Denver Musicians Are Still Feeling the Bern

Judging from the mural "Rise Together," by Gregg Deal, Bernie Sanders is still in it.
Judging from the mural "Rise Together," by Gregg Deal, Bernie Sanders is still in it.
Lindsey Bartlett

Back at the beginning of March, we interviewed notoriously politically active punk band Anti-Flag prior to its show at the Gothic Theatre, and frontman Justin Sane was more than happy to discuss the merits of his favorite presidential candidate.

“Sanders is a person who has a track record of fighting sexism, homophobia and racism,” Sane said. “He’s a person who came out of the civil-rights movement, and he’s stood against war. You put that together with the fact that he’s not accepting corporate money, and all of a sudden he’s a really exciting candidate. Very different from what we’ve seen from the mainstream parties in the past.”

Here's a punk band from at least the first levels of the underworld very vocally and categorically praising a politician. And we’re not talking about somebody running as an independent on an anarchic platform. Sanders is one of the two remaining Democrats with a shot of getting top billing on the presidential ticket.

So the Final Jeopardy question is this: What the hell is it about this old white guy that is capturing the imagination of so many people within artistic communities across the U.S.? Because Sane is far from the only one.

The likes of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Bonnie Raitt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Ani DiFranco, Dave Matthews, Killer Mike, Lil B, Big Boi, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian and Thurston Moore, to name just a few, have thrown their weight behind Sanders. Jeez, the man introduced Run the Jewels at Coachella this year.

It’s pertinent, because much discussion has centered on "Bernie Bros" – the young male supporters of Sanders who may bring a misogynist undertone to their opposition of Hillary. While it's true that Bernie Sanders is pulling in massive support among the youth, there is nothing to suggest that his platform itself encourages sexism. It's that platform that has gotten so many creative professionals — including Denver musicians — very excited.

On Tuesday, the Oriental Theater will play host to Colorado BERNFest, an evening-long event featuring fifteen local bands and musicians who will perform in support of Sanders. There will be guest speakers, voter-registration stations and live results from the Super Tuesday Primaries. And music – lots of music.

David Tiller of Lyons-based indie-folk band TAARKA, which will be performing that night, believes that the artistic community in the Front Range and throughout the country overwhelmingly supports Sanders because they have their eyes open to empathize with different communities and the environment.

“We see the planet and environment changing rapidly in the face of the corporate capitalist rampage,” Tiller says. “We are willing sacrifice money and power for art, beauty, life, expression and community. We tour the country and the world and see humanity and the environment in a bigger picture than many. We know it's time for a major change. The world Bernie Sanders envisions is the one we want to live in and contribute to. All the other choices are corrupt and not going to make the changes we need.”

Eric Luba of funk trio the RunniKine says that Sanders’s honesty and integrity make him stand out among a pack of wolves wearing wool suits.

“This is the most effective way our community can collectively show support for a candidate we believe deserves to represent the people,” Luba says. “Plus, I heard Bernie is a funky-bass-line nut. Jane [Sanders's wife] has a thing for drummers.”

Mural by Gamma Gallery, on the east-facing wall of Bella Vista Mexican Restaurant.
Mural by Gamma Gallery, on the east-facing wall of Bella Vista Mexican Restaurant.
Lindsey Bartlett

Jon McCartan, also from RunniKine, adds that with the middle class disappearing, many musicians are finding it hard to gather the resources they need to make a reliable living.

“I strongly feel that Bernie's economic policies will allow for a resurgence of a strong middle class,” he said. “This, in turn, will enable the artists more freedom to produce creative and innovative work for everyone to enjoy.”

Brett Schreiber play with avant-pop band Stella Luce, and he says that musicians are drawn to Bernie, as many others are, because he has maintained a steadfast position that things can be changed dramatically, and fundamentally, for the better.

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“He believes, as do we, that there is hope of creating a world in which government functions to benefit the society it serves rather than to exploit and oppress,” he says. “Musicians, due to our artistic and imaginative natures, are perhaps even more ready than the average citizen to receive that message. After all, I think each of us harbor fantasies of helping to create a better world with our art.”

Singer-songwriter Marissa Russo believes that musicians are seeing the truth and passion that they put into their work mirrored in Sanders.

“I’m sick of seeing people having to work more than one full-time job to put food on the table while over-privileged people are dropping the equivalent of my annual salary (or more) on one night out on the town,” Russo says. “There's plenty of money to go around; the budget just needs to be re-prioritized by someone who has the majority of Americans in mind — not the wealthiest 1 percent. I really believe that Bernie Sanders is the only person in the running that understands this, he is the only one who doesn’t have any interest in making shady business deals to make an extra buck, and he has the experience to make educated decisions to create change for a new and improved, healthy and educated, happy — and hopefully musical — America.”

Pete Pidgeon of Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda likes that Sanders stands for a platform of unveiled truths.

“Despite overwhelming propaganda, Sanders has a legitimate chance to win the majority of pledged delegates,” Pidgeon says. “BERNfest is not only a way to raise funds for the Sanders campaign, but a way to show the country that we stand behind Sanders's message and are confident that if our voices unite, people will remain steadfast in voting for him in the upcoming primaries.”

Clarity, then. Musicians and artists are siding with Sanders in large numbers because they feel he’s a straight shooter, a visionary, and he has everyone’s best interests at heart. Despite the generation gap in most cases, they feel a kinship with someone who they feel wants to make the world a better place rather than someone looking to fulfill a career ambition.

That is why so many people were keen to be involved with BERNfest – a genuine feeling that somebody they relate to still has a chance of winning.

“For the first time in our lives, we have the chance to enter the polls in November not with the same old choice between two evils, but with an opportunity to cast our votes for someone we truly believe in,” Schreiber says. “We are more than happy to do anything we can to help ensure the success of a candidate who stands up for the people consistently throughout his career rather than spouting pretty lies and then selling us out at the first opportunity. We may never again get the chance to put that kind of a person into the White House.

Tiller added that many musicians wanted to use their artistic voices to contribute to this historic campaign.

“A bunch of us have been discussing this idea for a while, but with our crazy lives, it has been difficult to get the logistical details together,” he says. “It's an amazing gathering of musicians from all over the musical map. We're so excited to be a part of it.”

BERNfest takes place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26, at the Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue, with a suggested donation of $20. Acts scheduled to appear include TAARKA, the Malai Llama, Analog Son, Mama Magnolia, Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda, RunniKine, Supercollider, the Elegant Plums, Stella Luce, Tenia Nelson Group, What Young Men Do with Venus Cruz, Ginger Whale, Gabrielle Louise, Marissa Russo, and Elizabeth Hudetz. Speakers include Elet Valentine, Jeff Hart, Erin Bennett, Jon Biggerstaff and Chris Ward.

Bernie Sanders has proven popular among communities of artists.
Bernie Sanders has proven popular among communities of artists.
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