Just another dimension to a really interesting picture.
Beto O’Rourke’s time as a musician is one of the more well-trodden parts of his bio. And it makes sense. As O’Rourke worked to introduce himself to 28 million Texans who had scarcely heard of the young congressman from a corner of the state that had never elected anyone to statewide office before, the punk rock was an easy shorthand for “not your daddy’s Senate hopeful.”
That could be why Texas musicians have lined up behind O’Rourke in a way that we’ve rarely seen with previous candidates. During her 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Wendy Davis was also a rising national star, but Willie Nelson never played a major public rally to drive support for her candidacy (but he did perform at a private fundraiser on her behalf). And it’s not just Willie—at events around the state, heavy hitters are performing at rallies in Austin, Houston, and Dallas for (and with!) the candidate.
Willie’s event in Austin this Saturday kicks off the lineup of performances. He’ll be joined by Bridges, his sons in Lukas and Micah, Carrie Rodriguez, Tameca Jones, and Joe Ely—as well as O’Rourke himself, who’ll be speaking in a pre-headliner slot at 10 p.m. From there, O’Rourke will be co-headlining a festival in Dallas on October 7, where he’ll be joined by indie rockers Spoon, the Polyphonic Spree, Sparta, and more. The following day, in Houston, Bun B and former Texans running back Arian Foster are hosting a voter registration drive and concert at which Bun, Shakey Graves, Willie D, the Ton Tons, and others will be performing. (There’s no word yet if O’Rourke will make an appearance at that event.)
The Willie Nelson event was this past Saturday, and as I understand it there were some 25K people in attendance. Here’s a report from Texas Monthly from a reporter who attended. Kinky Friedman had his share of support from the music scene, but this is another yet another example from this year for which the phrase “we’ve never seen anything quite like this” applies. My way of looking at it is this: Musicians have the capability to reach audiences that are harder for political campaigns to communicate with. There’s a lot of young people, and a lot of people who aren’t terribly engaged, at concerts. Maybe these particular events will mostly draw in a crowd that’s already all about Beto, but it seems to me if you wanted to get your less-engaged friend fired up, this would be a great opportunity for you to do that. I think we all learned a lesson a couple of years ago not to underestimate a politician who can draw crowds.