Never mind the so-called “Bernie bro” phenomenon: Bernie Bands are one factor that distinguishes Bernie Sanders from the competition, with the other Democratic candidates getting not even a fraction of the support the 78-year-old senator from Vermont has picked up from name musicians. This year, as with his first presidential campaign in 2016, Sanders has transformed what might have been routine stump speeches into media-grabbing spectacles with the help of big-name talents like the Strokes, Bon Iver, Brandi Carlile and Jack White.
While it cannot be estimated how many attendees have come to his rallies as ardent supporters or simply as music fans, an exit poll revealed soon after his New Hampshire rally with the Strokes that the senator won an impressive 47% of voters between the ages of 18-29 in the state’s primary.
And the belief rock, pop and hip-hop musicians have in Sanders is strong enough that news was made over the weekend when years of beefs between Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav finally came to a head with the latter rapper being kicked out of the group after a skirmish over whether to participate in Sanders’ rallies.
Here are some of the high profile artists who have supported Senator Bernie Sanders at his recent campaign rallies as well as what drew them to his progressive platform.
The Strokes (Durham, NH) – February 10, 2020
The famed 2000s rock group performed at the senator’s half-concert, half-campaign-rally in Durham, New Hampshire ahead of the state’s primary election, drawing 7,500 attendees and nearly 330,000 live streams on YouTube. Playing unreleased tracks as well as old favorites, the group concluded the show with an unanticipated addition to the set list: their anti-cop anthem, “New York City Cops.” Originally cut from their late 2001 album, for obvious reasons, the finale song was met with some disdain by New Hampshire police, for also obvious reasons. According to frontman Julian Casablancas, he backs the senator because “he’s the only noncorporate candidate, so by default, he’s the only person who you can trust what he’s saying.”
Vampire Weekend (Cedar Rapids, IA) – February 2, 2020
Ezra Koenig (pictured above with Sanders), lead singer of Vampire Weekend, says he endorses the senator because he “see(s) a consistency in (Sanders) that’s rare in most human beings, let alone politicians.” A champion for the candidate since his first presidential campaign, Koenig has played at Sanders’ rallies ahead of the Iowa Caucus in both 2016 and 2020, performing Vampire Weekend originals as well as a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is My Land,” a personal favorite of Sanders. The lyrics of Guthrie’s classic piece of Americana are obviously seen as echoing the appeals to equality and populism in Sanders’ platform.
Brandi Carlile (Montpelier, VT) – May 25, 2019
Carlile and Bernie Sanders met in a chance encounter at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The singer/songwriter, a longtime supporter, saw the senator from afar, asked for a photo, and offered to perform at a campaign event. Within weeks, Carlile was playing at Sanders’ first home state rally for the 2020 presidential election. Performing in Montpelier, Vermont, Carlile announced to the crowd: “I love him, and I am here to support him.” In a conversation with Bonnie Raitt for Rolling Stone, Carlile said, “I read a piece today that said every big mistake the United States has made for the last 30 years can be coordinated alongside a video of Bernie Sanders trying to stop it.” Attracted to his message of fairness and the consistency of his voting record, she remarked that his enthusiastic support among young voters “has to be something on a cosmic level if I’ve ever seen (it).”
Bon Iver (Clive, IA) – January 31, 2020
Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s most famous resident, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, has been a vocal supporter of Sanders and his platform since 2016. In a statement released by Vernon ahead of his performance at a rally in Clive, Iowa, the artist and producer stated, “There are promises in our constitutional language that are being superseded by money and greed” and declared his belief that Sanders “is the only one… to begin to put these obstacles of freedom to rest.” Following Donald Trump’s inauguration, Vernon wrote and released the track, “Sh’Diah.” An acronym for “Shittiest Day in American History,” “Sh’Diah” critiques the religious base of Trump supporters who “find the time… for the Lord” but can’t find time to support their fellow man. After Democrats lost Vernon’s home state to Trump in 2016, Wisconsin is expected to be a key battleground for the Democratic nominee. In an effort to increase voter turnout in the swing state, Bon Iver plans to do a short tour around Wisconsin this October with presale tickets only available to those who pledge to vote.
Jack White (Detroit, MI) – October 27, 2019
As a self-proclaimedly apolitical rock star, Jack White is making an exception for Bernie Sanders. While he has said “I don’t consider myself a member of any party or anything — I just listen to the issues,” White was attracted to Sanders’s platform because he “is telling the truth, and I really do trust him.” Exciting disillusioned voters like White and even typical non-voters has become the senator’s mainstay in this election. White joined Sanders in Detroit, Michigan at White’s alma mater, Cass Technical High School, for a rally on October 27, 2019. Playing a mixture of solo and White Stripes singles, the rocker concluded his set with a rendition of his career-defining hit, “Seven Nation Army.”
Portugal. The Man (Takoma, WA) – February 17
The band behind “Feel It Still” is Feeling the Bern. The popular indie rock group joined the senator at a recent rally in Takoma, Washington as well as a performance in Ames, Iowa ahead of the caucuses in January. But political activism is nothing new for this group. Back in 2018, at the height of their breakout hit, the band produced an interactive music video for “Feel It Still” with 30 Easter eggs to collect and to add to a viewer’s “#resist toolkit.” These eggs had titles including “Fund Planned Parenthood,” “Gun Control” and “Save the EPA”. By the end of the video, it highlights the eggs collected and reconnects viewers to sites that can help them take action. The group also teamed up with the Smithsonian National Zoo and Endangered Songs Project in 2014 to create a special edition record of a track titled “Sumatran Tiger,” with its proceeds going back to protect the endangered animal. Pressed on polycarbonate, the record was designed to break down after a certain number of plays.
Public Enemy Radio (Los Angeles, CA) – March 1, 2020
Sanders was joined this past weekend by Public Enemy Radio, Chuck D’s side project from the revolutionary rap group, Public Enemy. The event was overshadowed by a legal spat with hype man Flavor Flav, who sent the Sanders campaign a cease-and-desist letter for using his “unauthorized likeness, image, and trademarked clock” to promote the show. Moving quickly to dispel his claim, a lawyer for Chuck D announced: “From a legal standpoint, Chuck could perform as Public Enemy if he ever wanted to.” Flav was then quickly dismissed from Public Enemy after over three decades with the group. Known for their unabashed political raps since its inception in 1985, Public Enemy was Sanders’s first campaign rally in partnership with a hip-hop artist. Held only two days ahead of Super Tuesday, the rally took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center with the hope of securing voters in the delegate-rich state of California.
Jack Johnson (San Jose, CA) – March 1, 2020
Joined by indie rock group Joyce Manor and the band Las Cafeteras, longtime soft-rock songwriter Jack Johnson supported Sanders at his rally in San Jose, California. On Sunday morning, Sanders and his team hosted two rallies in one day, quickly traveling down to Los Angeles afterward for the rally featuring Public Enemy Radio that evening. The co-founder of Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and the Kōkua Hawaii Foundation, Jack Johnson is a passionate environmentalist and was drawn to the Sanders campaign for its support of progressive initiatives like the Green New Deal.