When former President Bill Clinton takes the stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, it will be to tunes spun by DJ Cassidy. So what's it like to work a political convention? The confident, relaxed 31-year-old New Yorker tosses out words like "high honor," "important" and "surreal." (Do you want a DNC playlist? Read all the way down.)
"I'm essentially the house band. So it's a big honor, but it's just kind of—kind of crazy to me," he says in an interview in his DJ booth, perched in the back of the 20,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena where President Barack Obama will star on Thursday. "It's a big club," he says with a smile.
Has he played bigger? Cassidy takes a look around the arena, taking in the delegates and journalists milling about, and an official doing a mic check on the stage where, a moment earlier, Democratic Sen. John Kerry—the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—stood rehearsing.
"Probably not bigger. And definitely not more important," he tells Yahoo News.
Cassidy DJ'ed one of Barack Obama's inaugural balls in January 2009.
It was "one of the most, if not the most, thrilling, exhilarating and surreal moments of my entire life. I became a DJ when I was 10. Never did I think I'd be performing for the president of the United States," he says.
"It was such an important election. We needed him at that time, and we still do."
That experience capped a 2008 campaign in which he traveled the country for work and saw young people with a "reinvigorated" sense of civic engagement. "You saw flags at clubs—that kind of spirit for the president, for the country, I had never seen in my job."
Over the past three and a half years, he has done "a lot of work" for Obama, performing at campaign events—but also encouraging his audiences to get involved.
"My role has changed in a sense. I go from the guy on the stage to the guy on the stage who's also talking to people in the crowd about why they need to get out there and vote," he says.
"At the end of the day, that's what it's about. You have to know the candidates, and you have to go out and vote. And people cannot for one second think that their vote doesn't count," he says.
If that seems a touch public-service-announcement-neutral, Cassidy himself is not.
"I've been a Democrat my whole life," he says. But it was his engagement with the Obama campaign that really added "activist" to his audiophile resume.
Does the Obama campaign decide which songs are in and which tunes are out?
"Yeah, we go through it. But that's like with anything as a DJ," he says. "Anything you do with a big figure is always a collaborative effort."
He's picked out a song for each speaker. So what will, say, Kerry walk out to?
"I've selected a kind of complete batch of music that in a sense almost would work for any part. But yes, we do have things assigned for certain parts," he says.
"I can't really say anything before it happens," he says. But the playlist includes Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, U2, Beyonce. Those are all either on Obama's campaign rally playlist or known to be among his favorite artists.
DJ Cassidy, who is active on Twitter, has been deluged with requests for his convention playlist. So, is that going to happen?
"I haven't worked on anything yet. I don't know. But I hadn't thought of it, but I do like the idea," he says. "The truth is if someone sat down and watched the entire three days they could potentially write down all the songs, put it online, and someone could make a list. Will I do it? I'm not sure, but I might."
Asked to describe the DJ'ing process, Cassidy points to his black turntables: "How much do you know about DJ'ing?" he asks kindly (a query that surely will lead every friend and acquaintance of this reporter to dissolve into peals of hysterical laughter). His hands glide over the CDJ-2000, which replaced his old-school turntables about five years ago. He flicks switches that fade the sound from one of the "turntables" (they let him scratch songs he selects on a laptop that has replaced the eight crates of records he used to lug around), the volume knob and "this little thingamajig."
In one way, though, the convention may be a missed opportunity. DJ Cassidy is wearing "my signature hat"—a straw boater he wears from April through October. Delegates have been asking where they can get the same one. "Maybe I should have had a bunch of inexpensive ones made, I could have tossed them out," he says with a smile, holding his boater like a Frisbee.