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This elephant never forgets… how to rock

Republican mayoral candidate hosts free concerts

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-08-06


If there’s one thing more unusual than a conservative politician addressing a basement full of indie music fans, it’s said politician making good on a campaign promise.

That’s what a cynic might say, at least, but in this case, the cynic would have to eat his words.

Last March, local musician Caleb Jehl invited Matt Kelty, candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor of Fort Wayne, to speak at a show Jehl was hosting at his house (Jehl’s aunt works on Kelty’s campaign). The bill was a mixture of local and regional independent music acts, and the crowd were young music fans.

Kelty accepted the invitation, and Jehl also asked Democratic candidate Tom Henry to speak at a different show the next month. Henry also accepted. Speaking to FWR back in March, Jehl the purpose of the events was not to endorse a particular candidate, but to expose the kind of people who might attend an underground rock show to the people who are going to guide decision-making in Fort Wayne. “(Kelty) is no fool,” Jehl said in FWR #74. “I’m assuming that knows he’s walking in to a potential ‘wolf’s den’; a more artistic crowd might be primarily more liberal.”

It’s funny how things turned out, though. Jehl says the appearances of the two candidates at the events could not have seemed more different. Democratic candidate Tom Henry addressed the crowd, shook some hands, and was gone in 25 minutes. “He just said ‘I’m for the Harrison Square project. There’ll be a Borders down there, there’ll be a big arena down there. Maybe some of you guys can play in that arena. Get out and vote.’ Then he was out,” Jehl says.

But Kelty, dressed in a suit and tie, stuck around for the entire show. According to Jehl, there was no grandstanding, no condescension, and no looking at his watch. “Everybody who was there was really impressed,” Jehl says. “When he did talk, he didn’t go into heavy politics. He asked questions. He asked a lot of questions and listened a lot.”

During his address, Kelty said something surprising. “At one point, he said ‘next time we’ll do this at my house,’” Jehl says. “Everybody said, ‘yeah, sure, okay…’”

This was, of course, before the primaries in May, when a “surprise” victory by Kelty over Nelson Peters earned the architect the Republican nomination for Mayor. Yet what could have been the empty promise of a politician with a tough primary ahead of him proved to be something else entirely. After Kelty won the primary, Jehl got in touch with him, and found that the candidate was very eager to make good on his promise. The result has been two free concerts — the first at Shoaff Park in July, and the second at Matt Kelty’s house on August 1.

The show at Kelty’s house on August 1st featured Sankofa, Alabaster Fox, Caleb Jehl and Amy, Alison Demaree, Eat This McKinley (from Louisville, KY), and Red Bear (Chicago).

Kelty hosted the events and provided food and drink, and Jehl organized them, but the musician is once again quick to point out that this shouldn’t be seen as a “Kelty event,” or even an endorsement of Kelty. In fact, Jehl was approached about organizing music for a few Kelty rallies, but he turned it down. “I don’t want to get painted red or blue on any of this,” he says. “If the Kelty campaign wants to pay for venues and let me put shows on at them and they want to be there, that I can do. They aren’t guaranteed any talking time. They haven’t really asked for any.”

According to Jehl, all the Kelty campaign has asked for is no anti-religious acts and no anti-Bush rants. Fair enough, says Jehl. It would defeat the purpose of the event anyway. “This is to raise awareness and help people make their own decisions.”

In short, Jehl doesn’t see it as a political event at all. He’s using the interest of the candidates to promote local music, and says that the musicians and fans seem to get it. “I’ve had no negative feedback from anyone,” he says. “A couple people have asked ‘you’re not hopping bed with Kelty, are you? You’re not hopping in bed with Henry, are you?’ I intend to use these guys for our music scene.”

“Most people here are just interested in seeing a better music scene in Fort Wayne, better quality, better venues,” he adds. “Everyone in the music scene is just happy that anyone politically connected is going to pay attention and might, in the end, help out.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by rapper Sankofa (a.k.a. Stephen Bryden), one of the performers at the August 1 show. Sankofa acknowledges that the situation could be seen as a little strange, and isn’t sure that the music and politics can remain separate. “When Caleb asked me about this show, I weighed it unlike any other,” he says. “My concern was that my participation would be mistaken for support.”

Nevertheless, Sankofa says that though Kelty’s platform may differ from his own politics, he also saw a candidate reaching out to local youth and artists. “Said demographics are typically forsaken by those wielding influence and I see this show as a chance for change,” he explains. “My ultimate hope is that the candidate's actions inspire others in positions of power to include youth and the artistic community when considering their definition of Fort Wayne.”

And what does the Kelty campaign get out of this? For one, reaching out to a seemingly neglected demographic could be seen as a wise move for a candidate running a difficult race, and support coming very slowly from quarters he might have been able to count on. But there’s more to it than that, explains Jonathan Taylor, assistant communications director for the Kelty campaign. The concert series gives Kelty the opportunity to meet with younger voters in a positive, informal venue, hear their ideas and give them a voice for their political views. “Matt’s focus on the future and a new legacy for Fort Wayne necessarily involves giving attention to the concerns and positive ideas of the younger generation,” Taylor says. “This is a great opportunity for them to express their concerns and ideas to him for creating a new and better Fort Wayne.”

Jehl would like to work with Henry on a similar event. They’ve talked, but so far he hasn’t had a definite commitment from the Democrat’s candidate. “He says he’s interested, but wants me to get back to him a little later,” Jehl says.

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