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Without a doubt, the tides of change are upon us.
While Democratic presidential titans Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton march towards California, an impending tally for the final East Coast state still wavers on the not-too-distant horizon. June 7th marks the deadline for New Jersey’s primary, and an impassioned collective of supporters are gathering this weekend to assemble a final hurrah of grassroots support for the Vermont senator before hitting the polls.
Sanders is no stranger to public praise from mainstream artists. In addition to the pantheon of actors and other celebrities who have pledged their allegiance, notable musical acts including Best Coast, Rage Against the Machine, Ben Folds, Jackson Browne, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers have all given a big thumbs up. Killer Mike from Run the Jewels hosted an in-depth interview with Sanders, and the legendary duo Simon and Garfunkel even extended the candidate permission to use their song “America” during a televised campaign spot.
By and by, the rock and roll world has spoken: ’nuff said.
Now the indie music community is taking up the helm. This weekend, from Saturday May 28th to Sunday May 29th, Bernie Man Festival will provide a retreat for those looking to support Sanders and share a collective experience ensconced in his campaign values of unity and sustainability. With 16 great bands, performers, and eclectic daytime activities, festival goers can spend a beautiful two days on the scenic RickeyFarm in Vernon, NJ and celebrate the prospect of change together.
BTRtoday took the time to talk with Crissy Hennelly, Bernie Man Festival co-creator and organizer, about the power for music to enact social change.
BTRtoday (BTR): Tell us a little bit about what Bernie Man is, and how you helped come up with the idea for it.
Crissy Hennelly (CH): Bernie Man is a music festival that’s number one goal and priority is to raise both funds and awareness for the Bernie Sanders campaign. We are also hoping to raise awareness for the issues that he has always stood for and continues to bring to light: unity, sustainability, and advocacy for our rights as Americans and simply as human beings.
BTR: It sounds like you found the right individuals who believe in these values enough to help create the momentum for Bernie Man’s grassroots support.
CH: As a production team, we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to produce and hold this event at a farm that is committed to the not-so-radical ideas of sustainable living, organic farming, and increasing consciousness on similar issues that our planet faces as a result of humanity’s actions.
The event was inspired and funded by another Bernie Sanders event in Syracuse, New York called “Fund The Bern.” I got in contact with Joe Driscoll, an incredibly talented musician who ran the Syracuse fundraiser, and let him know that after I attended Fund The Bern I became so motivated by the movement that I wanted to host something similar in my home state of New Jersey. It’s where Bernie needs all the help he can get. Joe was more than willing to help along the way and fund the event.
After getting the green light, I reached out to several venues and immediately received a response from RickeyFarm. Then I met Jenny “Meatballs” Carrington, a resident on the farm who became the executive director of the festival. We talked about the serendipitous loveliness of our timing, brainstormed and committed to each other, then voila–Bernie Man Festival was born!
BTR: What were the early stages of planning like?
CH: When we first started planning, we knew we wanted to create an event that would be inclusive for people of all ages, races, social status and gender, so that we could be as effective as possible in conveying our message of unity. There is a certain stigma around music festivals and also Sanders supporters, and although I don’t agree with these stereotypes, we wanted to make sure we had an event that would be appealing to families, young people, etc… to break the molds of what a music festival atmosphere can be.
The goal was, and is, to transcend any preconceived notions about who may or may not benefit from a Sanders presidency, and instead plant the seed that we are all connected, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, and coming together is the only way we can get anything accomplished.
BTR: What are some of the ways you’ve incorporated this mindset into the festival activities?
CH: We built off all of these ideas and developed a children’s literature themed area for youth, local craft and food vendors for a daytime crowd, and of course a stage with music and dancing to put an emphasis on Bernie’s impact on the artist’s mindset–and to make it fun! We opened up camping so we could accommodate guests coming from far and wide, and will have a “Bernaste” yoga workshop along with community softball games “going to bat for Bernie.” Lastly, there will be a “campaign trail” hike along the Appalachian trail and mountains for those looking to reach new heights during the day and check out the beautiful rural surrounding area!
BTR: Who are some of the performers that will take the stage?
CH: We have a very exciting mix of musicians who are all equally talented and conscious of the need to come together, but are also extremely diverse and hail from backgrounds of all different genres of music. We have Will Wood, an incredibly authentic soul, who sounds like a mix of David Bowie and psychedelic rock, Alex Gideon of The Fat Peace, who is also a talented solo musician that plays an infectious mix of reggae rock and folk original songs on his looper pedal. Aside from his obvious musical talent, Alex will also be serving as stage manager for the event.
Another artist whose contrast and originality I really value in our lineup is B3B3, a female rap and hip-hop artist whose lyrics are pure truth and power. Her cover of the song “UNITY” speaks for itself! Many of our artists also wrote songs especially for Bernie, which are featured on our website berniemanfestival.com.
BTR: Do you sense a feeling of unity among the artists on the roster, despite the different backgrounds and eclectic sounds?
CH: Yes, there is absolutely a sense of unity. Like I said earlier, nearly all of our artists reached out to us to perform, so they are unified in the sense that they all had a passion for a political revolution and wanted to go out on a limb to support it via their musical gifts. I also see a sense of unity in this group, and many other artists in the musical community, that no matter the genre or form of expression those with the artists’ mindset seems to naturally gravitate towards Bernie Sanders ideas, especially those reflecting environmental and social justice.
This is something I find very powerful, because I feel that any who posses these abilities generally have a very respectable level of intelligence and ability to set social examples.
BTR: What were some of the biggest difficulties and challenges you faced along the way while putting this together?
CH: Our biggest challenges have been time and money. We only had a month to plan the event and very limited spending, so we had to get creative. We decided to make the ticket a contribution to the campaign, so people could either purchase a ticket online and let us handle the rest, or bring proof of a campaign contribution made the week of. We offered voter registration discounts as well. Attendees only need to make a five dollar donation to attend the festival, which is used for the permits and insurance necessary to secure the venue.
BTR: What role do you think that music and the arts can play in promoting large-scale societal awareness and political change?
CH: Personally, in my lifetime, I have been inspired and influenced more than I can convey in words by music and its power to shed light on matters that otherwise are unsung by the media. I have always appreciated music’s ability to defy the establishment. The arts are without argument one of the only means people have to spread truth in our corrupt and censored media system of propaganda and scare tactics, which is otherwise used to bring more power and wealth to our government and keep our citizens plugged into the facade of the “American Dream.”
I have always been interested and enlightened by the way musicians such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Bob Marley, and CCR used their platform and celebrity status to influence politics and bring to light the taboos in both our society and other societies around the globe. As one of my favorite musicians of all time, Jimi Hendrix, once said, “Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”
Be sure to check out berniemanfestival.com for more information!