Fresno has not been a hotbed for big-name political benefit concerts in recent elections, but Democratic congressional challenger Andrew Janz aimed to change that Friday as he hosted the rock band Cake and about 1,000 of his volunteers, supporters and the city’s apolitical rock faithful for his second benefit in as many days.
It was a rock concert with slight political leanings, but a rock concert first and foremost. And despite the yelling and singing, the guitars and drums and the call for action given by both Janz and Cake just five days before the general election, it was one of the more peaceful nights for a Janz camp that is nearing the end of a hard-fought war against Tulare Republican Devin Nunes for California’s 22nd Congressional District.
There were no protesters. Although Fresno police officers and security guards lined the venue’s outer walls, there did not appear to be any problems with fights or ticketing or over-excitement. Janz, his wife and his campaign staff could be seen dancing together just off stage right.
The camp has been busy. On Thursday, it hosted a concert near Clovis featuring Third Eye Blind front man Stephan Jenkins. The shows are just the latest indicators that the Nunes norm – typically quiet, uncontested races every two years – is exploding in the national spotlight this year.
Jenkins played only briefly and drew a crowd of about 300 people, according to Janz’s campaign. But nearly 1,100 were expected at Friday’s concert, and it appeared just about that many showed up.
The young, well-flanneled crowd began piling into The Crest Theater just after 7:30 p.m. Janz hit the stage at 8:30, saying the entire country was watching “one of the most important elections in a generation.”
“They are wondering if we are going to do the right thing,” Janz said. “Are we going to reject the hate and the intolerance that’s coming out of this Trump White House? Are we going to stand up for American values?”
He continued: “I grew up in the Central Valley. I am sick and tired of our Washington politicians leaving us behind. We deserve better. We deserve true representation.”
Cake was up next, and lead singer John McCrea fostered a sense of constructive rage in a participatory set, several times mentioning “hostility” in various contexts as he led the audience in several singalongs. It was not an angry night, but he encouraged those frustrated with the current political climate to do something about it on Tuesday.
“I know there are a lot of people here who are experiencing some hostility against Andrew’s opponent – right? There’s some objectively dirty (expletive) going on,” McCrea said at one point. “So, it’s right and maybe even therapeutic to play this next, very hostile song. And I think it would be good for some people to sing along.”
“It’s a song called ‘Sick of You,’ and I feel that’s the sentiment here, right?” McCrea continued, drawing cheers from the crowd.
He also, at several key moments late in the show, ripped into Nunes by name.
Perhaps sensing a missed opportunity, McCrea addressed the audience shortly after the band finished performing one of its top hits: “Never There.”
“I should have dedicated that song to Devin Nunes,” McCrea said to strong applause. “Where the (expletive) is he?”
McCrea also dedicated “Italian Leather Sofa” – a song about a superficial couple, a rich man and an attractive woman, who use one another – to Nunes.
“I don’t know if this song is about Devin Nunes, but it might be about people he knows,” McCrea said.
The dedications weren’t all critical. He also played “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” in honor of Janz, whom he jokingly said had promised to “dress in drag” if he won the election.
Cake played a full 90-minute set in support of Janz, who is behind in the polls despite raising more than $7 million to unseat the polarizing chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Tickets were $40 for general admission, and the Janz campaign said about 150 people paid $100 for a VIP package that included pictures with the candidate. Voters could get in for free by sharing their contact information with the campaign and filling out a short survey.
Mercedes Martinez and two friends lined up at 6 p.m. to be the first ones inside. Martinez, who said she lives in the district, heard about the concert through an email from the Janz campaign.
The group was there to support Janz first, they said, but Cake was “a very close second.”
Asked if they had already made a decision about who to support in the race, they responded almost in unison: “Oh, hell yeah. Janz.”