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Can a 'Bipartisan Singalong' help ease tensions at the North Carolina legislature?

Rep. Caleb Rudow, D-Buncombe, center, leads a bipartisan singalong of legislators with his father, Marc, on fiddle and Miss North Carolina Taylor Loyd.
Colin Campbell
Rep. Caleb Rudow, D-Buncombe, center, leads a bipartisan singalong of legislators with his father, Marc, on fiddle and Miss North Carolina Taylor Loyd.

Republicans and Democrats in the North Carolina legislature recently took a break from heated partisan debates to raise their voices in a different way: They put aside their political differences to sing folk songs.

Underneath a big white tent behind the Legislative Building on a hot spring day, a group of state lawmakers sat down in a circle of folding chairs. They were led in song by Rep. Caleb Rudow of Asheville.

Rudow is a Democrat, so he hasn’t gotten much support from the legislature’s Republican majority for the bills he’s filed. But he did convince four Republicans to join him and four other Democrats for what was billed as a “Bipartisan Singalong.”

Rudow brought his guitar, and his father Marc joined in on the fiddle. The current Miss North Carolina, Taylor Loyd, stopped by to lend her voice as well. Rudow says he’s hopeful the music will help legislators work together on policy issues too.

"This is how you get things done — it's relationships," Rudow said. "And we are trying to do more events because the people need to see us getting along before November, because I think everybody's scared about the future. And we’ve got to have some happy stories that show that we can hang out with each other and sing old John Prine songs."

The song list included "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," "Down By The Riverside" and "Wagon Wheel."

The singalong was part of Arts Day at the legislature, an advocacy event led by the group Arts North Carolina. The group came to Raleigh to ask lawmakers to provide an additional $1 million for Arts Council grants. And they want the state to provide all elementary school students with art and music classes.

"While it is unlikely that legislation will be passed this year to provide all K-5 public school students with performing and visual art instruction, we know from experience that this may require several years of consistent advocacy before it become law," executive director Nate McGaha wrote on the group's website.

The group hopes the musical sounds of Arts Day can help their requests get noticed in a state budget process filled with competing priorities. The event also featured poetry award winners and a bluegrass band from Surry County.

Rudow hopes the singalong can lead to lawmakers of different parties spending more time together. He’s now trying to persuade his colleagues to go skydiving with him. That’s been a harder sell than singing a few songs.

"People are like, 'I'd like to see a Democrat jump out of a plane;' that's OK, it's been good fun," he said. "I think we've got at least three people, and I think we'll get more, so it'll be fun."

Rudow has a few more months to create bipartisan friendships and musical collaborations before his term ends. He’s seeking a promotion next year to a place where it’s even harder to get Republicans and Democrats to work together — he’s running for Congress.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.