The Roots Open for Obama at Times Square Fundraiser
By Kiratiana Freelon on April 28, 2011 6:49am |
By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — More than a thousand supporters turned out to see President Barack Obama at Town Hall in Times Square on Wednesday night — and got warmed up for his stump speech with a jam by hip hop band and staunch Obama supporters The Roots.
The Roots — who warmed up the crowd with a set of three songs before Obama took the stage — earned thunderous applause and a standing ovation from a packed crowd.
Obama didn't interact with the band on stage, but The Roots drummer Questlove live tweeted from the concert on Wednesday night about everything from presidential security to a pep talk from Obama's campaign manager to "chiltime w/ #POTUS."
"Son this Obama townmeeting security is CRAZY!" Questlove wrote before taking the stage Wednesday night.
"We sing Flaka's "Its A Party" any louder (ahem @FrankKnuckles, @TariqTrotter, @jamespoyser, @owenbiddle) secret service bout to feel someway," he added later, shouting out his fellow bandmates. The group is the house band for Jimmy Fallon's late night talk show.
The Roots had to leave the fundraiser early to play an event leading up to Thursday night's NFL Draft, a disappointed Questlove tweeted his followers.
"I sure hope everyone at the NFL Draft appreciates the entertainment. I cut my chilltime w/ #POTUS short just to make it."
The band has stumped for Obama before, including in a 2008 get-out-the-vote video on YouTube, in which Questlove urges all eligible voters to register before the election.
Obama seemed to take on some of band's mellow vibe, taking it in stride when his speech was interrupted by AIDS advocates, who unfurled a banner on the balcony and then shouted out, demanding "Six million people on AIDS meds by 2013." The activists were quickly booted by secret service.
"See, there’s always something going on in New York City. Always," Obama said, laughing to applause.
This is not the first time that Obama has been heckled while in the city, after his September visit drew protesters angry about the Pentagon's former "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring openly gay soldiers from serving in the military.
This go round, Obama seemed better prepared for the impromptu shout-outs from the audience, bantering back during a nearly 40-minute-long speech that felt less like a stump speech than a Sunday sermon.
As Obama joked that he's got more gray hair now than during his last campaign, one supporter hollered, "Lookin' good!"
"Michelle thinks so, also," he answered wryly, never missing a beat.
"[We’ve got] A lot of truth tellers here," Obama said later. "I've got a couple thousand political consultants here."
Obama also gave his own shout-outs to the city, referencing things that make him proud, including quality schools in Harlem and elderly couples strolling through Central Park.
"I think to myself someday Michelle and me, we’re going to be strolling hand-in-hand," he said. "And I’ll be able to take a walk in Central Park again, and nobody will recognize me."
Despite traffic gridlock that had many taking to Twitter to vent their frustration, those who stood in line for hours said it was well worth the wait.
"It was incredible," said Brooklyn’s Brad Mielke, 26, who volunteered at the event and was clearly star-stuck after seeing Obama in person for the first time. "It was completely surreal," he said.
"I felt like he was talking with us, not at us," agreed Bilal Haider, 27, a long-time supporter from Queens. "There was a lot of energy," he said.
Even the protesters seemed pleased with the performance, despite getting the boot.
"I hope he heard us," said Johnny Guaylupo, 29, from the Bronx, who said this is the third time he’s demonstrated at an Obama event.
Obama’s evening treasure tour began just after 6 p.m. with a small, exclusive fundraiser at former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's Upper East Side home. Among the 60 well-heeled guests was Bobbi Brown, the makeup maven.
He then made his way to the Waldorf-Astoria for a $2,000 to $25,000-per-head "campaign inaugural gala dinner," attended by about 350 people, including senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Colin Posch and Amanda Lee, both visiting visiting from Vancouver, Canada stopped to try to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade as it made its way to the Waldorf.
"He’s the most powerful person in the world," Posch said.
The fundraisers were expected to bring in several million dollars for the campaign.