This past weekend, the capital of Texas played host to Austin Psych Fest, the Austin Food and Wine Festival, and the Moontower Comedy Festival. But there was also a big outdoor headline show at the University of Texas Thursday—presidential candidate Ron Paul went onstage at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum lawn.
Paul's Texas swing, which also included visits to the federal and state taxpayer-funded universities in El Paso and Houston, is part of a nearly four-year U.S. tour promoting his third album, "This Time, People Are Paying Attention."
The Paul campaign estimated a crowd of roughly six thousand, though others thought it was around four thousand. (This reporter's pretty sure you could have packed the very spread-out crowd into ACL Live, which holds 2,700.)
There were tattooed girls and guys in suits, parents toting around their kids, and a dewy, tanned young woman wearing a "Hot Chicks Vote Republican" button on the left cheek of her denim short-shorts. Souvenir sellers worked the crowd hawking both buttons and t-shirts. People waved a yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flag and a sign that simply said, in red letters, "RAW MILK." All that was missing was a beach ball and the smell of weed (the University of Texas is a smoke-free campus, after all).
The early-arriving crowd got pumped up with chants of: "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" and of course, "End the Fed!" And the opening act was a guy who sort of resembled Rand Paul.
"If you can hear me, say 'Hook 'Em Horns,'" said Ronnie Paul, the candidate's eldest son and a UT alum. He introduced his family, and even took a shot at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, saying that his mother Carol has "had a real job in her life!”
The elder Paul wore an orange shirt and took the stage flanked by a complement of sharp-looking secret service agents that Madonna or Lady Gaga would both welcome to their troupe. During his 41-minute set, Paul shared many of his most well-known views, as well as quite a few that don't get much attention. Like most indie bands, Paul has trouble getting his stuff on radio or TV.
After some introductory comments, Paul jumped right into a denunciation of the NDAA, SOPA, and CISPA bills, to loud boos from the crowd for each. The Lake Jackson congressman ripped the House of Representatives for passing CISPA (the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) on that very day. Being that he was standing on a stage in Austin, it might go without saying that Paul himself was not there vote against it , but he promised to repeal the bill "whenever we get the chance ... along with the Patriot Act, of course." He also promised to use the presidential power of executive orders to undo all existing (and unconstitutional) executive orders.
Taking a request from the crowd, Paul launched into his "Raw Milk" routine, and much like Springsteen fans with "Hungry Heart," the fans sang all the lyrics to Paul's old standby "End the Fed." "I agree, that's a very good idea," Paul deadpanned when the crowd finished its chant. "Let’s do that.
"In a revolution, you have to be high-spirited, you have to really strive for what seems to be impossible," Paul said. "If we are determined, and our numbers keep growing, the enthusiasm there, our success will far exceed the expectations. And I already see this. Just in the last four years, he amount of energy that we’re seeing, it’s just fantastic."
Indeed, while Paul may never go platinum himself, he's hoping that the famous apocryphal quote about the Velvet Underground—that their first record didn't sell, but everyone who bought it formed a band—turns out to be true for his brand of libertarianism, whether that's within the Republican Party or outside of it.
And while the Texas Congressman clearly has no chance of topping the charts in his home state's May 29 primary (like so many Texas blues and country artists, Paul is more popular away from home), the people who will still show up to vote for him could easily have an impact on some other statewide races, including the Republican nomination for Kay Bailey Hutchison's United States Senate seat. Volunteers for both the David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz campaigns were at Paul's appearance. Dewhurst's campaign worker, who looked wildly out of place in a pink dress shirt, gray slacks and an office building security card clipped to his belt, passed out cards about Cruz's Chinese appellate case. But the flimsy, thin card handed out by a Cruz volunteer was probably of greater interest: it revealed that the former solicitor general, Ron Paul, and Rand Paul would all be appearing together at a May 6 Tea Party Express event on the south steps of the Texas Capitol.
"Am I saying we're gong to have success next week, next month, in August or November?" Paul said near the end of his talk. "In some ways we will. We will have success. The one thing I am absolutely convinced, regardless of what happens next week, next month or November, this spirit, the spirit of this revolution is not going away."
That inspired wild applause and chants of "PRESIDENT PAUL! PRESIDENT PAUL!"
And then, as the candidate departed from the stage, a lone voice rose up from the very back of the crowd, his message one that has rung out at so many similar gatherings before this one:
"FREE BIRD!," the fan yelled.