May 6, 2008 12:00

Merge records hosts Obama rally for Greensboro and Carrboro

Spoon (spoontheband.com) front man Britt Daniels has joked about his desire for Merge Records (mergerecords.com) founder Mac McCaughan to run for president. It's true this man has been a very important role model to so many musicians and label-starters in the independent circuit. Let's not limit it to he and co-founder Laura Balance's indie-pop '90s band, Superchunk (superchunk.com), which made way as pioneers of the genre. Though he isn't running this term, he is using his networking status to help out in politics. On a last-minute whim, the record label put together two North Carolina concert-rally events back to back to promote the Obama campaign, youth involvement in politics and early voting. I remember Laura telling me the week before that she didn't like the idea of a band making up the political opinion of a fan. "But," she said, "if someone is really that far removed from opinion, knowledge or simply current events and updates - I don't feel bad for using our label to at least show them what we believe. Anyone else that has any idea what is going on will vote. It's all about participation and awareness, but it's important to have them go hand in hand."

The first of the two afternoon shows was in Greensboro in the Coliseum Complex parking lot. The second was at the Town Commons Farmers Market in Carrboro (hometown of Superchunk, and the original Merge office). To get a ticket, one was to go to the voting locations the week prior, vote early and pick up a ticket. Some voted, some didn't, but it got people to the location. Sometimes the youth just need a little motivation, the main motivation being, aside from a change in the government, a free Arcade Fire (arcadefire.com) show.

The Carrboro show was definitely the more popular of the two. Over 2,200 people attended, and approximately 1,300 people voted at the booths set up outside the concert area. In 90-degree heat, spray mist sunblock sold out at surrounding convenient stores.

Superchunk played a great nostalgia pop set for their home town that had adults and kids dancing all over the lawn. It's true they've grown up, and Mac has his own separate project now, Portastatic (portastatic.com), but they still know how to rock. Even their young children are on the stage off to the side with earmuffs on for protection, jumping up and down to dance with their parental performers. They played a dead-on set with music from all time periods of their career, and sounded (almost) as if it was 2002 when I saw them play at the Ritz with Hot Rod Circuit and the Get Up Kids.

Arcade Fire took the stage and told the crowd something they weren't expecting: It's not all about Obama. Their general message was that the point of gathering everyone together to celebrate wasn't just for Obama to win, or for McCain to lose, but simply to get the youth involved in what's going on. Arcade singer Win Butler comments, "The concerts are to promote involvement and change. If Obama is the best candidate to represent that, then so be it." Getting the crowd involved in what they had to say wasn't hard at all, climbing up on top of speakers with a bongo about 10 feet off the ground and jumping off definitely caught their attention, and got his point across: "Youth! Open your eyes!"

Their performance featured non-stop instrument changes, violins and horns, loud lyrics and popular hits from their last album, The Neon Bible. This wasn't the first of their Obama concerts. They played a few out in the Midwest earlier this year, and haven't limited these as their final shows for the campaign.

Everyone that showed up for the shows, whether they had a ticket or not, was allowed to sign up to vote, volunteer and be set on a temporary waiting list to get into the show. It was all outside, so whether you were inside the fence or not, you could see it all. After the show, the bands, label mates, staff, friends and family all got together for a cookout, beers, corn hole and music-gossip. Most everyone in attendance was excited about the last two days and talked about the excitement of unfolding events leading up to November. McCaughan stresses, "I'm so glad this part is over; now I'm just looking forward to see how voting on Tuesday goes. We can only say so much, it's up to everyone else to follow through."

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