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Jam Bands Get Out the Vote

HeadCount canvasses at Phish, DMB shows

June 4, 2004 12:00 AM ET
Stars of the jam band world will gather at Manhattan's B.B. King's on Monday to benefit HeadCount, a voter registration organization targeted at live music fans.

Performers will include Phish bassist Mike Gordon (playing an improvised set with the Duo), moe. (jamming with String Cheese Incident mandolinist Michael Kang) and the Disco Biscuits. The HeadCount All-Stars -- its ranks drawn from the night's performers -- will close the evening with the requisite super jam.

For HeadCount, it will kick off a busy summer. Hoping to register 100,000 voters in time for the November elections, HeadCount volunteers will man tables and canvas parking lots on nearly two dozen tours, including those of Phish, the Dead, the Dave Matthews Band and String Cheese Incident, who will bring HeadCount along for their jaunt on Lollapalooza.

HeadCount co-founder Andy Bernstein estimates that the organization will reach over two million concertgoers. "You'd have to be trying to avoid us," he says. HeadCount will also run public service announcements on the TBS and TNT networks, and send out targeted emails reminding registrants to vote.

Since its February launch, HeadCount has recruited over 1,000 national volunteers, headed by a team of seventy-five coordinators. Entirely non-paid, much of HeadCount's staff -- including Bernstein -- has been running the organization in between full-time jobs. Bernstein describes HeadCount as a "virtual organization," connected via Internet and after-hour calling plans.

The board includes several musicians, such as Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein, moe. guitarist Al Schnier and Dead guitarist Bob Weir, whose assessment that "if every Deadhead in the state of Florida had voted in the last presidential election it would be a very different world today" helped spur HeadCount into being.

"People who have never been political before are looking for an opportunity to really do something and have an impact," Bernstein says. "HeadCount makes it very, very easy." He stresses that HeadCount is strictly non-partisan, though acknowledges that "people who are looking for a change see voter registration as a way to enact change without preaching."

It is a fitting political expression of the do-your-own-thing ethos of the jam band scene.

"This is the time to bring politics back into music, in one way or another," Bernstein says. "It's not gonna be Country Joe and the Fish -- blatant songs about protest. It's going to be about our community having a voice. There will never be another quote like Bob Weir's again if we have anything to do with it."

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