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DNC gives local Denver band a boost

Flobots have held on to their dream of building a nonprofit group that uses music to promote civic involvement.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Colored wristbands run halfway up Stephen Brackett’s arm, each one marking a show he and his band, the Flobots, have played the last several days.

Brackett, who goes by Brer Rabbit as one of the MCs for the Flobots, keeps each one until the six-person band has a bad show, when he cuts them all off. The last time his arm was bare was after a show in Salt Lake City, when fans started three fights that had to be broken up.

“That by definition is a bad show,” Brackett said during the Tent State Music Festival to End the War at the Denver Coliseum this week during the Democratic National Convention.

After the festival, the event’s activist organizers planned to lead the 9,000 festival-goers from the Coliseum to the Pepsi Center in an anti-war march in which leaders were prepared to get arrested. Flobots planned to march with them.

Brackett looked down at his wristbands. “I’m very much hoping I won’t have to cut them off today,” he said Wednesday.

The march crowd was estimated by police at 3,500 to 4,000.

Flobots aren’t the biggest name in town for the DNC, but the Denver band’s four convention-related shows signaled the band’s rise from local heroes, blending hip hop, a viola, drums, guitar and bass, to international touring artists. The Denver mayor’s office even gave band members tickets to hear Barack Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination.

Music to promote civic involvementThrough it all, Flobots have held on to their dream of building a nonprofit group that uses music to promote civic involvement. In fact, its street teams are actually a network of social activism.

“People who go to our shows get really amped, but they had nowhere to get plugged in,” said guitarist Andy “ROK” Guerrero. “When they hear our music, we want people to start thinking, dialoging and talking about what is going on in our country.”

Even though music comes first for Flobots, “Nobody in this band could do this if it weren’t for a bigger reason,” Guerrero said.

The heart of that activism could well be Brackett and Jamie Laurie, known as Jonny 5, who have been with Flobots from the beginning.

Laurie’s drive started when he participated in the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. At the time, Laurie was becoming an activist as a response to messages expressed in hip hop. It didn’t hurt that a girl he liked was protesting too.

The WTO protests shut down parts of the meetings and brought worldwide attention to activists’ message.

“It was so empowering,” said Laurie, now 30. “Ever since that moment, I’ve had it in my head: I don’t ever want to abdicate responsibility in terms of changing the world.”

The band specifically asked for the week of the Democratic convention off during their tour so they could be home for historic events. They played shows, attended rallies and squeezed in visits with family.

On stage with RageThe biggest protest they attended, though, was after playing in the daytime Tent State festival with Rage Against the Machine. When the music ended midafternoon Wednesday, thousands poured onto the streets to march nearly four miles with Iraq Veterans Against the War to the Pepsi Center.

The veterans’ goal was to speak to Democrats at the Pepsi Center, where access was blocked to the public, and camp outside until their demands were met. Flobots were in the first row of civilians in the march.

“I think this is the biggest demonstration of the week,” Guerrero said checking out the crowd. “And it’s all because of music. In yo’ face!”

The veterans wanted convention delegates and the Obama campaign to hear their demands for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, full health care benefits for returning troops and veterans and reparations to the Iraqi people for damage caused by the war.

Four hours after the concert, as sunset approached, Brackett searched for water, and protest organizers warned the crowd that arrests could come as the parade made its way on an illegal route if they decided not to disperse.

Finally, an Obama campaign representative met with one of the veterans, which led to cheers and bear hugs among the protesters.

No arrests were reported.

“This is the most victorious ending I could’ve ever imagined,” Laurie said afterward.

And Wednesday night, Brackett still had his wristbands on his arm.