There’s a new concert promoter in the nation’s capital and he’s raising eyebrows everywhere, it seems.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is moonlighting as a concert promoter with his recent announcement of the “America Supports You” concert and Freedom Walk in Washington, D.C., September 11th.

The free concert, with Clint Black headlining, will take place at the National Mall at the conclusion of a “Freedom Walk” from the Pentagon complex.

As every good concert promoter knows, a key element to a successful event is good public relations and promotion, and Rummy is taking his knocks as he learns the ropes.

Political gadflys and other observers quickly pounced on the concept as an attempt to shore up American support for the war in Iraq by linking it to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They noted that one of Black’s most recent hits is titled “I Raq and I Roll.”

Then, the announcement that walkers would be required to “register” with the Department of Defense in advance produced one-liners on late-night television and elsewhere that military-age men and women might want to think twice about providing their personal information to the DOD at this time.

OK, everyone’s entitled to a stumble or two. To its credit, the Pentagon did do a bang-up job of lining up heavyweight sponsors to offset costs to taxpayers and ensure a free show. Budweiser, AT&T, McDonalds, Lockheed Martin, Subway and numerous media organizations including the Washington Post lent their names and money to the concert, walk and “America Supports You,” an umbrella organization.

However, the Post announced August 15th that it would back out of its offer to donate public service advertising space to promote the event.

“As it appears that this event could become politicized, the Post has decided to honor the Washington area victims of 9/11 by making a contribution directly to the Pentagon Memorial Fund,” a spokesman said in the paper’s announcement.

As any concert promoter can tell you, there’s a learning curve. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon had promoted only one previous concert – May 5th at the Pentagon featuring military veterans-turned-country-musicians Craig Morgan, Keni Thomas and Rockie. By all accounts, it was a great success.

While no one is holding their breath waiting for Rumsfeld to attempt to stage another Woodstock, one must acknowledge his savvy for recognizing that music is the universal language, and the live experience is one that brings people together.

And it’s not as if popular music and politics are exactly strangers to each other. If Joan Baez and newlyweds Steve Earle and Allison Moorer can entertain the denizens of Camp Casey (near President Bush’s vacation estate in Crawford, Texas), why not throw a bash near the President’s other house?

But another thing a rookie concert promoter learns along the way is not to step on the toes of one’s rival promoters in the area. Seth Hurwitz, who runs the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., was surprised to hear he had competition.

“Well, I thought we had an arrangement,” he told Pollstar, “that I wouldn’t start any stupid wars and they wouldn’t do any concerts.”

– Deborah Speer