Music for Democracy Benefit: Oakland

“I know that we can make it, I know that we can!” Alan Toussaint’s words are ringing from the rafters here in Oakland, and we all know it. Hell, if Maria Muldaur knows it and can sing it like she did tonight, then I don’t even need to know anything myself. I’ll just take her wor d for it. She has me from the first note, and the music is just getting started. The emcee is as loud, and funny, and she says what everyone is feeling: this is it. This election has to go our way. Every once in awhile in this business, it feels like the world is depending on a gig. Tonight, though, in this tiny theater, there’s reason to believe that it actually does.

Blame Sally casts their spell. It’s easy to see what the buzz is about. Their four voices become one voice as the audience settles back into their arrangements. We’re strolling down Fillmore Street with them, singing revolutionary barbershop quartets. After the break, local legends Tuck and Patti take the stage. I’ve never seen two musicians communicate until tonight. His hands are demons dancing on guitar strings; she shakes the shaman’s rattle of ther throat. He impishly plays with time, throwing in every chord ever played; she’s soars above his mountains, his deserts, his redwood groves, improvising a narrative about change and pain and struggle and hope. It’s hard to accept it when they finish – the crowd is on its feet, yelling for more as I duck backstage.

Curfew is close, and our set is cut short. That’s OK – I don’t know if I can play at all after watching so much good music. Wait a second, of course I can. It’s all I want to do. My feet are tapping; my fingers are drumming. The caffeine is kicking in, and flautist Matt Eakle’s joshing backstage, screwing on his solid gold headjoint. I guess I’ll be a banjo player tonight. I grab my acoustic and electric rigs and trundle through a Cleveland-esque labrinth as Tommy Castro explodes the final landmine hidden under his Fender Deluxe.

I’m nervous, something that rarely happens anymore. It’s a good thing, though, to feel the blood racing. This is important, it says. This matters. Do this well. Michael Kang leads us in one of his tunes. By the end of the set, we are eight, with Matt blowing fire and Tuck putting us all to shame. We race through “Guns or Butter” as though our lives depend on it, and, really, they might. Will we be able to sing this song if McCain takes office, or will Sarah Palin try to ban it like her library books? Will there be any money left at all to teach our kids how to read and play music after the Republicans are done driving us further into debt with their crippling military adventures? “Whoa!” we’re shouting, “Less guns, more butter!” If we shout a little louder, will they hear us? And will the Democrats hear us, too, for that matter? Will they remember us left-coast artists after they’re done with their swing states? If not, we’ve got more songs for ‘em. Plenty more. We’re good at reminding people of things.

The glow afterwards extends far beyond the usual post-show endorphin rush. There are the usual nice-sets and when-are-you-hitting-the-road-agains, but there’s something else beneath them, a keel beneath the waves. We sold it out – we raised good money. Just as importantly, we hope, we raised consciousness. We inspired everyone in the hall, including ourselves, to dream a little bigger. After all, what is politics if not the chance for large groups of people to dream the same dream, if only for a few weeks?