Pre-Show: Live from the VP Debate in Danville, Ben Sollee at the...

Pre-Show: Live from the VP Debate in Danville, Ben Sollee at the Debate Festival

During the early hours in the press filing room, Romney campaign spokerman Kyle Downey was perched by the Fox News table joking with the technical production team sitting there. When I asked him what he thinks Ryan’s chances are at the debate, he noted that “[Joe] Biden’s been doing debates since before Paul Ryan was born. But Paul knows his stuff, so we’ll see.” Incidentally, the first time we could track down a Biden appearance in a debate was on the WGBH debate show The Advocates in 1974 (Ryan was born in 1970).

– Overheard while skulking around the media vehicle lot, where giant satellite dishes loom over portable trailers and television trucks, from a sweaty, jocular TV producer. “You know, it’s un-American to make us walk out there to get our free food.” “There” in this case was about 500 feet away from the lot, where the Budweiser-sponsored canteen was providing free beer (!) and “moonshine-marinated chicken”.

– “Sam Adams”, in full red-white-and-blue regalia, told us he has been standing out on the corner on Main and 4th Street for the past two days now, waving a sign that ties Romney and Ryan to “Capitalism and Freedom” on one side, and Obama and Biden to “Socialism and Government Control.”  Sam told us that he had lived in Lexington for decades and had worked as a banker for First Security before they were bought out. Asked about who’s going to win the debate, he replied “It’s going to be a more civilized affair with them sitting down and hashing things out – I think they’re going to come to a draw. But my man [Ryan] speaks the truth, and that tends to win out in the long run.”

– Bearded hipster to a Lincoln impersonator in a stove-pipe hat – “You know, if you need a stunt double ever, let me know!” A pause. “Actually, that may be a bad idea, now that I think about it.”

As of 6 PM, the Romney-Ryan corner of the spin room seemed like a standard example of modern political stagecraft – a battery of gleaming teleprompters with the campaign logo etched into the glass, a plethora of high-tech lighting and camera equipment, flat-screens tuned to Fox News flanking the display. The Obama corner was a pair of plastic chairs and a few signs scattered behind them, many of which were hand-drawn. I ran into Kyle Downey there again, who smiled and suggested that the difference might be indicative of the relative strength of their economic campaigns.

Ben Sollee put on a great show as the headliner of the Debate Festival taking place on the front lawn of Centre College. In between songs tinged with Appalachian folk and soul, Sollee talked about life on the road as a touring band and his love of his home state. Referring to how its citizens fused the genres of country, gospel, and R&B to form bluegrass, Sollee described Kentucky as “the great unappreciated postmodern state.” His set was a bit of an unlikely mash-up in its own way – the chief sponsor of the student-curated festival was the AARP, and their banners were next to the stage where the youthful rockers were playing.

– The Ben Sollee crowd was a laid-back bunch lounging on lawn-chairs for the most part – for a more frantic kind of energy, you had to go to the group hanging around the outdoor MSNBC stage on the other end of the lawn. For the most part, the energy of this crowd had relatively little to do with what was being said by Chris Matthews and his interview guests on camera – Sollee’s set made it hard to hear much of anything.The result was that people mostly cheered when the camera panned over to see them, which led in a few instances to loud cheering from people with Obama signs as someone on screen praised Paul Ryan. There were also a fair amount of Romney/Ryan signs in the crowd, and then there was the one possibly drunk college student who kept yelling “Oba-a-a-a-ma” in a way that made it unclear if he was for or against the president.