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What: Tell Us the Truth tour

Where: The Orange Peel

When: Saturday, Nov. 15

Hours after the Tell Us the Truth tour had moved on, its celebrity performers had headed back out on the road, and the crowd from the halls of the Asheville Community Resource Center had dispersed into the chilly downtown streets, I ran across Eamon Martin taking a much-needed breather at Broadway’s.

I figured that Martin — the most-public face of the Asheville Global Report, one of a myriad of local-activist groups represented at the Orange Peel show and the subsequent Asheville Community Resource Center press conference — could maybe use an encouraging word.

“Keep all this up,” I declared, “and one day you may actually make me care about the state of the world.”

Which is actually the whole point of the Tell Us the Truth tour.

It’s not (as some have suggested) simply about using music and big names to win converts to a particular activist movement, or even (as others have suggested) merely about preaching to the already converted (even if that’s often what actually happened in Asheville). As Audioslave’s Tom Morello (performing on this tour as The Nightwatchman) pointed out at the ACRC press conference: Tell Us the Truth’s ideal goal is about using music to “galvanize the troops.”

And that it did.

Scores of music lovers braved the daylight to pack into The Orange Peel for a highly unusual afternoon show. The $15 ticket wasn’t exactly activist-friendly, though it was made more reasonable by the fact that the musicians themselves — all big names — were taking a loss just by playing here. (Even with the press blackout the tour has largely experienced — political agendas tend to make promoters a lot less enthusiastic than, y’know, celebrity fashions — in a bigger city the show might have drawn a crowd of thousands, instead of the mere hundreds that turned out at The Orange Peel.)

Among the show’s highlights: Living soul legend Lester Chambers pumped new life into Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Chambers’ entire body emoting like a giant baritone vocal cord. Backing him was a collection of musicians straight out of an indie-record-store employee’s wet dream — including R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, British folk-rocker/activist Billy Bragg, and his Americana counterpart, Steve Earle.

Minus a few awkward flubs, the concert was everything you could have hoped it would be: No jam sessions, no showboating, plenty of passion.

Morello “raged” about bringing the fight to the powers that be; Bragg strummed and sang about more intellectual themes (replacing the concept of democracy with accountability, for instance); and Earle spoke about watching entire towns die because the pay rate drops the further south you go. He talked, too, about how all wars — from our current Middle East entanglement on back to the Civil War — come down to controlling money.

At the very end, all six musicians came out for a reprise of Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which very quickly morphed into Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” and then shifted right back into Mayfield’s song again. Then there was the encore — the Chambers Brothers’ anthem “The Time Has Come Today” — which seemed to come not from the group, but through them.

I don’t know if what Earle and the rest of his cohorts preached was true — or, for that matter, if it was truly important. But they certainly made a good case for their ideas — even if I left the show feeling only slightly different about the world than when I went in.

But if a change was coming — as Chambers so passionately claimed — at least someone had bothered to really shout about it.


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