Political Mystery Tour?

Thailand isn’t on the itineraries of most touring musicians, so it’s a rare treat when a recording act makes an appearance here. But it’s an even rarer event when the tour is sponsored by the US Embassy.

Yes, in a rare non-military maneuver, the US government continues their attempts to spread “American Culture and Values” to all corners of the globe. A Texas musician named Jesse Dayton arrived in Thailand last week for a series of shows. This wasn’t the first time that the US Embassy has sponsored tours in Thailand. Last year they brought an act called the Chicago Jazz Quartet to Bangkok, and in 2000 they sponsored the Angela Hagenbach Trio (once again: who?) for a series of shows. The 2004 concerts were under the auspices of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and their “Jazz Ambassadors Program.” Remember, your tax dollars are supporting these crusades. For last week’s Jesse Dayton tour, the press release from the US Embassy had this to say:

The Embassy of the United States of America proudly presents the ‘At the Right Time with Turbo-Country Jesse Dayton’ concert by Jesse Dayton from Austin, Texas. The band will offer free concerts throughout Thailand. Interested music lovers should contact local venues for ticket availability. Jesse Dayton is a new kind of country musician. Raised on a Gulf Coast musical gumbo that accepts everything from the classic heartbreak honky-tonk of George Jones to the classic rock of the Big Bopper and the blue-eyed soul of R&B standouts like Cookie and the Cupcakes, Dayton’s musical vision goes far beyond the boundaries of what we usually consider ‘country music’. He might best be described as a ‘turbo-country musician’ and definitely ‘a star waiting to happen.’

I’m an avid music listener and I try and keep up with the latest music trends and recording artists. But I’d never heard of Jesse Dayton (not to mention Cookie and the Cupcakes!) and my curiosity was aroused. Who is this guy and why is the US Embassy bringing him halfway around the world to play free shows? It turns out that Dayton has recorded four albums, one of which features some musicians that I’ve actually heard of, such as Jim Lauderdale, Doug Sahm, Johnny Gimble, and Flaco Jiminez. Judging from the favorable reviews posted on Dayton’s own website and on Amazon.com, it sounds like the sort of music I’d enjoy. Dayton is from Texas, so naturally I wondered if he was one of Dubya’s Freedom Fighting buddies, or perhaps a Christian missionary with a musical “message” for the people.

But during my web search I couldn’t find any odd political or religious alliances for Jesse Dayton. A couple of songs (“Jesus Pick Me Up” and “Ain’t Grace Amazing”) on his newest album, Country Soul Brother, might indicate a religious streak, but then again, the latter song could refer to a girl (or hooker) named Grace. I also discovered that Dayton played at one of Bill Clinton’s inauguration balls, the Dixie Chicks (noted Bush bashers) appear on one of his albums, and Dayton claims to be a fan of Steve Earle (another vehement critic of the current regime). So the guy doesn’t strike me as some sort of mindless Neo Con. In an interview on his website, Jesse says that he enjoyed playing Willie Nelson’s legendary Fourth of July picnic because it had “cold Lone Star (beer), topless girls, and plenty of Mexican lettuce.” The latter item, in case you were wondering, does not refer to an edible vegetable. In any event, those are not the sort of “American Values” that the Bushites would seem to embrace, are they?

All of this makes me even more puzzled: why did the US Embassy sponsor this guy’s tour?

No comments: