While I stood in line to piss at Six Flags New Jersey–taking a break from the Sean Hannity Freedom Concert this weekend–I witnessed the following: A brown-skinned kid (probably Indian, maaybe Arab) got behind me to use the bathroom. Behind him, two grizzled guys with bandannas tied around their heads, sporting beards freshly bought “Freedom Tour” t-shirts, started talking very loudly to each other.
“Little Obama Osama better not take long–I gotta piss!” said the first, loud enough for the kid’s father to hear, who yanked his son up by the arm and dragged him to (presumably) another bathroom. The guys laughed smugly as the brown kid was carted off. For all the claims that the current wave of populist anger is primarily just repurposed racism, this was the only first-hand evidence I witnessed. Aside from that, I got a heaping dose of “American Exceptionalism” and a really sweet Ronnie Van Zandt t-shirt that cost me $30.
Tea baggers are big into t-shirts. People wore a lot of anti-Obama, anti-big government, anti-immigration t-shirts. My favorite said “Yo quiero papers?” and had a picture of the Taco Bell dog on it. I asked the guy wearing it where it was from, and he told me he made it himself, and that I could buy them on his website. He gave me his card, but I lost it.
There was an official merchandise table with a large sign that read “Freedom Gear.” Freedom gear includes $35 jerseys, $23 polos, and the $50 “Freedom Package,” which comes with a hat, shirt, and autographed Sean Hannity book. When I made a joke, the person selling merchandise yelped that “freedom certainly isn’t free” (echoing the sentiment of a button I saw worn by many in attendance), and then when I tried to buy something he ignored me and asked for the next in line. Owch.
I also missed opener Charlie Daniels (bummer), but contemporary Christian pop megastar Michael W. Smith was a huge hit. He stood alone onstage playing his keyboard, and people were genuinely moved by his banter, especially when he talked about hanging out with the president–not the current president, obviously–his 200-acre farm, his wife, and how much he loves this country. He sang an incredibly schmaltzy song that he dedicated to all the troops, dead and alive, and as he hit the song’s high note, like a sign from the heavens, a flock of Canadian geese flew majestically overhead. People went absolutely apeshit.
Smith then led us in a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” that I was too afraid not to sing. I did however forget to remove my hat (which I’m still not sure is customary for this song), and the old woman next to me elbowed me and advised me to do so. After Smith played, I walked outside to get a bottle of water and looked at all the black families having a great time while the white people were busy being visibly and audibly angry at whatever the hell they are angry about (taxes, guns, having to pay for parking).
I have never been to a show that made me feel like as much of a cracker. Even though I was there as a spectator, I knew I was part of the problem. I walked back into Sean Hannity, standing in front of two big American flags and tossing tiny footballs to the crowd.
Of all the big mouthed conservative pundits, I think that Sean Hannity is probably the worst. Glenn Beck is a flaccid little man, but at least he’s entertaining. Rush is funny (plus the pills!), and Bill O’Reilly is probably a total pussycat in real life. Hannity just seems like a goon, and he doesn’t care about hiding that part of himself, which makes it all the more goony. During the show, he came on stage to babble about how he doesn’t need “tax funded teleprompters” like Obama, and that real change is coming soon. He also thanked God for Fox News, which got an uproarious standing ovation, second only to the geese.
Hannity finished yakking and introduced a group of children who had parents killed in the line of duty. It was really sad, but also pretty exploitative. Some dude who had been yelling “Freebird” the entire evening waited until the kids were all finished being introduced, and then yelled it again as soon as they were off the stage.
Finally Hannity asked if we were ready to hear “Sweet Home Alabama.” People cheered and he then told us to get on our feet for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The one dude yelled “Freebird” again.
I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Skynyrd. I think that in terms of great 70s rock, there aren’t many bands that can hold a candle to them. I could wax on about how awesome bands like Ram Jam and Cactus are, but honestly, they all suck a fat one compared to Skynyrd. We all grew up screaming “Freebird” at concerts for a reason: because there was a time when Skynyrd was fucking untouchable.
But that was a band from a different era–with all due respect to Lynyrd Skynyrd 2010, they probably shouldn’t be calling themselves Lynyrd Skynyrd. As far as I can tell, there are no original members playing with the band and Johnny Van Zandt, little brother of Ronnie, looks and sounds like a guy who has been doing blow and drinking straight Jack for about 30 years without break. Which, to be honest, I wouldn’t really fault him for.
They opened with “Workin’ for MCA,” and people kind of looked at each other and shrugged. My calculations tell me most casual Skynyrd fans know Sweet Home, the ‘Bird, and pretty much nothing else. People danced for the first few seconds, and then it was a tranquil sea of bored-looking white folks. A lot of them started to leave. Many of them were old.
It occurred to me than that regardless of how sour I felt toward the evening, the audience, my country, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, that the band had at least achieved one truly rock n’ roll thing: they pissed off the seniors. I guess certain things never really change, and I’m glad that the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band taught me this valuable lesson the night I hung out with the Tea Baggers.
Read the rest at Vice Magazine: DEAR VICE - TEA BAGGIN’ WITH SKYNYRD - Viceland Today