A small but enthusiastic group of Middle Tennessee residents showed up to hear some music and use their voices at Party at the Polls, a voting rally organized by WME and Endeavor Impact. Held at the very un-rock & roll hour of 10 a.m. at Ascend Amphitheater, the event nonetheless featured some big performers, including Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Sheryl Crow and Billy Ray Cyrus.
While not explicitly a left-leaning event, Party at the Polls — which concluded with a half-mile walk to a nearby early voting location — did feature artists who have been openly critical of the Trump administration and Republican policies at the state level as well as several young men and women involved with the gun control initiative March for Our Lives. In Tennessee, both the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat are up for grabs in the midterms, and Democrats are hoping for competitive races despite the state’s long history of voting red. Early voting numbers in Tennessee have been high thus far, beating the previous two midterm elections and approaching turnout for the 2016 presidential election.
Singer-songwriter Gabriel Kelley sang Richie Havens’ mournful “Freedom” and pleaded for empathy, noting that we should be “trying to love on each other a little more.” British-born Lucie Silvas also sang a pair of her songs, including the pointed “Change My Mind,” and expressed how happy she was to be part of the event when she’d been a guest in the United States for some time. Gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds offered a pair of uplifting tunes, including “Gotta Have You.”
Billy Ray Cyrus was kind of a wild card in the bunch, performing his “Where’m I Gonna Live” and the Springsteen-esque “Goddess of Democracy,” which he said was “about why we’re here and the right to vote.” Closing things out with his smash “Achy Breaky Heart” and some soulful harmonies from Bekka Bramlett, Cyrus implored the crowd, “Get out and vote. That’s your voice. Let it be heard.”
Sheryl Crow was even more direct, saying that “A Change Would Do You Good” mirrored her feelings of the present political climate. At one point in the song, she improvised several lines about treating others with compassion, politicians actually getting work done, caring for the environment and addressing gun laws to improve school safety for children. “Bring about those changes, we can do it,” she said, changing the song’s key line to “A change would do us good.” Recognizing that the damp, chilly weather had perhaps kept a few people away, Crow asked everyone to make sure their friends were going to vote, and to offer rides to people who don’t drive. Crow also touched on the importance of young voters for the upcoming election before introducing outspoken country-pop singer Maren Morris for “Every Day Is a Winding Road.” Recently, Morris admonished Donald Trump’s response to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, tweeting “How hard is it to NOT mock a sexual assault victim while a federal investigation that he allowed is still underway? Or how about not mock them ever?”
Headlining the event before the march to the polling place were Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, who have played a handful of voting rallies and, in Isbell’s case, a fundraiser for Democratic senate candidate Phil Bredesen in the past few months. “I know most of y’all probably already voted because y’all are good people,” joked Isbell, as audience members pressed up near the stage, a few waving flags and holding signs. “They won’t let me vote twice, I’ve tried.” Isbell and Shires gave an acoustic performance of “Hope the High Road” and Shires’ stomping “Eve’s Daughter.” He concluded the brief set with the empathetic “White Man’s World,” which recently drew the ire of a conservative writer who came to see one of his shows.
“Thank you for doing the right thing,” said Isbell, just before the crowd began streaming out of the amphitheater en masse and working its way a few blocks south for a little civic duty.