On the second Saturday of fall in Austin, school soccer was on the TV, the Astros performed a double-header on the radio, and the odor of barbecue traveled on a now barely cooler wind. And, Austin being Austin, streams of individuals made their option to a live performance. However for the roughly 55,000 individuals who gathered on the grassy slopes of Auditorium Shores—City Lake gently rippling behind it—Saturday’s spotlight wasn’t Willie Nelson, the closing musical act. They got here to see Beto O’Rourke.
Jalan Beck wasn’t alive to see the final time a Texas Democrat gained a statewide election. However the nineteen-year-old arrived early to the Flip Out for Texas rally, with two pals and a constructive outlook. “I feel like everyone wants a change,” she stated. “And we can accomplish that if we work hard enough and encourage people to vote. We’re at the beginning of our adulthood, and we’re seeing how things affect us and other people too. Beto is someone who represents inclusiveness for everyone.”
“I mean, dude, he skateboards around Whataburger,” her pal Sydney Bucek, twenty, interjected.
Simply then, a lady walked by toting a signal that learn, “He’s working for the clampdown,” repeating a phrase O’Rourke directed at Cruz throughout their first debate, marking, to the most effective of my information, the primary time a track by the Conflict was referenced by a Texas politician.
Regardless of O’Rourke’s punk rock background, the gang sprawled out on blankets or sipping beers from camp chairs seemed extra like the type you’d discover settling in at Willie’s Picnic than gearing up for Warped Tour’s mosh pits. There was a shocking quantity of Aggie maroon among the many burnt orange ball caps, and I noticed simply as many potbellied dads in Magellan fishing shirts as I did heavily-tatted hipsters. There have been a shocking quantity of households. And although Cruz just lately claimed that his opponent would ban barbecue if elected, there was a lengthy line on the Salt Lick meals trailer. (I didn’t spy anybody chowing down on tofu.)
Sprinkled among the many attendees have been 250 voting registrars sporting high-vis vests, working with clipboards to get people registered to vote. A current Washington Publish research positioned Texas final in voter turnout for the 2014 midterm election, a rating which individuals like Von Niezgoda are hoping to vary this cycle. Once I ran into Niezgoda, who had pushed from Houston for the rally, he was reclining on the grass sporting a Hawaiian shirt and well-traveled cowboy boots, wanting as if he’d be completely at house sipping a piña colada at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. “I’m an active Beto volunteer in Houston,” the 64-year-old informed me. “We’re going door-to-door and registering voters. All those people out there who are frustrated with what’s going on, that’s who we’re trying to galvanize. Right now [the race is] close, and just like Trump surprised Hillary in a lot of swing states, we’re hoping Beto can surprise Cruz.”
Niezgoda, who served as a precinct captain throughout Obama’s presidential campaigns, burdened the significance of this election for his get together. “We feel the House is up for grabs, and one-third of the senators are up for re-election in November. 2020 will sneak up on us before we know it. We don’t view this as a typical midterm—this is a critical turning point.”
There’s been lots of that sort of enthusiasm at O’Rourke’s appearances in all 254 of Texas’s counties over the previous yr. However this specific occasion wasn’t strictly enterprise. Round eight, Joe Ely, the primary of the musical acts, took the stage. The Lubbock native has lengthy been one of the state’s most-heralded nation songwriters (fittingly, he has additionally toured with the Conflict). Whereas Ely performed “All Just to Get to You,” a boy scrambled up an oak tree to observe the present from one of its limbs. What had been a dreary wet day was a nice sundown because the solar lastly broke via the slate of gray clouds to throw pinks and yellows throughout the glass-paneled skyscrapers of downtown Austin. Austin-based singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez quieted the gang together with her fiddle, singing in Spanish and English on “Llano Estacado.”
Backstage, a line of VIPs waited for a chance to snap a selfie with O’Rourke, recent from delivering the keynote on the Texas Tribune Pageant. The six-foot-four candidate typically needed to stoop to wrap his arm across the shoulder of whoever posed beside him. Utilizing a tall pecan tree because the backdrop, he appeared genuinely thrilled to be posing for footage together with his supporters. One lady was sporting custom-made cowboy boots with the candidate’s likeness stitched into the shanks, with “Beto” operating alongside each side. At one level, O’Rourke referred to as over his spouse, Amy, to take a image with a younger man they each knew from El Paso. The vibe was someplace between a household reunion and a movie star autograph session. O’Rourke considerably famously drips with perspiration whereas making his impassioned speeches, however, in any case for the second, his mild blue collared shirt was sweat free.
As soon as he had gotten to everybody in line, O’Rourke joined Central Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, California Consultant Adam Schiff, and Colorado Consultant Diane DeGette within the VIP space. I went to observe Tameca Jones, one other Austin-based artist, who provided soulful, grooving covers of “Bennie and the Jets” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Whereas watching Jones carry out, a good friend within the VIP space texted me: “A bartender just notified the campaign that she’d seen a couple of people jump the fence to get back here and meet Beto. I looked up and, at the of the row of Porta Potties, there were all these hands raised over the fencing holdings cell phones.” We have been reaching peak Betomania.
Earlier than Leon Bridges started his set, I spoke with Cathy Redson, a former educator who was there with pals from throughout the state, all of whom have been brandishing handmade Beto indicators. “I recently ran into a longstanding Republican friend of mine,” she informed me. “He and his wife had a watch party [for the Cruz and O’Rourke debate] and had invited thirty of their best Republican friends. He was disappointed when Cruz couldn’t take the opportunity to say something nice and had to insult Beto. He was embarrassed by Cruz’s performance that night.” That, she stated, had been the final straw for her conservative pal. “He switched over to support the Beto campaign. And he’s working hard to convince other Republicans to do the same. And he’s not moderate. He’s not in the middle.”
