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From booty-shakin’ “Baby Boy” crooner Beyoncé Knowles to middle-aged Material Mom Madonna to the puny pop artist once again known as Prince, D.C.’s MCI Center has hosted many of this year’s top-selling musical acts.

More than 22,000 paid up to $77.50 each to catch Knowles in two April shows with prissy pianist Alicia Keys and badonkadonk diva Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, generating more than $1.7 million in ticket sales.

Some 26,788 shelled out $48 to $303 for back-to-back Madonna shows in June, which grossed more than $3.4 million. And nearly 55,000 forked over anywhere from $49.50 to $78 for back-to-back-to-back Prince performances in August, drumming up more than $3.5 million.

And another star-studded concert next month continues the Chinatown arena’s hot streak. Less than an hour after tickets went on sale Sept. 18, the Vote for Change show—featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, R.E.M., and the Dixie Chicks, among others—sold out.

But Vote for Change isn’t just about rich pop stars generating millions of dollars in ticket sales. It’s about rich pop stars generating millions of dollars for office supplies, computer equipment, and pesky door-to-door campaign workers. And freeing up resources for more mudslinging “issue ads.” Oh, and electing people you’ve never heard of to public office in places far, far away.

Presented by MoveOn.org—the Internet-based special-interest group that brought you the TV spot featuring young children hauling trash and working on an assembly line, with the tag line “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?’’—the Oct. 11 concert brings to the stage a venerable Who’s Who of pop-chart-topping political activists.

Among them, as described by the Federal Election Commission (FEC):

Nashville, Ind.’s “Self-Employed/Entertainer” John Mellencamp, who last year gave $2,000 to eventual vice-presidential-race-settler John Edwards;

Bellevue, Wash.’s “V.M.C. Management, Inc./Artist” Eddie Vedder, who’s given $5,000 to three-time third-party White House hopeful and 2000 election spoiler Ralph Nader; and

Hollywood’s “Self/Artist/Singer/ Writer” Bonnie Raitt, who’s chipped in a whopping $64,400 to a host of candidates since 1998, from congressional hopefuls Miles S. Rapoport and Thomas P. Keefe Jr. to presidential pipe-dreamers Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich.

And musicians won’t be the only ones at the MCI Center to have financial interests in the electoral process. So will the sold-out crowd. Concertgoers joined the list of campaign contributors just by coughing up the $50 to $175 price per ticket. According to ads for the concert: “Individuals buying tickets to the Vote For Change tour are making federal political contributions to ACT”—America Coming Together, that is—one of the leading fundraising groups aiming to “derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush and electing Democrats up and down the ticket,” according to its Web site.

When Vote for Change patrons underwent the already not-so-simple act of purchasing through Ticketmaster—you know, dealing with busy customer-service reps, online-ticketing time limits, processing fees, and “convenience” charges—they also became “subject to federal law and restrictions.”

For starters, in order to buy tickets, you had to be:

a U.S. citizen,

at least 18 years of age,

using your own credit card,

not buying tickets on behalf of a corporation, labor organization, federal contractor, or national bank,

not a reporter with the Miami Herald. (“[B]uying a ticket,” Executive Editor Tom Fielder recently told Herald staffers in a memo, “is tantamount to making a political contribution, which is prohibited by the newsroom’s Guidelines on Ethics.”) Or the Washington City Paper, for that matter.

And for all those unorganized, unjournalistic, nongovernmental, noncorporate, credit-card-carrying American adults who, unlike S&T, could legally and ethically obtain tickets, there was another catch: Your name, address, occupation, and employer would be reported to the FEC. And posted on its searchable Web site.

Can you say “public record”? Rock on.

Now, anyone with Internet access can find out that you were there cheering on ’70s singing sensation Jackson Browne in, um, 2004. But you can tell them it was for a good cause.

What, exactly, will each concertgoer’s non-tax-deductible contribution go toward? Well, besides covering expenses to put on the 13-act-crammed concert—and other shows like it across the country—revenue from ticket sales will also support “the largest, most sophisticated voter-mobilization effort in history,” says ACT spokesperson Sarah Leonard.

In other words, it will help pay for PalmPilots, printing costs, and lists of registered voters. It will help cover car rentals, lodging, and other travel expenses, in addition to insurance, payroll taxes, and salaries for ACT voter-drive operatives in such far-flung places as Apopka, Fla., and Elyria, Ohio.

