Party People: Celebrities, Democrats in Place to Rock Denver

Pharrell, Ben Affleck, Oprah among the stars descending on Denver.

February 19, 2009, 8:52 AM

Aug. 26, 2008— -- If the politicians and delegates own the Democratic National Convention's daybook, Hollywood's elite own Denver's nights.

For this one week, A-listers have abandoned the hot-spots of New York and Los Angeles and descended on the Mile High City's downtown stretch, making post-primetime events hosted by political advocacy groups some of the hottest tickets in town.

The stars will mostly be at the post-convention events, but some of stars will be mingling wtih the delegates -- Democratic officials and activists -- on the convention floor too.

Oprah Winfrey, who endorsed Obama's campaign in December, plans to be among the 75,000 in attendance Thursday when Obama speaks from Denver's Invesco Field.

Monday night, Rock the Vote hosted "The Ballot Bash" in the city's downtown Opera House. Billing for the event included Jakob Dylan, N*E*R*D and Fallout Boy. Nick Cannon, aka the new Mr. Mariah Carey, was confirmed to DJ the afterparty.

As a 501c nonpartisan, Rock the Vote doesn't promote a party or candidate, and has plans for events at both convention. The musical line-up, on the other hand, got around it intonating "hope" and "change" to the crowd of cheering Democrats.

"We're here tonight, just like you, because we're ready for change," Pharrell Williams, lead singer of N*E*R*D, charged the crowd.

Rock the Vote hosts an event tonight alongside Every Woman Counts and Lifetime, with Ashanti.

The nearly endless celebrity roster represents an intersection of causes and the famous faces who support them: Ben Affleck and Sarah Silverman will be on hand to represent the Paralyzed Veterans of America; John Legend for the Future of Arts in America; Melissa Etheridge and Cyndi Lauper for the Human Rights Campaign; Fallout Boy and N*E*R*D for Rock the Vote; Ashanti and Fran Drescher for Every Woman Counts; Kanye West for the ONE campaign; the Black Eyed Peas for the Creative Coalition; and Ashley Judd and Aisha Tyler for Planned Parenthood.

For the celebrities, the convention offers a chance to be seen on a scene that's not the nightclub circuit. For advocacy groups, it's an opportunity to reach an influential audience and some free media attention.

Etheridge, the Oscar- and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, is the headliner at the Human Rights Campaign's Rock to Win concert tonight with Cyndi Lauper. She attended the Democratic convention in 2000 and says her motivations are personal. She says she "feels comfortable" against the political backdrop.

"For personal reasons, the gay cause is certainly important to me," Etheridge said. "I've been a Democrat tried and true for a long, long, long time and involved in Democratic Party politics, and I just feel very comfortable coming there."

"The sort of underlying theme that drives me is that I hope to show… that the Democratic Party is truly the party of inclusion and truly the party of diversity and when they openly invite me -- and I'm out -- I think they say, 'We are the party of change, we are the party of the future.""

She added, "And all the people who might be considered outsiders, this is the party for us."

Brad Luna, director of media relations for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which is hosting a series of convention events in Denver beyond the Tuesday concert, says this week offers the chance "to make the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community part of the larger extension of what's going on in Denver."

In addition to Lauper and Etheridge, the Rock to Win concert features musician Rufus Wainwright, comedian Margaret Cho and musician/actress Thelma Houston, and its organizers hope the national spotlight gives voice to its cause.

"This is going to include our members," Luna said, "but it's going to have a wider audience and wider appeal. We're excited about that and the opportunity to maybe get our message in front of people who aren't members and aren't constantly engaged."

HRC, which has endorsed Obama, is not alone in looking for bounce from the political excitement.

The Poker Players' Alliance is hosting fundraisers at both conventions to raise money for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Though details for next week's Republican convention in St. Paul are still being finalized, tonight's tournament at Denver's Coors Field promises Affleck, Paul Rudd, Silverman and Seth Meyers alongside still-unconfirmed members of Congress.

"We felt this would be a great opportunity to raise money to honor American heroes who have sacrificed and defended our rights as Americans, and what better way than by playing one of America's great pastimes," said Taylor Gross, the alliance's spokesman.

Two hot ticket items are forcing partygoers to make a Wednesday night choice: Kanye West will perform for the ONE, while the Black Eyed Peas perform for the Creative Coalition the same night.

Both ONE and the Creative Coalition will also have events next week in St. Paul.

But do the celebrities matter? Polling numbers suggest that celebrity endorsements might not boost a particular candidate, but the buzz they bring can't hurt as members of domestic and foreign press -- numbering in the 15,000 range in Denver -- look to cover all angles of the convention as it unfolds.

With everything going on around the city, delegates from across the country are busy chasing tickets and party invites.

Lillian Tamayo, a first-time attendee with the Florida delegation, says she knows credentials will be scarce at the Pepsi Center and at Invesco field Thursday night where Obama accepts the party's nomination. Tamayo, president of Greater Miami's Planned Parenthood, says the celebrities "are just another presence" in Denver.

Tamayo describes the party scene as providing "a color and texture to the work that you're engaged in long before you arrived here."

"To be here among like-minded individuals who really care about our country and to be able to do it in a festive kind of environment is really kind of exceptional," she said.

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