When Peter Shapiro was announced as the new Chairman of the Board of Directors at HeadCount, it made sense. It’s hard—if not impossible—to imagine a person better suited for the job.
As HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein explains, “There is no one in the world quite like Pete Shaprio. It’s not just his wisdom, strategic mind, and endless list of contacts… It’s how much he cares.”
Shapiro’s exploits as a promoter, venue owner, and publisher precede him. He’s made a career out of bringing people together to habitually up the ante and turn ever-wilder music dreams into reality—from Wetlands Preserved to Brooklyn Bowl, The Capitol Theatre to Relix, the Women’s March webcast to Phil Lesh at The Apollo, Fare Thee Well to LOCKN‘.
“I’m busy. There’s a lot going on,” Shapiro tells Live For Live Music by phone amidst a busy week in July during which Brooklyn Bowl celebrated its 10th birthday. “But I’m stepping up my involvement [in HeadCount] because now is that moment. If it’s not now, then when?”
As Shapiro discusses his next big project, the upcoming 2019 edition of LOCKN’ (August 22nd–August 25th), the excitement with which he approaches rallying people toward a common goal is unmistakable. “That’s what we do. The fun part of LOCKN’ is being able to put together these collaborations. I’m really excited about the whole thing, but particularly this Derek Trucks and Trey Anastasio stuff. Trey’s band with Derek on Friday, then Tedeschi Trucks Band with Trey on Saturday. And then Susan [Tedeschi]’s also sitting in on Sunday with Bob Weir. Even as a fan, I’m excited. I knew they would like each other, but it was really a push for it. I just had a feeling. I also had a similar feeling that Trey would work well for Fare Thee Well with the Grateful Dead guys. But it’s not that hard to figure out that Tedeschi Trucks Band with Trey will be f*ckin’ crazy. That ain’t rocket science [laughs].”
[Photo: Dave Vann]
When HeadCount launched in 2004, Shapiro immediately got on the bus. Now, as we enter another highly consequential election cycle, he feels it’s the right time to increase his involvement as the Chairman of the Board of Directors. “I’ve been on the board since it started in 2004. 15 years… Cream rises, it just takes time.”
“It’s like a band, or a show, or a jam,” he ruminates with a laugh. “It takes a minute sometimes to find the right groove. HeadCount’s been doing good work since the beginning, but it’s certainly in a place now, 15 years in, where it’s like it’s in the middle of a really good jam. All the band members are in a groove, all the staff and the volunteers and the board.”
“In a lot of ways, it makes it easier to try to achieve ideas because HeadCount has gotten really good at executing their mission. This is the right moment where HeadCount’s really needed, and it’s been out here for 15 years and knows how to achieve its mission. Great venues are the same. They don’t just start where everything’s kind of humming.”
Even beyond his longtime connection to HeadCount’s operations, Shapiro has maintained additional involvement with the organization throughout the last decade thanks to their physical proximity.
“HeadCount’s offices are based where my offices are, the headquarters of Relix and Brooklyn Bowl and Dayglo [in Manhattan],” Peter explains, “So I’ve always had a proximity to Andy and the team, which has been helpful. I’ve been here for over ten years, and Andy’s been here the whole time.”
“We used to talk five times a week,” Bernstein confirms. “Now we talk five times a day. HeadCount and our success are always on his mind.”
HeadCount’s recent registration numbers reflect Shapiro’s assessment of the promising state of the organization in 2019. At this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, HeadCount broke their single-weekend record for registrations, signing up 1,390 new voters.
“This is incredible,” Bernstein glowed following the festival. “Essentially a year and a half away from the 2020 election, we are already seeing this level of excitement from young Americans about voting. 2018 saw a more than 50% increase in youth voter turnout in Midterms, I can only imagine what this type of momentum this will create for 2020.”
As Peter explains, “I’m working closely with Andy on ideas and fundraising and making sure he has the tools and bringing in anyone who wants to support—If anyone who reads this wants to support, we could use it. Go to HeadCount.org, donate. But it’s a great mechanism through which people can choose to help support transitioning young people into voters. I think HeadCount really is a powerful way.”
Now, Shapiro is using his influence in the live music world to help further the scope of HeadCount’s operations. “When HeadCount started, it was out of our scene, you can call it—you know, jam, Grateful Dead, Live For Live Music, Relix, Bonnaroo—but it’s really broadened.”
“There’s a history there, a lot of the stuff that came out of the Grateful Dead world initially—taping, mail order, et cetera—then had an influence on the broader music industry, and I think HeadCount is similar. It started in our scene, but now it’s broader.” Peter muses, “Now, it’s cool to see we’re at every Ariana Grande concert with a table inside the arena, every Billie Eilish concert, Beyoncé. That’s big stuff. It needs to be that and more.”
“We have a base, certainly, in music and in shows and at festivals. We have Participation Row, which I was able to help play a role in creating with LOCKN’. My platforms, my venues will soon be doing something. Our big thing at HeadCount is to register and vote, but it’s also to participate, engage,” Shapiro notes. “Today, HeadCount is one of, if not the largest voter engagement and participation organization in the country, particularly for youth voters. It’s just a really important mission, so we’re going to try and do a lot of cool things, especially at events—live music things, festivals, shows. But also at other kinds of things, like tabling Pride events, ComicCon, Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day…We want to broaden it.”
“We need people to be involved on lots of levels, too,” he continues. “There are more people since the fall 2016 election just involved in the process and running for city council or mayor or state treasurer. There are people that are running for things that never did before that election. So we’re hopeful that that translates even below that, for people that have never voted or participated.”
Going into this new election cycle, Shapiro is hopeful that people recognize the imperative of engagement in the political system. “It’ll never be more important,” Peter says. “I think we’ve certainly seen that elections have an impact on everyone’s lives. I’m hopeful that people see that and choose to get engaged, choose to participate. So many people say ‘nah, it doesn’t matter,’ but it does matter. The courts matter. The laws matter. Whatever side you’re on, it matters.”
“If more people do that, then I am actually bullish and optimistic about how things will play out for our country,” says Shapiro. “These elections are so close, whether they’re down-ballot and state assembly or state attorney general or governor or mayor, and obviously Congress and Senate, they’re all very close. We’ve had three recent presidential races (the Al Gore one in 2000 versus George W. Bush, the John Kerry one in ’04 versus G.W., and the Hilary Clinton/Donald Trump one in 2016) all decided cumulatively—you ready for this?—by less than 100,000 votes. Because the Gore one was like 1,000 votes in Florida. The Kerry one was like 50,000 in Ohio, and the Clinton/Trump one was like 50-60,000 in the Midwest.”
“From the fall 2018 midterms, HeadCount’s trying to register 200,000 voters. That’s our goal,” Shapiro says. “It’s a big goal, but even if we don’t quite hit that but come close, it can make a big difference.”
For more information about HeadCount or to learn how you can donate or get involved, head here.