What better place than a hot California desert to feel the Bern while feeling the burn? A few hundred people gathered in the city of Coachella, California, Thursday night for a Bernie Sanders block party that became known as “Berniechella.” While thousands will attend the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this weekend just a stone's throw away, a few thousand had been expected to attend the satellite bash.
Organized by actress/musician Rain Phoenix (sister of Joaquin) and political consultant/event organizer Tizoc DeAztlan, the evening started slowly with what seemed to be more local sheriffs on hand than people to potentially arrest. But as the sun descended in the desert sky, Sanders supporters came out to frolic beneath the stars.
While the fest fell short of its attendance target, what it lacked in numbers it made up for in enthusiasm. From parents pushing their children in strollers to couples walking hand in hand to packs of teenagers roaming around, all ages and ethnicities were represented. And everyone was all smiles—even the cops. One festival attendee was overheard saying, “Why are there even cops here? This isn’t a Trump rally.” Most folks wore Sanders buttons pinned to their tops, but a few chose “Fuck Trump” flare in their stead.
With a beer garden serving local craft brews and plenty of Mexican food on hand, festivalgoers all seemed to be having a great ol’ Bernie Sanders time. The atmosphere was nothing short of convivial with imbibing, eating, laughter, dancing and singing. From cardboard cutout Bernies to Bernie temporary tattoos being administered to Bernie t-shirts and posters being sold, the only Bernie thing missing from Berniechella was, well, Bernie Sanders. Yes, the 74-year-old senator from Vermont turned star presidential candidate could not attend, as he had to campaign in Pennsylvania. Or maybe he’s just not down with tacos?
Phoenix, who conceived the event just two and a half weeks ago, said despite the fact that the rally was not officially designated, Sanders’ camp was “stoked” about it. She said she purposefully chose the heart of the city of Coachella, which has a strong working class, because it reflects Sanders’ community values. As to what she likes about Sanders, Phoenix told The Daily Beast, “I love that he’s never wavered from his principles and that he’s truly about fairness for all the people of this country. Whether he wins or not, he’s getting people off their couches and I feel grateful to be part of this political revolution.”
Having coordinated a previous Bernie Sanders event in Los Angeles in February with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as headliners, Phoenix says music events are a great way for Sanders to garner press. For Berniechella, Phoenix reached out to friends including artist Jules Muck, who painted a Bernie mural while musician Paz Lenchantin (Pixies, A Perfect Circle) played violin and guitar in accompaniment. “We’re doomed without Bernie,” said Lenchantin. “In every speech, he thanks musicians and artists. That’s the first time I’ve heard that.”
Artist/graphic designer Shepard Fairey, who guest DJ’d, spinning tunes from the late Prince to Bowie to Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre, said what he likes most about Sanders is that “Bernie’s been consistently trying to get money out of politics for 30 years” in addition to that “so many of his views align with mine—from education to overhauling healthcare to environmental concerns.” Singer Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who led the crowd in a “Feel the Bern” sing-along, recently performed for Sanders in New Hampshire. “He’s called ‘a once in a lifetime candidate,’” said Ebert. “It’s really a trip. He’s just real. He’s powerful. What you see is what you get. You meet him and you can just feel that he has integrity. You can be proud of supporting him no matter what the outcome.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Palm Desert resident Kymberli Foster, who works in retail and wearing a t-shirt that said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” told The Daily Beast, “I love everything that Bernie stands for. He actually fights for the middle class as opposed to Hillary who pretends to and Trump who could not care less.” Bronx born Johnny Mirehiel, a 74-year-old Morongo Valley resident, retired schoolteacher, and unintentional Bernie lookalike, said, “Bernie espouses equality and exposes the injustice of the 1 percent owning everything. From his support of free college tuition to his lifelong support of civil rights, what’s not to like?” Meanwhile, San Diego resident Omar Zohni, 40, who has a PhD in engineering, despite his “I Can’t Adult Today” t-shirt, said, “I actually can adult. What I really appreciate about Bernie is that he’s consistent and that he appeals to young people.”
With performances by Phoenix’s new band Venus and The Moon (Phoenix, Chris Stills, and Frally Hynes), singer/songwriter Rodrigo Amarante, and what Phoenix proudly calls “badass Latino bands” Grupo La Meta and Ozomatli, as well as DJ spots by actress/musician Zoë Kravitz, Allie Teilz, and Richard Montoya, the desert air was filled with a wide range of tunes until midnight.
One attendee, however, who called himself “Michelangelo” and described his style as “Jim Morrison meets Dirty Harry,” said he isn’t casting a ballot. Not now. Not ever. “I have never voted in my life and I never will.” Despite that, he was front and center at a Sanders event, standing right in front of the stage and dancing while bands played. When asked if he’d consider voting for the event’s namesake, he simply laughed hysterically and said, “Are you insane?”
Sorry, Bernie. You can’t win ‘em all.