For the first few years, HeadCount was run entirely by volunteers, spread throughout the country. No office. No one with experience. Just a ragtag group with a vision for what was possible.
That worked pretty well, all considering. But it was clear that to build HeadCount to last would require at least some full-time staff, and a full-time staff required money.
“We knew that to pull of what we wanted to pull off, we had to raise anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million dollars,” recalls Executive Director/co-founder Andy Bernstein. “And to me, a middle class kid who had never done non-profit fundraising, it felt like staring up the face of a mountain. It was a very intimidating thing to take on. But one by one, things started falling into place. That all began in 2007.”
HeadCount’s first big move was to start working on a project that would raise awareness about the organization and its goals. The group headed down to Florida for the (now defunct) Langerado Music Festival, where they interviewed some of the biggest names on the scene for a documentary that they hoped would generate excitement about HeadCount and the 2008 election within the music community.
Artists like Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir, Al Schnier, Michael Franti, Bela Fleck, O.A.R., STS9, Luther Dickinson and Galactic contributed their time and their thoughts to the film, as did various other industry professionals. The Rex Foundation gave HeadCount a $5,000 grant which covered at least some of the production costs.
Bigger things were to come.
“I went and had lunch with Bob Weir earlier that year, which was pretty exciting in and of itself,” says Bernstein. “I asked him if he’d play a show for us and he agreed. He’s that kind of guy. Then a few weeks later, his old manager Cameron Sears called me and laid it out. It would be right before Bonnaroo, in New York City. It was real. It was on.
Bernstein enlisted his old friends Dan Berkowitz (who would later go on to found CID Entertainment) and Jacey Anderson to help put the show together.
Finally, on June 14, hundreds of fans packed into the Canal Room in New York City’s TriBeca neighborhood for an exciting night of top-notch music. Warren Haynes even joined Weir & RatDog for covers of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man.” More importantly, the benefit raised enough money for HeadCount to finally hire the full-time staff it needed.
“It was so amazing to see the passion of everyone involved in the show,” says Berkowitz. “The signed poster is still hanging in my office as a testament to how important this night was for the attendees, and in my career and life. Every time I go by the corner of Canal and W. Broadway, I smile.”
HeadCount rolled into Bonnaroo a couple of days later with a hefty supply of funds and an unbridled sense of optimism. A few months after that, the organization hired its first full-time staff — Executive Director Virginia McEnerney and Director of Operations Jacey Anderson.
“I can’t understate the impact of that show, ,” says Bernstein. “We had these big dreams and we needed a head start, and that show took us from having essentially nothing in the back to like over $70,000. It really changed everything.”
Bob Weir photo taken by Alison Murphy