Oak Park-River Forest High School grad and University of Iowa student Fiona Barrett poses with Vampire Weekend lead singer Ezra Koenig (right) and drummer Chris Tomson (left). Barrett was a backup singer with the band on Jan. 30 at a campaign event for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.


Pundits, journalists and observers of the presidential primary elections that began this week in Iowa have noted the broad support Bernie Sanders has enjoyed with voters under the age of 30.

He captured 85 percent of that demographic in the caucus, which put him in a virtual dead heat with rival Hillary Clinton. That’s no accident. Sanders has courted the youth vote with policy positions on reducing student loan debt, youth job training and overhaul of the criminal justice system, among others.

But the best way to get the youth out to hear your message? Put on a rock show with Grammy Award winning alternative rock band Vampire Weekend.

That’s where 19-year-old Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate Fiona Barrett comes in.

Barrett, who is a freshman at the University of Iowa, was asked to appear onstage with Sanders and Vampire Weekend at a rally in Iowa City two days before the primary election.

“The manager of Vampire Weekend contacted our events coordinator and said we need girl backup singers for this performance,” Barrett told Wednesday Journal.

They contacted her 13-member, all-female a cappella group — the only one of its kind on campus — to perform twice with the popular rock band.

The young women spent three days learning the songs and on the evening of Jan. 30 found themselves on stage with the band and the presidential hopeful.

Her group, the Iowa Hawkappellas, sang backup vocals on two Vampire Weekend songs and then a third song, “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie’s famous anthem, with the band and Sanders, Barrett said.

After performing the second song with Vampire Weekend, Barrett said she thought Sanders would exit the stage but instead “to my surprise, he walked onstage and started singing with Vampire Weekend,” she said.

Barrett, who hasn’t yet declared a major but is thinking of studying music education or music therapy, also had an afternoon performance, sans Sanders, at a coffee shop in Iowa City with the band.

“It was the most incredible weekend of my life,” she said, describing the experience as “just so surreal.”

She and her cohort spent most of the day with lead singer Ezra Koenig, drummer Chris Tomson and the rest of the band.

“Ezra is very sweet; he’s a very chill person,” Barrett said. “He’s very cool.”

Barrett said she has only recently become interested and better educated in politics, but she described herself as a Sanders supporter and “a huge liberal.”

“[Sanders] said democracy is not a spectator sport,” she recalled. “And it’s not about a bunch of rich people getting to decide who gets to be president.”

Sanders’ decades-long efforts toward advancing human rights and liberal political policies shows his commitment, Barrett said.

“He was saying that it doesn’t matter if the name on the wall is Sanders or Clinton; the important thing is you get out there and vote,” she said.

The Sanders campaign posted video of the concert, which has been shared on news websites around the world. Other news organizations like the Wall Street Journal have posted their own videos of the show.

Barrett said people have come out of the woodwork to say they saw her on television and the Internet.

“My boss came up to me,” she said, “and was like, ‘You’re the first person I’ve seen on TV that I recognize.'”

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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