Unmentioned in national reporting was the fact that Obama was preceded by a rare, 45-minute free concert by actual rock stars The Decemberists. The Portland-based band has drawn rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine, which gave their 2005 album Picaresque four and a half stars (out of five), and another four and a half stars for 2007's The Crane Wife.
How many of the people showed up to hear Obama, and how many to hear the band?
Here's how the local paper The Oregonian, which estimated the crowd at 72,000, reported the rally:
"Obama was the biggest star at Sunday's gathering -- though a popular Portland band, The Decemberists, provided the warmup act. With blue skies and temperatures in the 80s, many in the crowd said Waterfront Park was simply the place to be."
CNN headlined its 10 p.m. segment on May 18 with "Barack Obama: Achieving Rock Star Status in Oregon."
The New York Times, which ran a color photo of the crowd, estimated the throng at 75,000, noting that it was "the largest crowd of his campaign so far." There was no mention of The Decemberists, and the Times described the weather as "an unseasonably hot day."
Indie rock Web sites were abuzz with news of the impending concert, which was also announced on the Obama campaign's Web site.
Here's the report from the Indie rock Web site Pitchfork:
By land and by sea, they came to see the great man speak. An estimated 75,000 in all turned out to see presidential hopeful Barack Obama at Portland's Waterfront Park yesterday afternoon-- a record crowd for Obama's own campaign, according to The New York Times, and a record crowd for Oregon political events, according to The Oregonian. Just look at them all!
And hey, they got to see a pretty sweet opening act too. Calling themselves the Decemberists and led by lovably literate Steve Novick endorser Colin Meloy, this feisty fivepiece charmed the gathered for a good 45 minutes before Senator Obama took the stump. They even closed out with a sing-along entitled "Sons & Daughters", which had the masses joining the band to declare "Here all the bombs fade away..." Something tells me this Decemberists band is going places. Just like Senator Obama.
Here's how Pitchfork primed the pump for the concert/rally:
Indie rock's #1 candidate crush Barack Obama is sittin' quite a bit prettier than he was a few weeks ago when the Arcade Fire and Bruce Springsteen went to bat for him, but the dashing junior Senator hasn't quite clinched the Democratic party nomination yet. Next up on the primary agenda are Oregon and Kentucky, whose voters hit the polls Tuesday, May 20. Should Obama win a heaping majority of the delegates up for grabs that day, he'll be within inches of securing the hotly-contested nom.
And look who's arrived to give Obama the extra push he needs to get on the ballot in November. Why, it's none other than those kings and queens of the month after, the Decemberists!
There's nothing wrong with a candidate using celebrity power to draw a crowd, but the media have a responsibility to report their presence. By ignoring the free concert, the Times and other outlets made it appear that 75,000 people were drawn only by Sen. Obama's considerable charisma.
Photo illustration via Pitchfork.tv.