“We have thousands of canvassers knocking on doors every night,” says Leonard, “talking to people about the issues they care about, encouraging people to register to vote, to vote early if they can, and on Election Day, to cast the right ballot.”

And by “right,” she means left. And that doesn’t just mean Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, either, but many other Dems, too, in hotly contested races that you didn’t even know were warming up.

All year, ACT has been handing out donations to no-name candidates across the country. Sure, you probably recognize former Associated Press correspondent and seven-year Shiite hostage Terry Anderson, to whom ACT donated $2,000 for his Ohio Senate bid.

But how about professional public speaker Nancy Frye, who is challenging state Rep. David Farhat in Muskegon County, Mich.? Or working mom Debbie Smith, who is campaigning to oust incumbent Nevada Assemblyman Don Gustavson?

Probably not the changes D.C.-area ticket-buyers think they’re voting for. But as far as ACT is concerned, as long as they’re progressive Democrats, they’ve just got to rock.

GOING DARKO

If you haven’t yet seen Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut on the big screen—well, you probably just missed your last chance.

Despite earlier denials by management, Visions Bar Noir is, in fact, closing down.

Last week, the 4-year-old two-screen art house with full-service bar on Florida Avenue NW announced on its Web site: “Beginning Friday, September 17 catch all shows at Visions for just $5 through Thursday, September 23!”

But after Thursday, there’s nothing on Visions’ schedule. No more nightly Donnie Darko showings. No more Saturday midnight-movie keggers. No more Bar Noir.

“Visions will be closing its doors this Thursday at midnight,” management and staff confirmed late Tuesday in an e-mail announcement inviting the public to “one final blow-out party at the theater” on Sunday, Sept. 26. “We will be selling our movie posters, our cool film reel chandeliers, our curtains, and we will even auction our bar noir sign to the highest bidder in order to help cover our final payroll.”

Rumors of Visions’ impending demise had been circulating for weeks on Internet message boards, following one employee’s Sept. 7 posting, titled; “DC: Yes, Visions/Bar Noir is closing”:

“[T]he other day we had a meeting in which the owner informed us that beacause [sic] of a few things all happening at once, we had to close. we apparently lost our lease, that was a pretty big one. also business was so bad that we were losing about $1,000 a day…”

But when asked at that time if the theater actually was closing, Visions President Andrew Frank was evasive: “No news for ya,” Frank informed S&T. “I’m not telling you one thing.”

And employees weren’t talking, either. At least not at first. But as word spread and customers began asking questions, Visions crew members eventually opened up.

Patron after patron queried bartenders Matt Brown and Sean McGuinness on Sept. 14. And each time, the cinema’s suds-slinging duo confirmed the pending closure. “For me, it’s better to tell people,” McGuinness explained. “Then more people come to drink.”

Designed for “film buffs, people who like food and movies and drinks,” as Frank once put it, Visions first opened in August 2000 in the renovated 6,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by the single-screen Embassy Theater, which was shuttered in 1997.

At that time, Visions was one of only a few venues for art films in the D.C. area. Then came Landmark Theatres’ eight-screen Bethesda Row Cinema, opening in May 2002—less than 6 miles away—followed by Silver Spring’s AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in April 2003.

Then the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase, D.C., reopened—another two-screener “copying Visions’ format,” according to Frank. And finally, this past January, Landmark opened another eight-screener, the E Street Cinema, located even closer to Visions.

By then, the tiny Florida Avenue venue was starting to feel the effects of increasing competition. Visions admissions, Frank reported at the time, had dropped 25 percent (Show & Tell, 1/9).

And as business tanked, some jumped ship. In August, longtime film programmer Andrew Mencher quit, citing tough competition for films, as well as “the situation the theater is currently in,” which he declined to clarify.

“It became very difficult for me to perform my duties in any satisfactory way,” says Mencher, operations director for the Key Sunday Cinema Club. “It was starting to affect my relationships with people at film companies, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.”

In recent weeks, as the Visions rumors persisted, public reaction was mixed. “Quite sad—glad I f-i-n-a-l-l-y got to DONNIE DARKO just last week!” wrote one poster to the 9:30 Club online forum. “But…for all the coolness of the bar, the hanging out scene, the midnight movies, the kick-the-keg, the unique programming…… it’s still hard to get past the fact that: the auditoriums suck. bad angles, and too-small-screens-relative-to-what-we-get-nowadays.”

—Chris Shott

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