Stars put on show on trail

James Taylor crooning “America the Beautiful” in a fervent pitch for Barack Obama. Hank Williams Jr. belting out the national anthem in a rally for Sarah Palin.

As Election Day nears, Republicans and Democrats are revving up the faithful using musical stars.

Taylor's association with Democratic politics dates to the 1979 “No Nukes” concert in Madison Square Garden. His current tour has included stops in Chapel Hill and Charlotte.

Musicians have long plugged candidates. Woody Guthrie campaigned for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944.

Musicians speak in voices a candidate cannot.

“This ain't my first trip to North Carolina,” Williams, decked out in a Carolina Panthers jersey, said at last week's Elon University rally for Palin.

“But one of the biggest shows,” he said, “is the one I'm doing today, for my people, the United States of America.”

A group of shirtless men had the letters P-A-L-I-N painted on their chests.

“You're my girl, Sarah!” screamed Elon student Doug Carpenter, who represented the group's exclamation point.

In Charlotte on Sunday, Taylor attracted a diverse crowd – aging hippies and young parents carrying babies – who formed a line that wrapped around the auditorium to fill the 2,400-seat Ovens Auditorium.

No research suggests that a musical act can sway a voter either way, said Tom Carsey, UNC-Chapel Hill political scientist. It does bring attention.

“I think they're hoping that the popularity of these artists at least gets their fans to look at a candidate in a new light,” Carsey said.

Staff writer Lisa Zagaroli contributed.