Although I attempted all through the night time to seek out somebody who had come to the rally undecided (or, extra unlikely, decidedly fastened towards O’Rourke), I failed to seek out anybody. A good friend who had arrived earlier than me stated that she had seen a few protestors who had been requested to go away and did so peacefully. However by the point I received there round six, crimson with disgrace from having ridden one of these silly electrical scooters for the primary time, there have been no indicators of any vocal dissenters.
The filler music between units turned abruptly from Marty Robbins’s “El Paso” to the Conflict’s “Clampdown.” Because the track started to enter its refrain, the emcee launched “the pride of Fort Worth” Leon Bridges. Sporting a Texas Rangers jersey and a knit beanie, Bridges took the stage and commenced to maneuver by way of a mashup of songs from his debut album Coming Residence and this yr’s Good Factor. At one level, the singer deserted the microphone to do an prolonged dance on the entrance of the stage. After a vigorous set, Bridges ended on a gospel observe, choosing up the electrical guitar for the primary time to play a sparse model of his music “River.” “Much love to Beto,” he stated in parting.
Austin councilman Greg Casar got here out to hype the gang for the primary occasion, his voice cracking occasionally as he hollered to whip up the gang up for the primary speaker. “There’s one more brave guy whose back we have to have,” he stated. “A fellow Texan, a progressive champion, one of our own. His name is Beto O’Rourke.”
It was time for the primary occasion. O’Rouke got here bounding onstage to chants of “Beh-Toe! Beh-Toe!” as a sea of black-and-white indicators shimmered within the stage lights. “Good to see all of you,” he stated, as he grinned. “Even those of you I cannot see. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for being for Texas and for this country we love so much.”
Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Pictures
For fifteen minutes, the candidate weaved his approach by means of a stream of totally different coverage positions, by some means seamlessly shifting from immigration to healthcare for particular wants youngsters to his help for farmers and ranchers. He briefly switched to Spanish, then continued in English about his dedication to public schooling. He spoke about veterans and bringing house troops from winless wars, America’s swollen jail inhabitants, and his want to finish the prohibition of marijuana and deal with the opioid disaster. He ticked by means of a number of different Democratic priorities, together with homosexual rights and local weather change, and turned to a few Texas-specific issues, such because the excessive maternal mortality price and the alarming issues dealing with Baby Protecting Providers.
“I don’t care about our differences,” he stated. “If you’re a Republican, you are in the right place. If you’re a Democrat, you are in the right place. If you’re an Independent, you are in the right place.” By this time, swimming pools of sweat had begun to darken his blue shirt. “Whoever you pray to, whether you pray at all, whoever you love, however many generations you’ve been in this country or whether you just got here yesterday, we’re all in the same boat, we’re all human beings, and we’re going to start treating one another that way.”
O’Rourke left the stage to the identical chant that had introduced him out whereas Willie Nelson’s “Living in the Promiseland” got here on over the PA. Lower than 5 minutes after O’Rourke exited, Nelson got here on, accompanied by sister Bobbie, drummer Paul English, bassist Kevin Smith, harmonica participant Mickey Raphael, and Willie’s sons, Micah and Lukas. And simply as has been custom for many years, the patron pigtailed saint of Texas strummed a few downstrokes on Set off and launched into “Whiskey River.”
Decked out in a giant black Beto tee and a Beto ballcap, Nelson didn’t spend time politically proselytizing between songs. He yelled, “All right, Beto!” and went straight into “Still is Still Moving to Me” which he adopted with Bobbie’s piano-driven instrumental “Down Yonder.” After tossing his cap out into the gang and changing it together with his trademark pink bandana, Nelson and his band switched up the set with a cowl of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Texas Flood” lead by Lukas. As he started shredding his guitar solo, a lady subsequent to me sighed, “He’s very attractive.” Her pal emphatically agreed.
It was someday throughout “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” that I felt a sharp poke in my ribs. I spun round to seek out a brief previous man, his eyes big and wild behind a thick pair of coke-bottle glasses, chuckling as he gave me yet one more jab together with his picket cane. “God bless America!” he hollered. “And God bless Willie Nelson!” I didn’t recognize the poke, however I couldn’t disagree with the sentiment.
O’Rourke got here again out to sing “On the Road Again,” however the spotlight of the set was listening to a new Willie tune. On “Vote ‘Em Out,” Nelson sang, “The biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box / If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out.”
I heard a couple individuals nonetheless singing the chorus on my stroll again throughout the First Road bridge. It’s arduous to know for positive what is going to occur in November, one definitely can’t belief Willie’s monitor document for backing candidates. However there does appear to be an plain power round O’Rourke’s marketing campaign, anchored in his willingness to succeed in throughout an ever-widening divide.
My ideas turned to the primary individual I had spoken to on the occasion, a man named Servando Rodriguez. He and his spouse and sister-in-law had pushed up earlier that day from San Antonio. At 61, this occasion marked his first political rally. Positive, he was excited to see Willie, however he informed me that he’d come as a result of he acknowledged one thing in O’Rourke that impressed him. “I’m old enough to remember when [John F.] Kennedy was killed,” he advised me. “In Laredo, where I’m originally from, everybody was crying, because Kennedy was trying to help the Hispanic people. I can see Beto trying to do the same, but it’s not just Hispanics. He wants to help everybody, because we’re all humans. That’s the reason I’m here: to support Beto.”