Musicians sound off at the convention

As the RNC descends, local and national musicians arise

DEFCON 2. The Republican National Convention, only days away, looms invisibly on the horizon, and that tingle of taut anticipation, the same one that precedes hurricanes and thermonuclear war, is now palpable. But even as unknowable thousands of protesters, press agents, and boosters arm themselves for occupation, a resistance force of musicians and bands, some local and some national but all alike in the boldness of their convictions, is racing to our rescue on an interception course. "To arms, to arms," they cry, and in the predawn hours of the delegates' arrival, our lights are turning on one by one. Starting tonight with the Eight Is Enough show at the Turf Club and through the final days of the convention, we set out to learn exactly how—and why—our cities' artists plan to shine through the impending political maelstrom.

"It's about challenging the Republican strategy," says Joe Selinski, member of local band the Dad in Common and co-organizer of the Eight Is Enough show, a fundraiser for Barack Obama. "They try to construct this image that the Twin Cities and Minnesota at large are a swing state. They've been doing it for a decade at least. To me, it's important that people either on a political level or an aesthetic level are doing as much as they can to remind people in the state and on the national level that this in fact isn't a Republican state, that it's a traditionally progressive state, and that it will remain so."

While the lion's share of the critical attention has been devoted to the convention itself, Low frontman Alan Sparhawk sees plenty to decry in the ineptitude and impotence of a generation that, by all rights, should be outraged. "Our generation has dropped the ball many times on opportunities to speak our mind about things of a political nature," he says. "We're too self-aware. We're bogged down in so much irony and information at this point, and it seems like no one is really saying anything of any thrust or power."

"I'm here not to be a peace demonstrator, I'm here to demonstrate peace": Michel Franti and 11 other musicians sound off on why they're playing during the RNC
Michael Schreiber
"I'm here not to be a peace demonstrator, I'm here to demonstrate peace": Michel Franti and 11 other musicians sound off on why they're playing during the RNC

"Envisioning another four years of what's been going down for the last eight seems pretty unacceptable and dangerous for the country," agrees Andrew Broder, Fog frontman and Selinski's Eight Is Enough cohort. "It's worth a little bit of time and a little bit of energy and a little bit of money to try to stop the bleeding, and at least put someone in there that seems thoughtful and seems like they have a sense of justice."

"It's easy as pie," adds P.O.S., who is performing at the Eight Is Enough show. "Put in your time. Donate some money."

Whatever the party and whatever the city, a political convention is a divisive, often corrosive force. But within this environment of binaries (the protester and the policeman, the delegate and the dissenter), many of the performers see a need for the openness, transparency, and camaraderie that has been so greatly imperiled in the last eight years.

"Music can unite people," says Michael Franti, musician, longtime political activist, and headliner of Tuesday's Ripple Effect showcase. "And I think that what we need right now, as a nation and as a planet, is the opportunity to have dialogue. The opportunity to have a conversation between grassroots organizations, between corporate leaders, and between everyday people in the street and our politicians."

"I think the greater good that can come out of this, and I hope does, is that people will realize that this is a unifying point," agrees Crescent Moon, whose hip-hop group Kill the Vultures will play the Eight Is Enough show. "I want people to feel like they are invested in something, like this is some sort of a movement. Because everything has to start somewhere."

Though all agree that music is an inherently unifying force, some express skepticism over whether their work has an impact on the political climate at large. "It's up for debate whether the music itself can change things," says Andrew Broder. "Sometimes it can. But the statement made by everybody getting together for a common purpose, and the common thread that connects all of us, is our love of music and our participation in that."

Chris Barker of Anti-Flag shares Broder's hopeful uncertainty over music's role as a social catalyst. "I'm not of the belief that a band or a song changes the world. For me, it's the experience of being there and being part of a community that feels the same way that you do."

"I probably can't change anything," says P.O.S. "But I can at least do my part. I live here. We all live here. The worst thing you could possibly do is nothing."

Though the political battlefield is swollen with troops on both sides, the musical front is strangely lopsided. While acts like Billy Bragg and Rage Against the Machine bolster the slews of left-leaning performances, few Republican supporters are manning our stages to hoist their flag, and fewer still are hosting events that are open to the public.

"I think it's telling that a lot of the RNC stuff is private parties," says Selinski. "You have a political party rolling into town who's unpopular if you read the polls, and they're throwing private parties. To me, it says something about where that party stands relative to the general population."

Next Page »