By Alexander Raubicheck

[photos courtesy of Mark Dershowitz; click here for a full gallery]

Rock n’ Roll has long since played a significant part in helping shape the political landscape of America.  From the genre’s establishment being perceived as an uprooting of traditional values and the corruption of a young, post war generation, to its figurehead impact on a counter-cultural movement during the late 1960’s, rock n’ roll music has been an influential (and reactionary) force in modern American history.  And while often projected from an agenda-driven (or partisan) platform, this musical community has, in recent times, begun to embrace and promote the essence of democracy: voting. 

Founded in 2004 by executive director Andy Bernstein, HeadCount, a non-profit, nonpartisan group, has been working diligently to register concert-goers to vote.  The concept has been simple yet highly effective: set up booths at live music events and socialize with the attendees about participation.  The result has been overwhelmingly productive.  More than 175,000 people have been registered over the past decade.  

Thus, a celebration was in order. Last week HeadCount honored its tenth anniversary with a benefit show at The Brooklyn Bowl in New York City.  The evening featured a talent-packed bill including the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and his current band, RatDog, who were accompanied by Headcount co-founder Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits), Brendan Bayliss (Umphrey’s McGee), Eric Krasno (Lettuce, Soulive) and others.  

Walking into the venue (a familiar locale), there was a particular buzz in the air, one which was filled by the thick smell of Blue Ribbon fried chicken and the sound of bowling pins crashing against the shiny wooden lanes. Items for silent auction were proudly displayed on tables circling the entrance room, and volunteers greeted patrons with clipboards and smiles. While this event was a party, it was also a prime opportunity to work, a testament to HeadCount’s success. 

The night’s performance began with a first set played almost exclusively by Mr. Weir and Ratdog, opening with “Hell In A Bucket” and “Queen Jane Approximately,” which Mr. Weir played in tribute to HeadCount’s Jane Henderson. The sextet was joined for an unannounced sit-in with John Popper (Blue Traveller) for “Little Red Rooster,” as Popper’s harmonica enriched the stripped-down rhythm and blues. To no surprise, the politically charged “Throwing Stones” made the cut for this show’s setlist, bringing set one to a close with fervor and intent.      

The second set proved to be much longer than the first – a revolving door of special guests made their appearance in a very communal style of live performance.  The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein provided a thick, resonating bass guitar to Grateful Dead staples “Bertha” and “Shakedown Street,” decorated by the vocals of guest singer, Alecia Chakour. Next, Brendan Bayliss joined the all-star ensemble for the “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot.” An extended improvisational section which began to fade into an ambient space opened the door to the crowd-pleasing Jerry Garcia Band tune, “Sugaree.” This segued into a personal favorite, “Mexicali Blues,” that featured members of Lettuce’s horn section, Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom.  Lettuce frontman Eric Krasno joined the team for the remainder of the second act, as a large group of musicians executed a fantastic segment of “Eyes Of the World” into The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” transitioning into “Not Fade Away” to round out a rich and well-balanced set. 

A well-deserved encore added a final surprise to a festive evening: Wilco’s Nels Cline joined the group for the anticipated “Franklin’s Tower,” followed by “Turn On Your Lovelight” to close the show.  In total, fourteen musicians helped contribute to a pinnacle evening for Headcount and everyone involved with the organization. 

Interestingly, this tenth anniversary celebration began almost exactly a decade prior: in early June of 2004 HeadCount hosted its first event at B.B. King’s in midtown Manhattan.  That show also featured Brownstein, as well as Phish‘s Mike Gordon, The String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang, along with Joe Russo, Marco Benevento and others

In addition to its presence at concerts and music festivals, Headcount has also produced the documentary A Call to Action, which has previously aired on cable television.  In 2012 the non-profit founded “The Bridge Session,” a live show (via Yahoo!) broadcasted from Weir’s TRI Studios featuring the guitarist along with members of The National and others.