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Pure populism for now people 

Activists and musicians gather to 'give Greens a chance'

Atlanta Civic Center, April 12 -- As the acoustic duo Foxfire kicked off Ralph Nader's "People Have the Power" Super Rally with a soft and pleasing opening set in the main auditorium, a few rapt listeners sat quietly. In the lobby, acrobats, clowns and flickering video images of outsider icons Michael Moore, Geraldine Ferraro and even the Simpsons helped more than 100 exhibitors -- representing a staggering variety of activist groups -- draw attention to their stacks of literature, petitions and stickers.

The circus-like atmosphere of the lobby contrasted sharply with the chilly silence of the performance area as the Sonia Tetlow Band began its set. But guitarist Tetlow's impassioned wail, at times recalling the fiery rage of a young Patti Smith (also a Super Rally participant), managed to get a few concerned citizens up and dancing in the aisles. The set ended with "Close to You." Tetlow leapt from the drum riser, earning STB the only encore of the night.

During the talking-heads portion of the evening, a number of Green party political candidates announced their intentions to run for office. Al Herman threw his hat in the ring and led the audience in the first of many chants heard during the sloganistic evening, imploring the gathered mass to "give Greens a chance."

Arrested Development co-founder Headliner offered welcome relief to the litany of political postulating. His Atlanta-based Stress-Free Productions showcase was a self-contained Woodstock-meets-"Showtime at the Apollo" happening. Comedy, social commentary and music flowed seamlessly as hip-hop duo MT, in matching American Flag T-shirts, segued into a soulful groove from Headliner. Pacing the front of the massive stage, the latter prodded the crowd to "get crunk" and offered a rousing selection of his still-unreleased soul-shout call-and-response material, finally energizing the audience.

After Headliner's rousing display, Jello Biafra had a tough act to follow. And the acerbic former Dead Kennedys frontman was up to the challenge, as always turning his "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" ire toward corporate America. "Fight the corporate feudalism," Biafra hissed during his spoken-word performance. "Don't hate the media," he advised the cheering crowd. "Become the media."

Backstage at the Civic Center, Patti Smith explained why grassroots events like the Super Rally are crucial: "I'm sickened by the [general] lack of information about the holistic problems of our planet." Just before her performance, she added, "I'm here to provide a good feeling, and get everybody loosened up to listen to Ralph."

Mission accomplished. Smith offered an abbreviated version of her acoustic show from the previous night at the Echo Lounge. Opening with "Dancing Barefoot," and smiling and waving at the adoring audience, Smith's set was the polar opposite of her clench-fisted, acid-tongued Music Midtown appearance last year. The gentle readings of classic tunes from her canon concluded with a sparkling version of "Because the Night," dedicated to Nader. "This night belongs to Ralph," she said, welcoming Nader to a thundering ovation.

Nader is not the most electrifying orator known to man. And while his hangdog delivery can quickly become numbingly dull, the crowd hung on his every word.

Following Nader's speech, Smith returned with most of the musicians from the evening to deliver a rousing finale of her song, "People Have the Power." Holding her arms aloft, she proudly and defiantly belted the lyrics: "It is decreed/The people rule." Empowered, at least temporarily, the estimated 2,500 attendees headed for the rain-soaked streets of Atlanta armed with stickers, flyers, posters and autographed Nader books.

Nader is riding an impressive wave of renewed popularity in this era of corporate distrust. And though he claims it's still too early to say, it certainly seems like he's gunning for the presidency again. Who knows? Maybe a Nader/Smith ticket is just what this country needs. A good swift kick from Patti's sturdy boot could settle almost any dispute imaginable.

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