The first time I saw David Rovics, it was at a small show in a small city at an anarchist gathering space in Denmark. All my friends were at a festival, but I was in the mood for something else and decided to go to this indie concert where I didn’t know anybody with a musician I’d never heard of before. The venue was a community center that tended to attract people with dreadlocks, septum piercings and alternative political beliefs. The first person I spoke to turned out to be a bona-fide anarchist who was eager to give me the low-down on Danish far-left political views.
The excitement in the room was tangible as Rovics took the stage. For a relatively unknown indie musician from Portland, Oregon, he sure had a loyal following in Denmark. He opened with “St. Patrick’s Battalion,” a historically accurate number about deserters from the U.S. military in the Mexican-American war. Though I’d never heard the song before, I couldn’t help but sing along to the final chorus: “So we formed the St. Patrick’s Battalion / and we fought on the Mexican side!”
A political activist anarchist musician
David Rovics is a political activist musician. He’s been described as indie, but while his business model is about as independent as it gets, his musical style is something else. Like punk, his lyrics are irreverent, rude at times and overtly political, but his musical style is more folk, with simple melodies and catchy lyrics that just beg the audience to sing along. Some songs, such as “Burn it down,” are even call-and-response.
A self-described “libertarian socialist,” Rovics’ political beliefs can be summed up as believing in individual rights, but also believing in social systems. “There’s a role for government in society, and it should guarantee things like public welfare and environmental welfare and civil liberties of everybody,” he said in a recent Skype interview.
While Rovics’ songs are mostly about current and historical events, some are personal, and a few are downright silly. Many are protest songs, written to be sung at demonstrations and political events. (Rovics himself has performed at many major demonstrations, including the anti-TTIP demo in Berlin summer 2015). Interspersed are heartfelt ballads about tragedies both personal and historical. And some, such as “The Pirate Song,” don’t really mean anything but are fun to sing along to.
That time I met Rovics after the show
After the show, the Danish anarchist invited me to a small after-party, which I accepted. To my surprise, both Rovics and his warm-up act were there. Thrilled to have another American in the room, I cornered him and we had a long conversation about Seattle and Portland, gentrification, and the Democratic Party, which I blogged about later.
David Rovics’ music is witty, snarky, acoustic and critical. His catchy melodies and simple lyrics beg the audience to sing along. But don’t take my word for it. All of his music is available for streaming or download for free, online.
Rovics is currently touring Europe along with the Swedish Elona Planman and will play at various cities in Germany in May. He’ll be showcasing his new album, Punk Baroque.
David Rovics: Punk Rock Baroque World Tour
May 8 – Cologne
May 12 – Hamburg
May 13 – Berlin
May 16 – Bonn
May 17 – Heidelberg
May 18 and 19 – Frankfurt
May 20 – Kassel
For a complete list of his tour dates, visit here.