Third Eye Blind didn't expect their Cleveland benefit show to go viral. But performing in the same city on the same night that hundreds of thousands of Republicans were in town for the party's convention, singer Stephan Jenkins thought he ought to set the record straight. "I just went – let me make this clear," Jenkins tells Rolling Stone, "We are in direct opposition to everything the Republican Party stands for."
The way Jenkins actually – humorously – made his point was by shouting "Raise your hand if you believe in science!" and similar exclamations. At Tuesday night's show, the booing crowd seemed to be as mad at the alternative rock band's politics as their decision not to play old hits like "Semi-Charmed Life."
The show was not at the Republican National Convention, but nearby, at a fundraiser for Musicians on Call, a nonprofit that brings live music to patients in healthcare facilities. But even if the show wasn't officially affiliated with the RNC, there were plenty of inevitable ties between the coinciding events from sheer proximity.
Third Eye Blind played one of their radio hits, 1998's "Jumper," about about the suicide of Jenkins' gay cousin. "To engage with that song means that you are participating in the belief system that all people are equal and deserving of dignity and protection, which is not what the Republican platform is," Jenkins says. "They think my gay cousin should be in conversion therapy."
Jenkins, who grew up in a Republican household, has strong political beliefs and speaks about issues from climate change to income inequality with compassion. While Third Eye Blind typically stray from the eye of the political storm, Jenkins and his bandmates have engaged in some activism. In 2011, Jenkins wrote and donated anthem "If There Ever Was A Time" to the Occupy Wall Street movement ("Come on meet me down at Zuccotti Park/ Oh where are the youth, we need you now.") In 2012, he wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post about refusing to play at the Republican National Convention. "The Republican party is on the wrong side of Lilly Ledbetter, fiscal responsibility, unions, civil rights, climate change, evolution, the Big Bang theory, stem cells, Medicare, and me," Jenkins wrote. "They are in fact a party dedicated to exclusion."
And by playing "Jumper," Jenkins reminded audiences of the need for politically and socially conscious music to reflect those endlessly debated ideas. "The fact that I'm onstage 19 years after I wrote ["Jumper"] and we're still talking about equal dignity for the LGBTQ community is absurd," Jenkins says. "But we are. And to yell 'Who believes in science?' and have half the room boo is [laughs] ... their ideology is crumbling."
Jenkins says that one of the most frustrating aspects in the current election cycle is the lack of communication between the two parties. He cited the Republican party's rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement as one of the main disconnects. "Black Lives Matter is saying that people are unduly under threat, which is right down the middle of Republican framework," he said. "It's a pro-police idea, meaning that we want good police ... who aren't going to imprison people on racist grounds. There's nothing more Republican. I'm pro-police and so is Black Lives Matter."
But small gestures from Third Eye Blind's Cleveland show might indicate a turn. Jenkins said that after the set, he received a handwritten note from a woman saying how much she appreciated his words onstage about the need for science social consciousness – even though she was a Republican. "Don't think that we're all about those platforms ... I'm with what you said as well," Jenkins recites, adding that notes like that are what's missing from the country: a healthy two-party system.
As for the current election, Jenkins refuses to even utter the word Trump, saying that all it does is worsen the problem. "I think that Bernie Sanders has done a marvelous job in showing the aliveness of the progressive left, and showing the Democratic party that there’s real energy and activism for issues like climate change," he says.
For now, playing festivals like Outside Lands and Lollapalooza may be Third Eye Blind's best palliative from the election cycle and politically charged events like the one in Cleveland. At their recent Bonnaroo set in Manchester, Tennessee, Third Eye Blind's audience was completely mixed. "Liberal, conservative, black, white, brown, straight, LGBT, altogether in a state of collective joy," Jenkins says. "I felt the energy of being comprehended, playing songs from [2015 album] Dopamine, and holding the mic out and having the fans be right there with it ... I believe in the gathering power of music, where people can come out of themselves and join together."