Members of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Cincinnati natives The National
knew they could lose fans if their band became vocal supporters of
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama back in 2008.
“When we publicly started supporting Obama, we did have a
lot of fans that were upset about that and just thought, ‘you should
keep your political opinions to yourself,’ ” lead singer Matt Berninger
told reporters before their Thursday GottaVote concert sponsored by the
“And I actually totally understand that and in many ways
almost agree. I don’t want to be preached to by the Rock bands that I
The band drew a mixed crowd of 750 people to the intimate show at The Emery Theater on Thursday. The concert’s purpose was to encourage attendees to vote for
Obama in the Nov. 6 election and encourage Cincinnatians to take
advantage of Ohio’s early voting.
While the band’s support for Obama has drawn some vitriol
(fans made comments like “fools” and “shame on you” on Facebook posts
announcing the shows in support of the president) it didn’t stop everyone
who didn’t plan on voting for Obama from coming to the concert.
Adam Kesee, 25, is not an Obama supporter. He explained that he
was at The Emery to see The National perform anyway — just as long as
they didn’t devote the whole show to politics.
"I do not think music and politics should mix," Kesee
explained. "It's OK if you play to support a candidate you like, but
don't expect everyone to share your views and do not bog down the
concert with political views."
The National plays a GottaVote concert for the Obama campaign in Cincinnati
[Photo gallery: The National plays in Cincinnati Oct.
4]Despite their recent outspoken support of President Obama
and their series of shows dedicated to rallying support in 2008, 2010 and 2012,
Berninger and guitarist Aaron Dessner said they never saw their band
going in such a direction.
“We didn’t want our band to be a political band … most of
our songs are love songs or songs about drinking — we don’t think of
ourselves as socially conscious songwriters or anything,” Berninger
He said that during the George W. Bush administration,
they started to feel a responsibility to get involved — even if their
band took a hit. He cited his 3-year-old daughter as the context
through which he sees politics — he’s worried about the way her world
will be shaped.
"Where our country is now is more important than our Rock
and Roll band," Berninger said. "If it hurts our band, that's OK
Although some of The National's songs seem to hold
political themes, including "Mr. November," the majority of the songs
performed were rock songs written about love and loss including the
popular "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Fake Empire."
An intense performer, Berninger didn’t get so enthused
about performing for Obama that he slipped "Vote Obama," into the
lyrics, or devote the majority of the performance to campaigning. Aside
from two young campaign volunteers speaking at the beginning of the
concert, the president was not even mentioned until introducing the
third song, "I'm Afraid of Everyone," written, Berninger said, about a
desperate plea for the truth.
In exchange for free tickets to see The National, attendees were expected to volunteer their time for the Obama campaign.
Many concertgoers explained that they would gladly offer
their time to support the campaign. Others said that they were strictly
in attendance to see The National and do not plan on knocking on doors
or making phone calls to support the president.
"I don't really have the time and I don't really care about politics that much," said Kedharhneth Sairam, 24.
The crowd may not have been full of Obama supporters, but
they were still supporters of The National. The band’s GottaVote tour
included a Wednesday stop in
both Columbus and Cincinnati. Along with performing for fans, the band
took to the streets with clipboards encouraging students on the campuses
of The Ohio State University, Xavier University and Berninger’s alma
mater, the University of Cincinnati, to sign up to vote.
CityBeat staff writer Andy Brownfield contributed to this report.