‘If you want to reach me; just check out our web page; or, just ask John Ashcroft – he knows where we are.’

These were the parting words of Steve Earle at the conclusion of his sold out ‘Jerusalem’ concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City Nov. 21. Playing to a standing-room-only crowd that actually stood for the last half of the concert, Earle displayed his wide range of pro-peace and pro-union songs that have become his trademark. This concert, however, was a little different; and clearly presented a new challenge to Earle.

This was his first concert in New York City since his release of ‘Jerusalem,’ his anti-war, anti-Bush CD that shook up the music world. His song about the misguided U.S. youth who traveled to follow the Taliban, John Walker Lindh, sung halfway through the concert, received solid applause and no boos.

As expected, he played most of the songs of his new CD, including the title song, ‘Jerusalem,’ which calls for peace in the Middle East.

But if anyone wondered if he would soft-pedal his message and move toward the center of music safety, this concert cooled out such fears.

By one hour into the concert it became clear that Earle was turning the evening into a political event. He referred to the nine coal miners who were saved in Pennsylvania, and the audience clapped. But, he said clearly, this is the kind of accident that shows why coal miners, in fact all workers, need a union. He then sang ‘Harlan Man,’ his pro-union ballad about miners in that historic area of Kentucky.

Later he sang about Billy Austin, a young man from Oklahoma who killed a convenience store operator and was executed. It was with this song that Earle joined with the movement to stop capital punishment. While he hasn’t yet written a song against land mines, Earle is part of the anti-land-mine movement also.

This was a great evening of superior guitar playing and singing within a context of political struggle and hope for the future.

– Eric Green The author can be reached at pww@pww.org