Bernie Sanders
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination to run for president in the 2020 Election, stumped in Asheville on Friday, May 18, at the Salvage Station music venue. /photo by Stephan Pruitt

On Friday, May 17, Bernie Sanders held a rally at Salvage Station in Asheville, NC. Ashvegas contributer Caleb Calhoun was on the scene to give us a blow by blow account of what he witnessed.

9:13 am: It’s still raining outside when I roll out of bed and make coffee. It’s Bernie Day in Asheville, and I’m hoping that the rain moves on in time for the rally. I go over some notes I have accumulated (hoping for that elusive interview) and guzzle some coffee. It’s time to do the job.

9:33 am: It’s all traffic, cops, and vendors as I approach the venue. I had been expecting protestors, MAGA hats and dog whistles, but all is silent on the opposition’s front. The Salvage Station parking lot is closed and so the road is acting as the landing area – cars stopping to let people off, people milling about with no regard for the multi-ton machines attempting to travel. I jump out of my car and make my way toward the press entrance, stopping to admire some of the merch on my way in.

9:37 am: I’m expecting the calm before the storm, but instead I’m greeted by static. The rain has let off but there are problems with the press list. I work my way up the chain of command until I get it sorted. Then I’m inside and scoping out the scene. There are probably 250 volunteers here already as well as press and VIP. The air is electric. I can’t even imagine what it will feel like once this place is full.

10:05 am: I catch up with my photographer, Galen Dotson, as Ashley Heath and Josh Blake set up on stage. It’s pretty cool that Bernie is using local musicians to open, and even from 40 feet away, I can tell that they are glowing. The number of musicians that can claim to have opened for a Bernie Sanders rally is not all that high, and it’s wonderful to see such deserving and talented people on stage.

10:58 am: Two minutes until things kick off. The crowd is starting to fill out as the temperature is rising. The line to get in is almost two football fields long.

11:52 am: As Ashley Heath thanks the crowd, I can feel the audience’s anticipation rise. No one really knows the schedule and everyone thinks that The Senator is moments from taking the stage. In reality he hasn’t even reached the venue yet.

12:01 pm: With 600 yards of people still standing in line, it’s brought to my attention that the Salvage Station is going to be limited to a lesser occupancy for today than they have been in the past.

12:08 pm: The Bernie Sanders campaign has brought perhaps 120 people on stage and they are all crowded around Dylan Morris, a man with a Banjo. As Morris begins to sing a song riffing on the idea of “Bernie for the USA,” I think to myself that this might be the most “white people” thing I have ever experienced. I also realize I’m singing along.

12:22 pm: All posters and signs were taken at the door, for safety, but the Bernie camp has brought their own. They begin passing them out to the audience. From a distance, some appear to be hand drawn or written with marker, although a closer inspection reveals that they have been mass-printed.

12:44 pm: A series of locals take the stage, including former City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, Blue Dream Curry restaurant co-founder James Sutherland and community activist Ashley McDermott, and their words remind us why these things do matter. From the Dogwood Alliance to solar power at New Belgium and Biltmore, there is real change happening in the state of North Carolina.

1:00 pm: Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner takes the stage for one last rousing speech. I get word that Bernie is in the parking lot addressing the people who have been kept outside in the parking lot because of the occupancy issue. I arrive just as he finishes and gets into his Tahoe to head backstage.

1:04 pm: After three straight days of Colorado weather, the gods have turned on us. It’s 85 degrees and about a thousand percent humidity and we are all, literally, feeling the Bern.

1:11 pm: Bernie will be on stage any minute. I’m at the bar beside some of the Salvage Station staff as the head police officer hustles over to let us know that word has just come back from the city and that they can legally open the gates now and let everyone else inside.

1:19 pm: Bernie takes the stage to raucous applause. His presence is powerful. I’ve only ever once seen a person command such uninhibited interest, and that was at a David Byrne concert. But here, no lights, no band – Bernie is the real deal and anyone within eye or ear shot can feel that clearly. His speech is emotional but policy driven. His timing and diction are exceptional. Even from the back of a crowd of more than 3,000 people, you get the feeling that you are just chatting with him.

1:55 pm: Bernie closes his speech, pauses for some handshakes and photos, and hits the road towards his next event. The Sweet Lillies take the stage to create some ambience for those that have decided to stay and have a beer, the majority however sneaking back in to whatever job they snuck out of to be here.

11:31 pm: There were moments that felt truer than breath, but there were times were things felt false as well. There was beautiful energy and there was definitely momentum, but the rally itself didn’t change anything. We are approaching the crest of a tall and powerful wave. We have the tide in our favor, but when it is all said and done, and there is nothing left at Salvage Station except for discarded Bernie posters in the lawn. It is up to us act.

Caleb Calhoun is an author, poet, and journalist who lives in West Asheville with his dog Dr. Gonzo, and a rotating cast of some better – some worse, roommates. He is the creator Get On The Bus, a founding member of the Asheville Slam Poetry Team, and incredibly skilled at making simple things complicated. You can tell him to fuck off at caleb.calhoun@gmail.com.

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