Cincinnati band comes home to play show and promote voting

Joe Shearer

Moving from your hometown where you spent most of your life can be a challenge. Besides a change in scenery, the people you’re now surrounded by tend to be quirkier or altogether alien from what you thought was the norm.

Matt Berninger and his bandmates, collectively making up morose indie band The National, discovered this when they uprooted from Cincinnati to Brooklyn.

One big change for Berninger (who has now resided in New York for 13 years) was the lack of unique, political perspectives.

“Ohio has always sort of been a crossroads sort of place,” Berninger explained. “Cincinnati – it’s about split 50/50. It’s on one level, a very, very conservative town. But on other levels, it’s also a very progressive city. Cincinnati’s kind of felt like a microcosm, in many ways, of the country.”

That’s the reason Berninger’s band decided to host a free rally tonight for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama in its hometown rather than in Brooklyn.

Growing up in Ohio, he understands – while he may not always agree with – and respects conservative arguments on social and economic issues.

“In New York, the Democrats far outnumber Republicans,” Berninger said. “So you don’t quite have the same debates – the same kind of meaty debates that you do in Cincinnati. It’s not so much the political punditry that sometimes you see on the news. It’s actually just like families sitting around a table arguing with each other. That’s what Cincinnati’s always been to me. I don’t have that anymore so much.

“That’s why it just felt like an exciting, fun thing to do in Cincinnati. Now, it’s an Obama rally. There’s no doubt about it. But, I don’t know. I hope it’s not going to be an exclusive – it’s welcome to anybody.”

“Vote Early, Rock Late” takes place from 5-8 p.m. at Fountain Square. Joined by The Breeders (also partially comprised of fellow Ohioans), The National’s main goal is to get people excited and promote early voting.

Berninger doesn’t lose sight of that.

“All of us in the band actually do believe that Obama is the much better road to take,” he said. “So, we’re going to have a party for it. I don’t think we’re going to change anybody’s minds – if you’re a McCain supporter. I don’t think an indie-rock band is ever going to change anybody’s mind.”

Although the band has received some “slight hate mail” regarding the move, Berninger doesn’t believe this will affect fans who disagree with the band’s politics. He’s not so disconnected to understand why some might not like the idea of a political endorsement, though he welcomes thoughtful debate from all sides, describing it as “healthy” and “a good thing.”

Besides, he said, this is mainly a way to bring people together and get them excited about what he believes is one of the most important events in his lifetime.

“Although there will be speakers, we’re certainly not going to do any preaching,” he said. “We’re just there to have fun. I have a lot of friends that are coming to this thing who are McCain supporters, but they just want to come and have fun on Fountain Square and drink beer and listen to rock music.”

So, in other words, maybe don’t expect a Madonna-esque diatribe.

And, while hoping this rally could create discussion for those leaning on the fence, Berninger and The National are content to come home and have a good time with hometown friends and family.

Contact all reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected].