This year marks HeadCount’s 10th Anniversary. To celebrate, we’re taking a look back at our history on a year-by-year basis. In this installment, we remember the most recent year, 2013, when HeadCount launched several of its most original and successful initiatives.
With the 2012 presidential campaign now a memory, 2013 was a year when HeadCount focused on an assortment of new projects that stretched well beyond voter registration. Each benefited from HeadCount’s various strengths and its unique position within the live music community.
“For a long time I’ve said that HeadCount is not simply a voter registration organization,” said Executive Director Andy Bernstein. “We’re community oraganizers for the live music scene. We want to do the greatest good possible, while celebrating music and social consciousness.”
The first of these initiatives was the Capitol Community program, which saw HeadCount team up with the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH to promote music education. The project came to fruition when HeadCount boardmember and Capitol Theatre proprietor Peter Shapiro told Bernstein that he wanted to do something charitable with his newly renovated and reopened theater. They decided to raise money to send a group of local Port Chester music teachers to attend the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s annual Summer Teacher Institute, for intensive curriculum training. HeadCount raised the money by auctioning off tickets to the venue’s Presidential box--the best seats in the house-- for most shows.
"Since my career in live music began at Wetlands, a venue that placed the combination of social awareness & the live music experience at the heart of its mission, it has been really important to me to continue that tradition,” said Shapiro. “Capitol Community is such a creative way to achieve that.”
In 2013 HeadCount also launched a campaign to keep musicians informed about their heathcare options and help them navigate the new laws regarding health insurance. It was an important endeavor, considering that few musicians have traditional employers that can provide them with health insurance.
A hotline was set up help musicians navigate the health insurance market. Dave Lamb of folk duo Brown Bird also shot an emotional video to get the word out about the plight of uninsured musicians. Lamb, who was battling Leukemia, spoke about his struggles without insurance, which forced him to crowd-source funds to pay for expensive medical bills. (Unfortunately, Lamb passed away earlier this year). The video, produced and conceived by HeadCount, has been viewed over 25,000 times.
HeadCount’s third big move of 2013 was the introduction of the Participation Row activism village, which made its debut at the inaugural Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, VA. HeadCount hosted an entire “row” of over 20 non-profits at the festival, while also raising money for the participating organizations through a signed guitar and poster auction that netted nearly $50,000. Poster signatories included Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Trey Anastasio, Warren Haynes and Grace Potter, as well as members of the String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic, among others. HeadCount also raffled off another signed guitar as a way of encouraging festival attendees to check out the various non profits that were on site. Any time someone took an action at a non-profit booth, they got a stamp. When they’d filled up a stamp card, they visited a lounge (sponsored by the music video streaming service Qello Concerts) to enter the raffle for a signed guitar.
This incentive led to nearly 6,000 separate actions being taken by Lockn’ attendees.
“Participation Row is one of my favorite HeadCount projects,” says Bernstein. “We’ve worked at hundreds of festivals over the years, and this allowed us to build on what we’ve learned. We went from being festival guest to hosts in our own right.”
Participation Row was so successful that the TrueMusic Festival invited HeadCount to set up a similar non-profit village at their inaugural event in Phoenix, AZ. Since then, HeadCount has brought Participation Row back to Lockn’ and expanded the project to other festivals like this year’s Phases of the Moon in Illinois.
Last, but certainly not least, was HeadCount’s #SoundOff campaign, which made its debut in 2013. The idea behind the project was simple--social media is now the most common forum for political discussions, so why not find a way to bring those conversations directly to our elected officials? To that end, HeadCount built an easy-to-use online platform that allows people to tweet their thoughts straight to their representatives, even if they aren’t sure who those representatives are. The #SoundOff technology was a perfect fusion of HeadCount’s civic know-how and social media prowess, and it provided young citizens with a powerful new line of communication with the people that represent them.
“As an organization that is primarily known for registering voters, years without a major election can be a challenge,” adds HeadCount Outreach Director Laurie Lenninger, who spearheaded the #SoundOff campaign.“We had to figure out how to engage people in a way that seemed more relevant to them at that moment. #SoundOff seemed like the most obvious way to connect young people and their representatives on a daily basis. It just made sense to get them talking to their elected officials via the same platform they use to talk to their friends--Twitter.”
Like many non-election years, 2013 was a time when HeadCount expanded its horizons. Rather than focusing on a single project, the group tried its hand at a few different things and all of them turned out to be successful. In fact, all of the projects that took root in 2013 have continued to this day.