“I don’t think we have performed without microphones for a long time,” Graham Nash said with a laugh this afternoon as a van carried him and David Crosby down to the Occupy Wall Street protests – where amplified sound is infamously prohibited. “It’s going to be fun, though.”
Upon arriving at lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Crosby and Nash walked into the busy tent city and climbed atop an embankment to widespread cheers. “Everybody calm down! It’s very crowded!” someone shouted, as the densely packed masses (including lots of professional photographers) pressed in on all sides.
When the audience had settled down, Crosby and Nash launched into a powerful five-song acoustic set. Someone in the crowd held up an old vinyl copy of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s 1969 debut LP as they opened with that album’s “Long Time Gone”; by the second chorus, a healthy contingent was singing along. The duo continued with a stirring rendition of Nash’s “Military Madness,” an even more moving a cappella turn on Crosby’s “What Are Their Names” – whose haunting, accusatory lyrics made it feel like an unofficial Occupy anthem – and a slow-burning tear through Crosby and Nash’s more recent anti-corporate indictment “They Want It All.”
“You know this song,” Nash said finally. “So help us sing it, all right?” It was their classic “Teach Your Children,” and sure enough, what seemed like hundreds of voices joined in. After the final number, Crosby and Nash led the crowd in a series of chants: “KEEP GOING! KEEP GOING! KEEP GOING!” followed by “STAY HERE! STAY HERE! STAY HERE!” “We will,” a protester shouted in response.
Crosby and Nash took note of the growing Occupy movement while they were touring Europe this fall, and as soon as they got back to the States they knew they had to head down to the demonstrations and show their support. “Everybody is realizing that they’re getting screwed,” Crosby tells Rolling Stone. “People are recognizing the basic truth that the system is loaded against them, and they’re looking for equality,” says Nash. “It’s a simple thing.”
Adds Nash, “It’s the people waking up. That’s what we do as musicians. We want to wake people up. I don’t want to talk to sheep – I want people that are alive and thinking and trying to do something positively to change their situation. That’s what we’ve always been about.”
With the Occupy movement approaching its second month, the singers believe it’s only going to get bigger. “Something’s happening here,” says Nash. “Hey,” Crosby deadpans, “that’s a great line.” Nash grins. “I’ll tell Stephen.”