Little did Jessie Frye know that when she agreed to pose with some fellow musicians for a Frack Free Denton photo in 2014 that it would turn into an opportunity to get involved in presidential politics. David Sanchez, the Texas deputy state director of the Bernie Sanders campaign, just happens to be from Denton and recognized the goth pop artist had progressive politics. “I identify with Sanders because he speaks to the youth and stands for women,” says Frye.
And so it came to be last Saturday that Frye played to a crowd of over 7,000 for Sanders' rally at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie.
“We look at communities and consider who they would like to hear,” Sanchez says. He had heard of Frye, who performs in elaborate costumes akin to a cross between The Crow and Xena: Warrior Princess. After seeing a show he contacted her, and was pleased at how enthusiastic she was to support Sanders. She played at a rally in Denton earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, but the candidate himself did not attend. Still, Frye seemed to be a perfect match for a candidate with so many young supporters.
“Jessie and her band did an amazing job for us in Denton,” Sanchez says. “I got a really good vibe from them and felt like our crowds meshed really well.” Frye was a good "get" for a campaign that has been largely driven by local volunteers.
After the rally, Sanchez told Frye he liked the way her song “One in a Million” tied into Sanders’ campaign. It turns up the song, like Sanders' campaign, started from modest beginnings. Frye wrote the song alone and depressed in her bedroom two years ago. A song of empowerment, it's one of her best known among her fans, a staple of her lives performances that appeared on her 2015 EP Boys' Club and also has an accompanying video.
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Impressed, Sanchez suggested that Frye would be a good fit for Sanders’ next visit to DFW. “I was like, um, yeah,” Frye says, still hilariously excited after her performance on Saturday. But she had no idea if it would actually happen.
Fast forward to last week. Sanchez was part of an effort to bring Sanders to Verizon for a rally on 36 hours’ notice. He contacted Frye, who jumped at the chance. Even with her regular guitarist out of town, she got Dustin Fleming from the Vandoliers to agree to learn the songs on a day's notice. But with the considerations of going through the Secret Service and putting a band on what was by no means a simple stage setup, Sanchez had to go back and tell Frye it wasn’t possible.
But he remembered how well she had performed at the rally in Denton and contacted her yet again after securing a spot for her. There was just one catch: She had to perform acoustically to make it work. But without missing a beat, Frye — who is used to being backed by a full band — agreed to perform acoustically with Fleming. All this to play in front of what was easily her biggest crowd. “It was a hectic situation,” Frye says. “But I decided I was not going to miss this opportunity.”
Frye showed up to Verizon Saturday morning, was patted down and security dogs sniffed her bags. After The Secret Service did a background check on her and hovered around the event. “They don’t smile at you because they can’t,” Frye says. “They just walk around in really nice suits looking slightly intimidating.”
As she waited for hours backstage to give the biggest performance of her life, there were times when Secret Service agents escorted her to the Coke machine or she was told to stay put until further notice.
Sanders filled up Verizon with 7,030 people on less than two days’ notice. By the time the presidential hopeful was onstage, the crowd was worked up into a frenzy. And Frye got it all started, kicking off the event 45 minutes earlier. Normally with a high-energy full band, Frye addressed the crowd confidently before pumping them up with two songs performed acoustically; she even had them singing along to “One in a Million.”
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She held it all together, interacting with the crowd and getting her enthusiasm across. But you could see she was overwhelmed with emotion as she exited the stage. “I was really nervous,” Frye admits. “This was different. Not just because of how many people there were, but because of what it was for.”
Sanders showed up from Austin shortly afterwards and hit the stage almost immediately. He was quick to thank Jessie Frye as he addressed the crowd. After his speech, he quickly left for yet another appearance, but not before taking the time to thank Frye and pose with a couple of photographs with her.
“I think she did a fantastic job,” Sanchez says. “We wanted to get the crowd animated and they were. They responded really well to the music. I’m really proud of her.”