Caucus season in Iowa produces weird, unexpected scenes. As I walked into a coffee shop in downtown Iowa City on Saturday afternoon for a writing pit stop between campaign events, I noticed a growing crowd in the far back of the room. Turns out the indie band Vampire Weekend (joined by a member of fellow Brooklyn hipster band Dirty Projectors), scheduled to play a major rally for Bernie Sanders later this evening, had announced on Twitter that they'd be playing a pre-show warm-up set at the coffee house, and the college kids from the University of Iowa had quickly flocked. Pressed into a corner in a packed room, it was difficult to get a good head count, but the wall-to-wall crowd easily numbered into the several hundred.
Was the young crowd there for Bernie, or just a free show? Mostly the latter from my vantage point. Joey Sogard, a sophmore at Iowa State University, made the two-hour drive for the rally. So a big Bernie supporter, right? "Well, more Vampire Weekend and Foster the People," Sogard said, mentioning another band scheduled to play at Sanders rally. Well, would he at least be caucusing for Sanders? "I don't know what caucusing is, I've been explained a thousand times, but I don't know," he said with a laugh.
The friends he had roadtripped with were more definitive Sanders fans, though. Zoey Mauck, an Iowa-native familiar with the caucusing process, said she would be in Sanders' camp Monday night. "I just like his stance on a lot of issues, especially the environmental stuff," she said. "Something about Bernie I just really like. But if it goes Hillary, I don't really care."
Nearby, a woman wearing a zebra-patterned-bear backpack was handing out buttons and stickers emblazoned with a Donald-Trump-as-fly-covered-feces design.
Getting handed out at a Vampire Weekend For Bernie concert in Iowa City pic.twitter.com/YbCDD0zYkO— Patrick Caldwell (@patcaldwell) January 30, 2016
When the band took the stage, they encouraged the crowd to come to watch Sanders speak later in the evening—"that's what this is all about," lead singer Ezra Koenig said—but the crowd mostly saved its applause for Vampire Weekend's hits. Still, Koenig did his best to keep things focused on the Bern, explaining that they mostly wanted to play a pre-rally set in order to tune up, since "we cannot embarrass ourselves in front of Bernie."
The short, six-song set ended with a rendition of "This Land is Your Land," which Koenig said was in honor of the album of folk covers Sanders recorded in 1987.
"How dope would it be to have a recording artist in the White House," Koenig wondered to the students.
"Kanye 2020!" Came a shout from the crowd.