On the top floor of Back to the Grind, where the indignant, electric-voiced Jaykob Mare was setting up his guitar and the sound system, a sign hung next to the giant bookcase encapsulated the spirit that the Bernie Sanders festival and fundraiser, called Bern Fest, built upon: “Back to the Grind is a place for all to come together, leaving all labels outside.”
Yet, despite leaving “all labels outside,” many at the April 16 event identified with one label — Bernie supporter — which could be seen everywhere, from the decor to the people. A Post-it board next to the cafe’s counter said “Bernie for…” and had a stack of Post-its next to it. A majority of the board was still blank but some of the few that people had put up said “teachers,” “economy” and “future.” Pins, shirts and other Bernie paraphernalia were worn by many as they mingled around the event, enjoying the bands and guest speakers.
The coordinators of the first Bern Fest and self-proclaimed bohemian Bernie fans, Andres Valenzuela and Jonny Miller, recognized that Back to the Grind was the right location for the second Bern Fest, which was held on Saturday because its values mirrored those of Bernie. Or, as Miller excitedly insisted, “going further to the left.”
He explained that “I see the artistic community is usually more on the left and more open-minded and more honest about our feelings. That’s just a musician and artist kind of thing. I want people to see that there are artists in their community that care about Bernie and that these artists can be leaders themselves, because really it’s not about Bernie, it’s about all of us are leaders.”
By the time the first performer, Jaykob Mare, went up to the mic at around 5 p.m., there were about 20-30 people in the crowd, mainly sitting on the outskirts of the dance floor. It looked like there was only a fair amount of people because of the empty gaps between audience members, but then again, the venue was pretty expansive, with there also being an upstairs bunk and a basement.
Beyond their unifying Bernie items, the audience members followed diverse aesthetics, like the decorations of the shop. There were a lot of curved mustaches, brightly colored hair and intentionally mismatched clothes.
But, one thing that they had in common was that they were all young and full of hope for America.
With her Bernie pin-adorned messenger bag and a Bernie shirt from Etsy, event-goer Ivy Geary explained why the Vermont senator inspired hope in her: “He puts a perspective on politics I’ve never really seen before … He translates politics into something that is human — health care, education, civil rights. A lot of his points are just something we should have already been doing.”
Mare and other musicians expressed this same sentiment in their sets. He played both the harmonica and the electric guitar at the same time, a blend of the earlier folk and later rock n’ roll of Bob Dylan. Some of his songs had social commentary, such as one in which he sang, “How long has it been now, since the people had a voice? Maybe not since the 1960s.”
But, as Valenzuela insisted, people are the voice. “Right now the people are seeing the change that needs to be done in the political system.”
From the small voter registration area tucked away in the corner to the fervent political discussions or open proclamations heard all around, those at the Bern Fest were taking a step to get their voices heard.
“We’re doing things autonomously without the permission or consent of the major political party … this is all volunteerism. So when people get together and they want something done, they do it,” he said.
The performance after Mare, Do Right Wrong, was downstairs in the basement, which was filled with some more spontaneous artwork and furniture. Posters listing out Bernie’s platform were taped up on the wooden pillars, while a witty, pictorial equation displayed how Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie equaled Bernie.
Although Do Right Wrong was only a two-person band with Matthew James and Madelin Amaral, they played four instruments altogether, with James playing guitar, drums and harmonica and Madelin playing violin. At one point during the performance, the ground shook due to a guy stomping his feet to the music. Meanwhile, the majority of people remained seated and nodded their heads silently.
Around the fifth performance, Abdel Dakhil, who created his own band on the spot with a looping system, the dance floor was starting to fill up, which meant that the singer now faced his audience rather than an empty dancefloor. Most people still just nodded their heads and watched but the energy had obviously mounted since the first performance.
The Bernie board at this point was nearly filled, with Post-its being more whacky and specific than before: “Beaners, H2O, Universal Daddy, My Soon-to-be-Retired Parents.”
It was rather fitting for the later crowd that came through the large double doors as the night wore on.
After Kiksim Crux played a rousing set, one of the final speakers and comic actor Rick Overton took the state to spit out some lewd, but welcomed political humor for the audience. Equating the Republican Party as alien overlords who need to be taken down, he loudly said into his mic, “Don’t take any shit from anyone mind-fucking you on any level.”
Meanwhile, downstairs in the darkened basement with the makeshift Bernie banner the most visible object, Tone Deaf Bandits played out to a mini mosh pit who swayed to their ska style. Toward the end of their set, the Bandits joined their energetic audience, while still playing their guitars. After wiping away some sweat from being in the pit for the entirety of the band’s set, mohawked Rambo Ramona commented, “It was a way of socializing.”
However, the night wound down to a nice calm with In Autumn performing their folk-ish songs on the top floor and tropical afro-latin band Quita Penas playing downstairs. (Although, the energy did briefly spike up again with the alternative band, Castle Pines.)
After the raffle, after the last set, after the last person tried to get their late night coffee fix from the overworked baristas, Miller’s last words about what to do during this political season can come to mind.
“Rather than sit around and complain, get out there, get into activism,” he said eagerly.
“Do your own Bern Fest!”