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Strike Up The Bland

At the 'America's Future Rocks Today' Concert, It's All Golly Gee-O-P

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page C01

"Welcome to the greatest [bleepin'] country in the world!" Fuel frontman Brett Scallions unwisely hollered during his rock band's set yesterday at "America's Future Rocks Today," the for-the-kids inaugural concert at the D.C. Armory.

"Oops," the rocker said after realizing his no-no. "I wasn't supposed to say that."

Hilary Duff was one of many staid musical acts at the youth concert in the D.C. Armory. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Seeing as how President and Mrs. Bush were in the house, Scallions might get a bit of a scolding for his slip of the tongue. (Someone should also say something about his ill-fitting American flag pants. Ick.) But truth be told, the shaggy singer's "ooh"-inducing profanity was the rare exhilarating, unscripted moment during a two-hour show that at best felt like a lame-o prom night and at worst felt like a cable-access telethon.

The refreshing blast of profanity also reminded you how much more fun -- or at least edgy -- this staid musical event would have been had Southern-fried rapper Kid Rock, initially rumored to be on the bill, been invited instead of goody-goody pop stars like Hilary Duff, JoJo and "American Idol" Ruben Studdard.

Adding to the disappointment, a buzzed-about onstage appearance by the always-thrilling Bush twins never materialized, even though presidential daughter Barbara supposedly had a say in the evening's planning and the two were watching from a balcony. Perhaps the twins aren't Duff fans?

The show might have been lackluster and flat and preachy when it should have been peppy, but thousands of teenagers from across the country nevertheless showed up to display their American spirit -- and, perhaps more importantly, their joy at being freed from the shackles of school -- by shrieking, flirting and throwing glow sticks at each other.

As for what was happening onstage -- well, they really liked those glow sticks.

Sahara-dry banter about volunteering and community outreach by low-wattage celebs including "former New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn!," " 'Access Hollywood' co-host Nancy O'Dell!" and, uh, "Stephen Baldwin!" registered zilch on the applause meter.

That doesn't mean the fresh-faced ticketholders weren't political.

"Moderate" was, like, the totally supercoolest word being bandied about in the crowd -- which was expected to total 10,000-strong but was several thousand shy of that.

Vanessa Stark, Courtney Bledsoe and Monica Lutes, all 17-year-olds from Orange County, Calif., consider themselves "pretty moderate." When further pressed about their political moderation, they were much more excited to talk about how they saw the president and first lady earlier in the day.

"We were totally freaking out!" Stark said.

"Laura waved to us!" added Bledsoe.

Tobria Wagner, from Olathe, Kan., says she won't be old enough to vote until next year, but she knows she's "moderate . . . I think." She was more pumped to talk about Texas singer (and off-on Ashlee Simpson flame) Ryan Cabrera, who was also on the bill.

And Brian Coleman, 17, from Houma, La., isn't too sure about being "moderate," but he is darn sure that he would rather have seen rap-metal bands Korn, Linkin Park and Slipknot last night instead of Mississippi roots-rockers 3 Doors Down.

Well, at least the show moved along briskly. The user-friendly stage had seven video screens, three long catwalks and two performance areas, which allowed the musicians to play a few songs then get the heck offstage.

And the rickety old armory, although desperate for a few new coats of paint, cleaned up pretty well and offered decent acoustics. The night's music wasn't exactly helped by its, ahem, clarity, however.

Dressed in a quilt-size Oakland Raiders jersey and sweating like he actually played for the football team, Studdard opened the show. Two singers stood behind the massive dude, but the "Velvet Teddy Bear" was helped the most by a booming backing track, especially during his up-with-love anthem "Flying Without Wings."

Fuel, Cabrera and 14-year-old teenypopper JoJo followed. The kids screamed when those acts first came onstage, but they soon grew quiet and restless, proof that the performances sounded punchless to more people than just a 34-year-old rock critic.

The much cooler place to be was in an "interactive" tent outside the venue. Some nonprofit organizations handed out pamphlets in the middle of the tent -- nope, no kids there -- but it was body to body by the DJ and ESPNZone set-up with video games. The music was also better in the tent -- although something tells me Kelis's "Milkshake" wasn't on the approved songlist.

Karen Johnson, a 44-year-old high school teacher from St. Louis, was chaperoning 18 girls at the event. "They're really excited to see the president," she said before admitting, "but they're really excited to see Hilary Duff."

Indeed, show-closer Duff -- the anti-Britney favored by parents and pre-teens alike -- sprinted onstage in raggedy jeans and a sparkly black blouse. With a thin but perky voice that has made her a mint, she warbled out her first big hit, "Come Clean," and for the first time all night, you could hear fans singing along.

After Duff, the president and his wife -- in a Shrek-green suit -- came on to thank the acts -- "How about 3 Doors Down? Pretty cool guys, right? Seem cool to me.

"Listen, I'm particularly thrilled to be standing on the stage with some of America's soldiers in the army of compassion [insert applause here]. So the theme of this inauguration is to celebrate freedom and to honor service," Bush said.

" . . . You know what [service] means? It means love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself. Take time [lots of applause], take time out of your life to make somebody else's life better. By helping heal a broken heart, or surrounding a friend with love, or feeding the hungry, or providing shelter for the homeless, you can help change America for the better, one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time."

By that time, a good half of the crowd had already left.

That's "moderates" for you.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company