Musicians sound off at the convention

As the RNC descends, local and national musicians arise

"It's a party based on exclusion at this point," says Jesse Kwakenat, bassist in STNNNG, who are also playing the Eight Is Enough show. "And people want to be in that group. It's like a clique. And that fits with their ideology—the private party. To keep people out that you don't want there, and only people you want there will be let in, as long as we get enough votes to stay in power."

Chris Pennington, Freedom Parade organizer, voices puzzlement over the disparity. "You'd think the art would just encapsulate all sorts of weirdoes. Where are the big Republican artists?"

The RNC talent pool is murky with rumors. Though Mike Love will denigrate the Beach Boys' name with a performance at the International Market Square and Smash Mouth will do their damnedest to test the tolerability of "All Star" beyond all known limits, Sunday is the standout day, when, at First Avenue, Sammy Hagar (who declined an interview) will regale a private Republican audience with a medley of his finest hits. "I will go ahead and say on record," remarks P.O.S., "that Sammy Hagar most likely has no idea what he's supporting and is really excited to get a fucking check."

"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

"I don't know," says Freddy Votel, Skoal Kodiak drummer. "If they had David Lee Roth, they'd at least have an argument going."

While Republicans gamely muster an interest in a live rendition of "Why Can't This Be Love" (the limp-sailed Van Halen single for which Hagar is infamous) before seeking refuge in the bottoms of so many Cabo Wabo margaritas (the tequila brand for which Hagar is perhaps more infamous), hundreds of thousands of Twin Cities residents will be figuring out how to navigate this flash flood of temporary immigrants.

"My compatriots from my hometown have no idea what's about to hit them," says Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, who will be hosting three consecutive nights of theater and music during the convention. "They're going to be everywhere. They're at your grocery store, there's going to be people in McCain shirts and 'Republicans Rule' and all this kind of stuff, walking all over your town. Thousands of them. In every restaurant you go to, in your record stores, at your library, near your children."

Michael Franti's advice? "It's a historic election," he says, "and I would say to people: Enjoy it. Enjoy being part of it. Come out and participate, and the music we're playing is for everyone. It's for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, black, white, gay, straight, everybody."

The battle is imminent, and amid the clatter of shields and sabers, the hour has come for the final pep talk, and like so many William Wallaces and Patrick Henrys, this conspiracy of musicians is quick with words to soothe the stray weak nerve, to inspire, and to galvanize all the hopes and frustrations that surround the coming days.

"The fact that a black dude named Barack Obama is neck and neck with good old regular other guy—that's huge," says Crescent Moon.

"I mean, you hate to count your chickens before they hatch," adds Erik Funk, lead singer of Dillinger Four. "But I cannot imagine that John McCain can win the presidency, and I can't imagine what the country will be like if he does. I really think it's a great, historic opportunity to really show the world what we're made of."

Chris Pennington wonders: "What is going to be protest 2.0? Now you have free speech zones, and you have police corralling you and mass arresting you, it's almost like we need to think of a different way to go about free speech. People are scared of free speech, or threatened by it now. And it's bad. It's not what America should be."

"Let's look at the reality of what's happened here, and let's do something, let's act on it," says Michael Franti. "I've been to Iraq. I've played music on the streets of Baghdad. I've seen what's going on there, and I've seen the hopelessness and despair of Iraqi people, I've seen the frustration of U.S. soldiers there. It's time that it ends."

For details on many of the shows mentioned in this article, turn to the Critics' Picks section on p. 75.

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