Performance, politics: musicians support Sanders

Across the city, shows are popping up to support Bernie Sanders.

Local musician Jon Coyle wanted to support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Democratic presidential campaign—so he organized a concert.

And another.

After two shows, Coyle was able to donate $3,000 to Sanders’ campaign. Now, more fundraising shows for the senator are going on around the city.

Local band Birthday Ponies organized an upcoming two-night event at Lavender Town, a DIY space in North Philly near Broad Street and Girard Avenue. The shows, running March 11-12, will feature a local lineup including Mumblr and OhBree. All money raised at the shows will go directly toward Sanders’ campaign.

“A lot of the time it’s hard to get really great bills together because music in a lot of ways is kind of a selfish endeavor, a lot of people are just looking for their own spotlight,” said Mike Saah, the guitarist for Birthday Ponies. “But I think the context of this show really allowed that [selfishness] to take a backseat.”

“It liberates the ego aspect,” added vocalist Alex Tilson. “Bands are just doing it for Bernie.”

The bands involved in the show hope to not only raise money for Sanders’ campaign, but also attract people new to politics and increase the power of Sanders’ supporters.

“One of the dismissive write-offs of Bernie’s campaign is that it’s just a bunch of kids being idealistic, but they’re not actually serious about this,” Tilson added. “But with this, we’re showing that we put together this show that a lot of really excellent bands are donating their time and music to, and a lot of kids are going to show up to.”

Other musicians raising money for Sanders include Coyle, who organized and played at a sold-out show at Boot & Saddle at 1131 S. Broad St. that raised nearly $3,000 for Sanders’ campaign.

Coyle saw an opportunity to support Sanders on a larger scale, and reached out to other local bands to play a fundraiser show. The amount of positive feedback from the December show led to a second show in January, which had similar success.

Philadelphia is just one city of many whose music community is showing its support for the democratic candidate. Shows are also happening across the country in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

But it’s only happening for Sanders.

“A lot of people who have been disillusioned with the political process are finding that his message resonates with him because he’s talking about problems that no one else is acknowledging,” Tilson said. “People in our generation have taken the time to read up and learn about the ways in which the political system is hijacked by corporate interests and [Sanders] is the only one speaking to that.”

“Musicians tend to be very creative minded and very empathic in that they really have a sense of community,” Coyle added. “In Philadelphia, at least, we’re in a place where we can see a lot of inequality in front of our eyes … a lot of young people put together the pieces and see somebody who really authentically wants to stand up for a lot of underprivileged people.”

Saah shares Coyle’s opinion. He said some of Sanders’ policies promise single-payer healthcare and the expansion of social security, which would cater better to the needs of musicians and artists in the city.

“The lifestyle of musicians and artists is generally one of many different smaller jobs, it’s hard to find a full-time, benefits paying gig as a working artist and musician,” he said. “And given that the model in the U.S. is really tied to that older idea of needing a full-time employer, a lot of musicians and artists are left out of that.”

Support for Sanders continues to pour in after he received more than $6 million for his campaign in the first 24 hours after the New Hampshire primary, which Sanders won with a 60.4 percent vote majority.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that he’s done very well,” Coyle said, “Because it’s not just that he has X-amount of support right now, but day by day his support is absolutely growing. There’s a lot of people who are trying to be a part of this movement … in a grassroots way … and so far that’s really changed what we all thought the campaign would be like.”

“He’s not saying, ‘I will give you free college and this and that,’” Tilson said. “He’s saying, ‘We can do this together.’”

Emily Thomas can be reached at

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