got there. When we walked in, I know like one or two people were like “Bruce has been waiting for you guys.” I was like “Bruce who? Bruce Lee?” And they were like “No, Bruce Springsteen.”

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I asked, “he’s waiting for who?”

“He’s been waiting for you guys,” someone said.

We all looked at each other, like really? Like, there were heavy hitters in that fucking building, it was heavy. We had to be the lowest on the totem pole.

When we walked in Bruce was on stage, there were a lot of people on stage, actually. A lot of the E Street Band was there and it was just like a smorgasbord of music’s who’s who. Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Springsteen, Babyface. Hell, Susan Sarandon was there with Tim Robbins. John Mellencamp.

They were all on stage, hobbin’ and nobbin’ with each other. And we walk in like the new kids at the new school classroom that you know, they don’t know. And Bruce is like “J5! Come on up!” And I’m just sitting now like fucking Bruce Springsteen is telling me to come by and his wife, Patti was there and she was all smiles. She was like “Oh my God, it’s a pleasure to meet you!” Bruce was telling us how much he loved us and I was there thinking that we were the new shiny toy. Jackson Browne told us his kids loved us. I went up to James Taylor since my wife is such a big fan of his so I had to say something to him. I didn’t know if anyone else in the group listened to them, but I listened to everyone who was there.

Looking Back at the Concert That Tried to Save America

Patti had on this diamond bracelet and it fell off her arm. You know when they say bling, this shit was like — only the stage lights were on and that shit was SPARKLING, homie. It fell right by me and I’m going to myself [Laughs.] “Whew, luckily this ain’t 1983.” If it was 1983, she woulda never saw that shit again. I almost stepped on it and I picked it up. And then I said “Mrs. Springsteen, did you drop this? And she was like, oh my God!” I was like “Oh your God?” I just gave you back like $3 million.

Then Bruce wanted to run through the song (a cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power”) with us ’cause he was pretty much conducting the whole thing. I’m sitting there and I’m trying not to stare and not fucking bug out on all these people even though Bruce is right next to me.

I felt like with the music we were doing I just felt we carved out a niche. But that was the first time I ever felt like, “Yo, I feel like a real musician.”

By the time we did our set, a few people knew us. Don’t get me wrong, but I’m pretty sure ain’t too many Bonnie Raitt or Springsteen fans were going to know us. You cannot tell me that Jackson Browne fans were like “We cannot wait for J5.” When we got up there, I usually care when they ain’t feeling us. It really fucks up my mood. But here, if they didn’t know us, they at least had to be pretty impressed with us and we had to work for it. It was like let’s just do what we need to do and we did it.

Backstage, I didn’t wanna say any silly shit so I just kept my mouth closed. But I saw Clarence Clemons just sitting there and he looked tired. He was sitting there chilling and all of this shit was going on but he never budged. I’m hyped and I forgot Clarence is used to this shit so he’s cool with everyone. I remember going man, “Bro you look real tired” [Laughs] and he just looked at me and smiled like “look at another dumb youngster.”

Looking Back at the Concert That Tried to Save America

[During the other performances] we just kind of sat there and then to go out and be on the side of the stage and see some of these people like James Taylor perform, I knew this shit was way different. Sitting where we were, there was no real conversation, just small chit-chat.

Being in an arena like that, t’s just a different energy and you know, we had a chance to do our thing. I was waiting for it to hurry up and be over with. Being rushed into something like that can blow your mind.

Since I was the best singer in J5, I was wondering who’d hold the mic when we got to the finale. The energy was just…different. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. If it was a J5 show like that, comfort all day long. When you look at Springsteen, Babyface and you look at these people who’ve sold millions of records and there might have been a billion fucking dollars on that stage, and you get thrown up there and we were all nervous. But once we went up there and saw everyone singing, I knew I could do it. Seeing an arena like that filled to capacity, yeah that’s my thing, I love that shit.

After that show, we had to leave right away, but I wanted to stay. We got out after what we needed to do since we had another show in Anaheim I think.

That shit was really, you know, to sit around and be up there with them and that type of shit, man, it was something else. That’s still one of my favorite things that we’ve ever done.