I'm not doing much work at the Democratic Convention, but I'm hearing a lot of great music. Forget Bonnaroo, CMJ and Coachella: all the cool bands are in Denver this week, and almost all of them are playing for free. The Democrats may struggle with party unity, but they don't seem to have any trouble putting a festival together.
Walking downtown on Tuesday, I heard a guy selling Obama reggae paintings tell a woman that he was going to the Public Enemy concert that afternoon. As I turned around to ask him about it, a guy walked by me talking into his cell phone about the James Taylor show. That night, I was on the list to see Death Cab for Cutie, who was playing a few doors down from Nelly, at a bar right near where Moby was DJing. On Monday, I went to the New Orleans Jam-Balaya, where I saw Randy Newman, Terence Blanchard, the Meters and Allen Toussaint. And Tucker Carlson sounded very excited about the jam-band thing with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart that he told me he was going to on Tuesday.
For those who skipped Bill Clinton's speech, Wednesday's offerings included Kanye West at a show for Bono's ONE Campaign and a MoveOn.org show with practically every cool indie band in America: Rilo Kiley, Death Cab, Zooey Deschanel, the Silversun Pickups, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Cold War Kids. There have also been shows by John Legend, Nas, N.E.R.D., Nick Cannon (as a DJ), Jakob Dylan, Fall Out Boy, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews, Rage Against the Machine, Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright and Dave Navarro. Even Sugarland, one of the most popular country bands, is here. I would not be surprised if James Taylor is going from room to room singing delegates to sleep.
Republicans have to be wondering how their candidate can possibly fight back. The Creative Coalition is throwing a Black Eyed Peas show here; for the GOP concert, they booked the Charlie Daniels Band. The ONE campaign's answer to their Kanye show in St. Paul is Chris Daughtry. If you're a Daughtry-loving Dem, don't fret: it turns out you can see him here in Denver too.
The rest of the lineup for the Republican convention is a little washed up: Sammy Hagar, Gretchen Wilson, Styx, Smashmouth, the Beach Boys, Cowboy Troy, the Bellamy Brothers, Robert Earl Keen and LeAnn Rimes. Some organizers who had great success at the DNC are having no luck booking their RNC event. Even in St. Paul the Democrats have a better slate, with anti-Bush protest shows planned from Steve Earle, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Billy Bragg and Lupe Fiasco.
Why the disparity? Is it because rock is inherently rebellious and therefore anti-conservative? Is it because Republicans, according to some studies, have more sex than Democrats and therefore don't need to join or listen to rock bands to prove they're cool? Is it because their smart parents told them you can't make enough money to reap the rewards of tax breaks by starting a band in your garage?
I asked MURS, a rapper (and a Democrat) who's performing in Denver with Will.i.am, about the two-party music gap. He said it's all about whether the candidate makes a connection. "There are some dope emcees who would perform at the Republican Convention, but not for McCain," he said. "He's not reaching out to us. He doesn't have a Facebook or a MySpace. He doesn't Twitter.
"Change your playlist on your iPod" was MURS' advice to the GOP's presumptive nominee. "Maybe watch a little BET."
I'll be bummed to leave the music mecca of Denver for St. Paul. Though at the RNC, I'm counting on better alcohol and cigars.