Beastie Boy Adam Yauch had not even recovered from the 1997 Tibetan Freedom Concert when the call came in from R.E.M.
The Athens, Ga., group's manager, Bertis Downs, was on the line with the good news. "R.E.M. agreed to do it really early," recalled Yauch, a co-founder of the Milarepa Fund, the benefit concert's organizer. "The guys wanted to do it."
With R.E.M. on board for the 1998 show, Yauch began to assemble what would become yet another powerhouse lineup. In addition to concert regulars the Beastie Boys, this year's two-day event will include performances by Sonic Youth, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, Tibetan singer Chaksam-Pa, Kraftwerk, Tracy Chapman, Sean Lennon, Wyclef Jean and Blues Traveler, as well as R.E.M. The third Tibetan Freedom Concert will be held in Washington, D.C.'s RFK stadium on the weekend of June 13-14, according to concert organizers the Milarepa Fund.
Although they are not yet part of the official lineup, Pearl Jam will also perform, according to their management.
Explaining why the nation's capital may be the most important venue yet for the concert, Yauch said Wednesday, "All the politicians are there. Politicians have a big effect on what the policy on China is ... and we have to remind them who they are really working for, and keep human rights on the agenda.
"There isn't anything I'm more psyched to do than help the Tibetan people," Yauch added.
Yauch, whose stage name is MCA, wasn't the only one who said he thought that the sight of more than 130,000 rock fans gathering for the concerts over the two days and an anticipated crowd of 25,000 for a planned June 15 rally on the Capitol lawn might make legislators sit up and take notice.
Erin Potts, director of the San Francisco-based activist organization the Milarepa Fund -- which she co-founded with Yauch three years ago -- said this year's show will focus on motivating people to take action to encourage discussion between the Chinese government and the Tibetan people.
"The San Francisco show was about education and getting the grass-roots masses behind us," said Potts, 25, about the inaugural 1996 two-day show in Golden Gate Park that drew over 50,000 fans per day and featured sets from the Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine and others. "[Last year's] New York show was really about the message of nonviolence and the media getting the message and people really starting to get what Tibet was all about.
"And this show is also about nonviolence, but also about action. Not just on our part but on [President] Clinton's part also," she added.
The event's organizers have declared June 15 "National Day of Action for Tibet." The Monday afternoon rally will feature guest speakers, ex-political prisoners and some as-yet-unannounced surprise musical performances. The rally is scheduled to coincide with Clinton's trip to China.
"I think having it in D.C. will definitely push the Tibet issue to the front line in terms of dealing with [Chinese Premier] Jiang Zemin," said T. Kumar, advocacy director for Asia for Amnesty International. With music fans and Tibet supporters coming from all over the country, Kumar said, Capitol Hill legislators will be forced to realize the scope of the Tibetan issue. "Young people always attract attention when they get together," said Kumar, who added that he planned to attend both the concert and the demonstration.
In addition to making their first appearance at the Tibet concert as a band, R.E.M. will be performing in public for the first time since the departure of drummer Bill Berry last fall. Singer Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills played a short set during last year's TFC in New York.
During the New York event last summer, politically outspoken singer Stipe told SonicNet Music News that he was planning on making the 1998 event, saying that he was as good as there if the concert were held in D.C. "If they take this concert to Washington, D.C., next year, every intern on Capitol Hill is going to want a ticket," Stipe said.
"Every senator is going to want to be there," he added. "After they take part in something like this, after they see people, this large crowd gathered together and really honestly speaking out about something that they feel strongly about, it's gonna impact them in some way."
While his band won't be playing the concert, Washington, D.C., native Ian MacKaye, singer/guitarist for punk stalwarts Fugazi, said he will also definitely be there to lend his support. "Because it's in town, and because I know it's an issue that does involve a lot of political people," he said, adding that the D.C. event would have a strong impact on U.S. policy toward China.
Although SonicNet Music News had previously reported that U2 would be playing the D.C. show, a spokesperson for Milarepa said Wednesday that the group was not scheduled to perform.
Howie Klein, the politically outspoken president of Reprise Records, said he hoped that the concert and rally would open the eyes of Washington politicians to the plight of the Tibetan people, who have suffered for over three decades under the occupation of the Chinese.
"American politicians are not aware that American people are interested in the plight of Tibetan people," he said. "A concert like this will make them aware that there are American voters that do care about this. I think that both Republicans and Democrats seeing large numbers of Americans interested in this, and some of their spokespeople being very interested in this, will at least make them pay some attention. Whether it can actually change American policy is another question. Policy doesn't change overnight."