Practically everyone knows Barack Obama is a fan of The Fugees, and some may have heard how Radiohead provided a live soundtrack for his historic acceptance speech. But what is his campaign's impact on the local music scene?
Jay Henry, ex-drummer of Benchwarmer and Sixty-Four, jumped on the Obama train early. Before the primaries, he staged a rally/concert at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern and, with local singer/songwriter Devin Russian, has formed a new band called Axelrod (after Obama chief strategist David Axelrod).
Henry draws a succinct analogy between voting and local music. "Both make connections with people on an individual basis and strengthen those bonds to build a base. For instance, we need a particular number of volunteers by a certain target date. That's equivalent to trying to get people to a show and finding the bands to promote it."
Now Henry and Russian have organized a Rock for Obama event featuring Axelrod, Big Hurry, Dawn Canon and John Huffman, as well as local politicos, on Fri., Sept. 19, at Garfield Artworks. (Editor's note: While Theiner regularly hosts shows at the gallery, the space has been donated for the evening; all proceeds benefit the campaign.) An official afterparty at Brillobox features Gene Stovall, Jack Wilson and other performers.
Maybe there's something after all to this Barack-as-rock-star scenario, when Pitchfork-level bands come on board for him as "surrogates," such as popular indie band Vampire Weekend. Linh Truong, a Downtown Pittsburgh campaign organizer with music-industry experience, attended Columbia University with Vampire Weekend's members. She's running with the idea of Vampire Weekend headlining an all-day concert on Sat., Oct. 4, on Carnegie Mellon's CFA Lawn, likely with another national supporting act and several local bands to be announced.
According to Truong, the Vampire guys had been looking for an Obama event to play, and they jumped at the chance. Apart from enjoying the music, Truong's goal at the concert is to register as many voters as she can, regardless of party affiliation. "There are so many people on campuses -- 25,000 at Pitt alone, then others like Carlow and Chatham -- it's a huge potential voting bloc. A lot of freshmen who just turned 18 haven't voted in their life, and we're trying to get them out and excited about politics."
Her stint at a human-rights law firm in China opened her eyes to the urgency of participating in the democratic process. "That's a place where you definitely can't vote -- my boss was a member of the Communist party," she recalls. "Over the last eight years, there's been an apathy about politics. But with where our country is right now, this campaign has done a great job in getting young people excited about politics again, and not taking voting for granted."