HeadCount has been engaging the music community to get out the vote for more than fifteen years. While the majority of the nonpartisan, nonprofit voter engagement organization’s efforts have historically come via their on-the-ground efforts at concerts and festivals nationwide, HeadCount has also been known to throw together incredible lineups for their own voter benefit shows.
While in-person shows remain stalled for the 2020 election season, HeadCount is teaming up with Live For Live Music to present Democracy Comes Alive: A Virtual Festival To Get Out The Vote this Saturday, October 3rd, beginning at 1 p.m ET. The all-day streaming event will feature performances from over 50 nationally-touring acts as well as non-partisan conversations about the history of voting rights, best voting practices, and more with guest speakers including including Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann (Grateful Dead), Jon Fishman (Phish), Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits), Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company), Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band), and more. Check your voter registration status or donate to HeadCount at DemocracyComesAlive.com and you’ll receive an email with a link to the stream on the morning of the show.
In anticipation of Democracy Comes Alive this Saturday, October 3rd, we’re reliving a few of our favorite past all-star HeadCount concerts to get out the vote. Scroll through videos and photos from HeadCount voter benefits through the years below.
June 7th, 2004 – B.B. King’s – New York, NY
In the earliest days of HeadCount, they gathered some of the biggest bands in the jam scene—including moe., The Disco Biscuits, a “HeadCount Allstars” supergroup, and more at B.B. Kings in NYC. The eventful evening also featured a full set of The Benevento/Russo Duo with Phish bassist Mike Gordon and a special appearance by The String Cheese Incident‘s Michael Kang. This Benevento/Russo Duo-with-Gordon-and-guitarist formation eventually paved the way for G.R.A.B., the short-lived outfit featuring Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Mike Gordon, and Trey Anastasio.
[Audio: Eytan Bernet]
November 3, 2008 – Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
On the eve of the 2008 election, HeadCount hosted a five-hour blowout at New York’s Highline Ballroom featuring a truly mind-boggling cast of musicians including Questlove, Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, The Disco Biscuits, Stanton Moore (Galactic), Chris Barron (The Spin Doctors), John Medeski, and all of the now-members of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead—years before JRAD was a thing.
The concert also saw surprise appearances by Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes—both of whom will perform at Democracy Comes Alive on Saturday—late in the night for a lengthy encore. Watch a couple videos from the memorable evening below:
Warren Haynes, Phil Lesh, Stanton Moore, John Medeski – “For What It’s Worth” (Stephen Stills) – Highline Ballroom – 11/3/08
[Video: Chris Lonergan]
Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, John Medeski, Scott Metzger – “Higher Ground” (Stevie Wonder) – Highline Ballroom – 11/3/08
[Video: Chris Lonergan]
November 8th, 2016 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
On Election Night 2016, HeadCount put together a dazzling lineup for a party billed as Soundtrack To History. As the election results were beamed into Brooklyn Bowl on screens around the venue—and behind the artists as they played—the crowd enjoyed a very special two-set Everyone Orchestra performance featuring Steve Kimock, Marc Bownstein and Aron Magner (The Disco Biscuits), Vinnie Amico (moe.), Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band), Marco Benevento, Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic), Mihali Savoulidis (Twiddle), Robert Randolph, the Snarky Puppy horns, and more.
While the celebratory vibe of this “soundtrack to history” was stifled somewhat by the surprising election results flowing in, the communal creativity and positivity showed on this night reaffirmed the power of music in uniting people. You can read our full coverage of the Soundtrack To History show here and watch the full video below:
HeadCount’s Soundtrack To History – Full Show – Brooklyn Bowl – 11/8/16
September 7th, 2018 – The Apollo Theater – New York, NY
Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, HeadCount moved its big show uptown to Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater for a performance billed as Don’t Tell Me This Country Ain’t Got No Heart: A Benefit For Voter Participation. Anchored by headliner Phil Lesh, the Peter Shapiro-produced event featured an unusual cast of “Very Special Friends” including Robert Randolph, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and rapper Talib Kweli, among others.
One of the highlights of the night came when Talib Kweli took the stage during a “Shakedown Street” jam for a “Shakedown”-inspired verse that put a spotlight on the theme of the night, and of HeadCount in general: “Information leads to knowledge, knowledge leads to wisdom, wisdom leads to understanding.” Once “Shakedown” finished, Kweli stayed onstage to perform his survive-at-all-costs 2002 breakout hit, “Get By”, with Phil and company as his backing band.
The crossover of the music and spirit of the Grateful Dead and the hip-hop/gospel influence at this historic center for Black culture was draped in layers of significance, which we’ve unpacked in detail here. You can watch the “Shakedown Street”/”Get By” segment below:
Phil Lesh & Friends Ft. Talib Kweli, Harlem Gospel Choir – “Shakedown Street”, “Get By” – Apollo Theater – 8/7/18
November 25th, 2019 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
In the Fall of 2019, HeadCount teamed up with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead for a special, democratic performance at Brooklyn Bowl. The show, billed as Make Democracy RAD Again: A HeadCount Benefit with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, gave fans the opportunity to vote on the songs the band played throughout the night.
The popular Grateful Dead tribute act’s return to Brooklyn Bowl was significant for various reasons. After debuting the project at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn venue/restaurant/bowling alley in early 2013, JRAD played several multi-night runs there over the next few years. Eventually, the band earned itself a national following too large and fervent to fit in the relatively intimate room and moved on to theaters, amphitheaters, top festival billings, and other larger venues around the country.
Prior to Make Democracy RAD Again, JRAD’s last performance in Brooklyn had taken place at the Prospect Park Bandshell in July of 2018, while their last performance at Brooklyn Bowl had been on March 10th, 2018. To kick off that final Brooklyn Bowl performance, the band debuted a cover of The Rolling Stones‘ “The Last Time”, seemingly indicating that the era of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at Brooklyn Bowl had come to a necessary end. It took the power of democracy—and the tireless efforts of HeadCount—to finally bring JRAD home. Relive JRAD’s democratic return to Brooklyn Bowl last November with the show’s official soundboard audio below:
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – Brooklyn Bowl [Full-Show Audio] – 11/25/19
Saturday, October 3rd, 2020 – Democracy Comes Alive: A Virtual Festival To Get Out The Vote
This Saturday, October 3rd, HeadCount will team up with Live For Live Music for Democracy Comes Alive. Without the option of a big, in-person blowout like the ones detailed above, Democracy Comes Alive will deliver the type of loaded lineup we’ve all come to expect from HeadCount voter participation benefits in a virtual setting. All you need to do to join in the festivities is check your voter registration status or donate to HeadCount via DemocracyComesAlive.com. See below for a full lineup of performers and speakers and head here for more information. We’ll see you there!