Written by Nathan Mattise
“Students just have to start doing it now. Even if all you have are opportunities at school papers, just start doing it. There are so many ways you can write today with opportunities online, even something as simple as reviewing records on your own site, there’s no excuse not to do it.”
USAToday’s Pop Candy creator Whitney Matheson shared that bit of advice with me when I interviewed her for an industry paper during my stint at The Post-Standard. I may not be a full-time entertainment journalist now but that hasn’t stopped me from writing online.
Now I’m redebuting in print too.
Below is a link (and after the jump is the pre-edited text) to my first story as a freelancer for Syracuse’s alt-weekly, The New Times. What did I write about? Well, like any good alt-weekly, it’s a healthy dosage of music and politics.
By Nathan Mattise
The marriage of music and politics is nothing new; think MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign (around since 1992) or history books discussing 1960’s politics and music side-by-side. So it’s no surprise major acts like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Andrew Bird, Franz Ferdinand and the Fiery Furnaces all played pro-Obama shows last weekend. The pro-Obama show in Thornden Park however is evidence of just how widespread and effective this trend has become.
Over 600 people attended last Friday’s (10/3) “Barack the Block” concert sponsored by SU Students for Barack Obama with the support of Syracuse for Obama. The rally featured four hours of live music from various local acts there were plenty of discussion opportunities and informative handouts available to would-be voters. Nearly one-fourth of the people in attendance (150 exactly) registered to vote.
“We originally thought about a rally but we wanted an event that might appeal to a wider range of people, not just politically active folks but people who want to see good bands,” said Sara Brainard, deputy director of SU Students for Barack Obama. “The music didn’t have a political slant but getting people out there and exposing them to information was a great start for discussions about the campaign. I know I talked to some people who were on the fence and they started to lean Obama after getting to discuss it so much.”
SU Students for Obama is a collegiate PAC so the group only had a month to plan the event due to its proximity to the start of the semester. Brainard said finding musical acts willing to lend their talents to the cause wasn’t an issue though. The event had to even turn down six or seven additional bands who volunteered to perform. They were also able to get larger local acts like funk-band, Sophistafunk, or the brothers-DJ-duo, The Smash Brothers, to perform for free.
The success of the event shouldn’t shock anyone. “Barack the Block” events have been springing up all over the country (the first page of a Google search for “Barack the Block” shows events with the same name in Los Angeles, Ca.; Madison, Wisc. and Richmond, Va. as well). Brainard said the events aren’t part of some larger campaign tactic and that she actually thought the SU event title was really creative until she researched it. The widespread popularity of this type of event may not only result from music being an exception political tool, but also because popular music today is so fragmented.
“Just like how everything else in popular culture has fragmented, what constitutes a bigger national act is an antiquated notion. I asked 150 kids in one of my classes if we can find three or four artists that are on all of their iPods and we couldn’t find three or four songs,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at SU’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and former president of the National Popular Culture Association. “Someone in their 40s or 50s might say Springsteen, Joel or whoever, but trying to attract these young voters with one act is too hard. So one of the ways of doing it is franchising out the idea – do concert rallies in Syracuse, Rochester, Cleveland, etc. – in order to let these people know that this vote is part of their life and then convince them to vote for whoever sponsors their concerts.”
Whether or not this tactic has an overall effect will be determined in November, but Brainard said both SU Students for Barack Obama and Syracuse for Barack Obama were very pleased with the number of people who turned out and the number of people who registered. If a lineup of local acts can get 25 percent of a crowd energized and registered to vote, the importance of these concerts on a national scale could be invaluable.
“I’m not sure if local bands will really have an effect on swaying peoples minds when it comes to the election, though it’s obvious that many people look up to famous musicians and I think they can definitely have an effect on potential voters,” said Tony Cacace, pianist for the band White After Labor Day which also performed. “If a particular event is very successful and there is a lot of coverage and a lot of press, then people who are undecided may start wondering why all these people are attending. Then they may find out for themselves why a particular person is worth voting for.”
(Links today from Wikipedia, The New Times, MySpace Music and Brooklyn Vegan)