Sunday, March 02, 2008

Barack 'n roll

Six members of Arcade Fire came to Stuart's Opera House in Nelsonville, Ohio to rally support for Barack Obama in Tuesday's Democratic primary and beyond. Considering that the band recently wrapped a year-long tour that often found them playing to 20,000 fans, the chance to see them in a tiny venue in a place off the beaten path is pretty rare, especially in small town Ohio. The executive director told me that Stuart's Opera House could hold 450. Half of the tickets were given away yesterday near Ohio University. Getting in was going to take serious dedication.

As I wrote yesterday, I was determined to go to the necessary stupid lengths to attend. I went to the early church service, rushed home to make a couple sandwiches to take with me, and departed home at 10:20 a.m. During the hour and fifteen minute drive southeast, I wondered if I would prefer to be the first one in line or if I wanted a small line to already be formed. I decided that having a few people get there before me would be better since it would justify showing up seven hours prior to the doors opening.

I pulled into the public square and saw three guys in line. The first arrived around 9:30 a.m. and came from Pittsburgh. The next two were from Washington, D.C. They had tickets but wanted to be assured of a great spot inside. A couple other guys who took their place in line had been there earlier--they got to Nelsonville around 7:30 a.m.--but had been killing time sniping wireless internet from the local library. Needless to say, I was guaranteed to be seeing the concert. Now began the long wait.

I was surprised that the line wasn't longer by 1:00 p.m. A large part of my reasoning in choosing to come to this concert rather than Monday's in Cleveland was its more remote location. Still, there's a big university not that far away. I figured most students wouldn't be up early on a Sunday morning to get in line, but I expected more to turn out for a longer wait. The weather was unseasonably warm (in the mid to upper 50s), and the sun was as bright as it's been in weeks.

I conversed with the others in line for awhile and then sat down to knit while looking out at the square. I'm sure that activity was part of the reason for drawing stares from passing cars, although the presence of people waiting outside the theater seemed to intrigue the locals. I knitted until my left shoulder started to stiffen. Then I tried not to be bored out of my mind.

I didn't feel like writing. I didn't feel like doing much of anything. Three hours were out of the way, but there were still almost four to go before going indoors. A few local businesses opened up to take advantage of the foot traffic they wouldn't ordinarily get. Someone from a quilt shop let us know that we were welcome to use the restroom at his place. The college students were derisive about the working class locals, something I'll ignore as youthful arrogance, but these people were generous to invite all of us in if we needed something.

Near 3:00 p.m. a blue van with French words on it pulled in front of us, and out popped the band. They traveled fourteen hours to make it to Nelsonville but seemed excited to be here. Lead singer Win Butler (seen to the right in the above photo) was jazzed about a phone call he got from Obama while the group was lunching at Taco Bell. The band members spoke with those in line for a brief period and then went inside. It was just the energy pick-up needed to wait out the rest of the time on the sidewalk.

A bit later they came out again to talk with fans and pose for photos before sliding into the café for something to eat. I resumed knitting for a little while more. I knitted seven or eight inches while in line, which is a significant amount since I'm using DK weight yarn. On the way back from dinner the band talked more with eager fans. It was pretty strange seeing them be so approachable in this unlikeliest of places.

We could hear them performing a soundcheck on the second floor of the building, which is where the old auditorium is located. I made out what sounded like my favorite David Bowie song, so I had my fingers crossed for its inclusion in the set.

Finally the time neared to enter Stuart's Opera House. In a very cool move, someone from the Obama campaign rounded up those of us who had waited the longest and told us that they had reserved the two boxes at the sides of the stage as a way of thanking us for being out there so long. Now, this place is small, so it's not like there's a bad seat in the house. For ten of us, though, we were essentially on the stage. We were at the same level as the band and just an easy hop over the railing onto the stage. Very cool!

Arcade Fire horn player Colin Stetson opened by playing a couple songs in which he coaxed all manner of sounds from his instrument. From my vantage point I could see the rest of the band watching in the wings. All of a sudden they were mere feet from me as they launched into "Intervention". You could say the place exploded.

To the best of my memory, the set looked like this:

1. "Intervention"
2. "Keep the Car Running"
3. "Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
4. "A Change is Gonna Come" (Sam Cooke cover)
5. "Rebellion (Lies)"
6. "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"
7. "Wake Up"

Encore: 8. "Gimme Some Truth" (John Lennon cover)

(The order of the two Funeral songs after the Sam Cooke cover may be backwards, for what it's worth.)

A campaign worker spoke after the third song to encourage people to get out there to vote for Obama, which was, after all, the whole point of this exercise. Butler admitted that he didn't know if what they were doing would have any effect. He simply hoped that those present would support the candidate he feels strongest about. If it sounds like pushy entertainer politics, it wasn't. It was about the softest sell you'll get in a situation like this.

The set lasted about an hour. That may have been shorter than everyone wanted, but supposedly it exhausted everything that this assemblage of the band had prepared. Really, could anyone complain? Admission was free. Having missed them in Columbus in October, I was thrilled to see them, let alone up close and for the nice price.

To accommodate those who hadn't been able to get into the 7:00 p.m. show, word was that they were playing another set at 9:30 p.m. Some of those who saw the first got back in line, but I didn't feel any need to be greedy. I got a great experience and story.

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At 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you had a great time!

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Awesome! It paid off, and you got to spend some time outside in the SUN! Knitting. :-)

Remember to vote tomorrow!

At 11:28 PM, Blogger donnadb said...

Wow! What a great experience. I'd say your time was totally worth it. I can imagine coming out of there on an incredible high, ready to change the world.


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