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Music attracts America’s apathetic voters to the political realm

September 7, 2012

The following piece was written for Creative Loafing, an alt weekly publication based in Charlotte, N.C., concerning the Democratic National Convention.

CHARLOTTE- Time Warner Arena more resembled a festival than a political event during the final day of the Democratic National Convention midday Thursday as James Taylor rehearsed on the stage from which President Barack Obama would deliver his nomination acceptance speech later that night.

Taylor’s practice included lights and other theatrics typical of a concert venue, while delegates representing various states danced in the aisles, holding cameras and waving American flags.

Some crowded the stage in hopes of standing a little closer to the revered guitarist. Cheers ricocheted from the floor. Attendees sang the tune of Taylor’s “In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina,” a song resonating with people congregating in the convention’s host state.

“I think it brings more attention to the campaign,” said Dana Houston of Pennsylvania, who was in town visiting a political operative taking part in the convention.

Taylor is no stranger to Obama’s campaign, having performed in the election’s battleground states in June and July, promoting the Democratic nominee. And that kind of endorsement can spell the difference for the sitting president in an otherwise close campaign, where the youth vote lacks the same level of excitement witnessed four years ago.

Celebrity attention generates support for the nominees, said Akilah Ensley, one of the 36 North Carolinian youth delegates. “I think with a lot of young people who may not be as engaged in the political process, they kind of go off what they hear and what they see,” the 29-year-old said. “I do think (music) can be hugely influential to them in terms of who they support.”

Young voters, identified as those between the ages of 18 and 30, are exhibiting less enthusiasm this election year. Artist and celebrity political involvement adds an element of entertainment and attracts an otherwise ambivalent audience. That cuts both ways, of course. Look no further than Clint Eastwood to see how a high-profile figure can derail the message that campaigns are trying to convey to the small sliver of the electorate that still hasn’t made up its mind.

For Ensley, music plays in the background of her support for the Democratic candidate. She recalled a Jay-Z concert she attended before the election in 2008. Prior to performing, the celebrity announced his presidential choice, to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.

“He said ‘I’m voting for him and you better be too,’ and I think that played a popular role,” said the musically inclined delegate. “The music has been a little different this time around, but I think it does tremendously play a huge part.”

Musical performances at the DNC include James Taylor, Mary J Blige, Foo Fighters and Marc Anthony. Music also characterized the RNC last week in Tampa, Fla. American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and 3 Doors Down performed at the convention, increasing the party’s intrigue among an often uninvolved, but important, demographic of voters.

Jonice Crawford Butler, clothed in political buttons, admitted the music prevents her from falling asleep. “It keeps you in an upbeat mood, so it doesn’t make it difficult for the candidates to get you all geared up,” Butler said from inside the Time Warner Cable Arena. For the president, he’ll take what energy he can get.

James Taylor rehearses o the main stage in the Time Warner Arena midday Thursday at the DNC. For a slideshow of more photographs, click here. Photos by Claire Esparros. Slide show compiled by Melissa Kansky.

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