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Mainstream politics meets indie music

Local musician Caleb Jehl hosts a bill of regional artists… and a Republican mayoral hopeful

By Jim Fester

Fort Wayne Reader


Caleb Jehl is used to putting on shows in his own house. A Fort Wayne-based musician, Jehl often travels out of town to perform, building an audience in other cities by sharing the bill with a hometown band. Every once in a while, he gets to return the favor by hosting a show in Fort Wayne and inviting his out-of-town musician friends here…

The latest event takes place on March 22 at Jehl’s house at 2722 Leroy Avenue, on the corner of Curdes and Leroy. Three acoustic acts from the Chicago area — Red Bear, Nice and Friendly, and Life Under A Tree — are sharing the bill with local political rap group P1\T2, indie band Mister Doctor Professor, and Jehl himself accompanied by Amy Spangler on violin.

But the evening also features a guest that audiences at small underground shows in Fort Wayne probably aren’t used to: Matt Kelty, one of Fort Wayne’s candidates for the Republican nomination for mayor, will be there speaking and answering questions from the crowd.

Conservative politics and “indie” music aren’t the likeliest of tour mates, and indeed Caleb Jehl doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with mixing his beloved music with politics. “I don’t ever disclose political views personally,” he explains. “There’s no right way to do it.” Later in our conversation he adds “…it’s every person’s individual choice to figure out who they want to vote for. I don’t try to sway people either way.”

Yet when a family member working on Kelty’s campaign encouraged Jehl to take in a speech by the candidate, Jehl found himself impressed by some of Kelty’s views. Jehl did a little research outside the musically-minded circles he counts as his home and found a lot of people who considered Kelty a serious contender. So he asked if Kelty would be interested in talking at the show he was putting together. “He accepted really quickly,” Jehl says. “He’s no fool. I’m assuming that knows he’s walking in to a potential ‘wolf’s den’ to an extent; a more artistic crowd might be primarily more liberal.”

Jehl refuses to talk political affiliation, and to avoid charges of partisanship, he also invited Democratic candidate Tom Henry to speak at another event on April 19, and Henry accepted.

Jehl claims to eschew most politics, yet he betrays a clear grasp of some of the process when I ask him why he thinks mayoral candidates would agree to appear at a D.I.Y. showcase for local/regional musicians. “The younger demographic is a swing vote for them right now,” he says, explaining that for his part, he just wants the people that come to his shows to be aware of the people who are going to shape decision-making in Fort Wayne.

Candidates can also benefit from exposure to the artistic community. Despite the fact that the phrase “creative class” has been ubiquitous in any discussion of community development the last few years, the “arts crowd” is rarely courted during election time by either party. Jehl likes being a musician more than a promoter or organizer; furthermore, the scene he works in is fuelled by independence and a D.I.Y. aesthetic. That said, he’s worked with a number of organizations and boards in town on a variety of projects, and knows how difficult it is to get something done. He’d like to see a little support from city leaders. “My ultimate fantasy would be that if one of these guys takes office, they would be inspired enough to help get us a place something like the Firehouse in North Manchester,” he says. “An all ages arts and music center like that. That would be my dream.”

For more information, and to hear Jehl’s music, visit myspace.com/calebjehl

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