Artists From Red Hot Chili Peppers to Killer Mike Stumping for Bernie Sanders, Music's Donor Class Backing Hillary Clinton
The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Feb. 5 benefit for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles did not bear the hallmarks of a traditional Hollywood fundraiser. The Chili Peppers barely invoked Sanders' name during their set, and donors who had paid thousands of dollars for front-row seats saw more stage diving than political stumping.
But the band was hardly the main draw. When volunteers with bullhorns paced the Ace Theatre's lobby and asked concertgoers to take their seats for a video appearance by the 74-year-old Sanders, the beer line instantly dispersed. And when the Chili Peppers left the stage, chants of "Ber-NIE! Ber-NIE!" rang out. The message was clear: These rock stars were in the service of a potentially even bigger rock star.
"I'd never done a political concert until I heard the authenticity and truth of Bernie's message," said organizer and RHCP recruiter Rain Phoenix, 43 (whose brother Joaquin was among those in the crowd). Sanders, whose candidacy was considered a longshot by most experts, soundly defeated rival Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire's Feb. 9 primary, and Phoenix isn't satisfied with just the one benefit. "I'm really into the idea of bringing amazing artists to a red state and dropping them there."
There will be no shortage of bands to book for future benefits, judging from the Artists for Bernie web page, which includes both the usual suspects from decades of Democratic activism -- Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle -- as well as more millennial-friendly artists like Killer Mike, Cobra Starship's Gabe Saporta, Thurston Moore and Jeff Tweedy. In all, Sanders lists more than 80 musicians as signees.
As for which names appear on the Artists for Hillary page… well, it doesn't exist. Perhaps the Clinton campaign will build a similar online database later, but so far musician advocacy for the front-running Democratic candidate has been surprisingly muted. The singers who have publicly endorsed or financially supported Clinton, from old-schoolers of the donor class like Barbra Streisand, Jon Bon Jovi and Carole King to younger artists like Demi Lovato (who performed at an Iowa rally in January), Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Ariana Grande, have done so with seemingly little impact.
That's not to say that Clinton, 68, lacks significant music-business support. In fact, she would appear to be just as disproportionately favored in the industry's executive suites as Sanders is on music's street. In compiling the Power 100 issue, Billboard surveyed execs about their choice for president. Many declined to say, but of those who did, 20 named Clinton, while only two power players answered Sanders. The list of avowedly pro-Clinton VIPs includes manager Scooter Braun and Epic Records chief Antonio "L.A." Reid -- both of whom have hosted benefits -- along with RCA CEO Peter Edge, UMG Nashville's Mike Dungan, UTA chief Jeremy Zimmer, Interscope executive vp Steve Berman, Capitol COO Michelle Jubelirer and Glassnote founder Daniel Glass.
"Hillary brings more experience to the presidential race than any other candidate," says manager Brandon Creed (Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson). Island Records president David Massey agrees: "She has a genuine intelligence, which … this country needs."
"Hillary Clinton has been my friend for over 20 years," says John Sykes, iHeartMedia's Entertainment Enterprises president, "and she has kept every promise she has ever made."
Results of the New Hampshire primary, however -- where Clinton earned only 17 percent of the under-30 vote, versus Sanders' 83 percent -- led her to admit the obvious: "I have some work to do with young people."
To Sanders fans, the split within the music world makes sense. "Executives have protection under the current model," says artist-turned-producer Joe Henry. "Musicians pay for their own insurance, if they have any, and feel completely vulnerable to the shifting landscape. We'd rather gamble on a revolution than a more benevolent landlord."
Ben Folds is part of a multigenerational Sanders family: His 16-year-old daughter, Gracie, opened for the Chili Peppers in L.A. by playing "This Land Is Your Land" on ukulele. Folds says that millennials "love having a political relationship with a grandfatherly figure who isn't trying to kiss their ass."
Sanders supporter Jill Sobule performed at a Jan. 30 benefit in Iowa. "I was there with Vampire Weekend and Foster the People, playing in front of 5,000 millennials, and it was so exciting to see the energy, exuberance and participation in the political process. It's hard opening up for Bernie, though," she adds. "No one really cared about the musical acts; those kids wanted to see Bernie. He's Elvis."
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of Billboard.