On Saturday, October 3rd, Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir and The Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford took part in Democracy Comes Alive, a one-day, nonpartisan virtual music festival aimed at channelling the power of music to make a critical impact on civic engagement in this year’s elections and beyond.
After exchanging pleasantries, Crawford began the conversation by asking Weir about the first time he ever voted. “I think it might have been back in ’68 or thereabouts,” Weir reflected. “I think I’ve missed two or three elections [since then], never a presidential one. In general, I’m pretty fastidious about it.”
Organically touching on one of the hot-button issues of this election cycle, Weir explained that he’s been voting by mail for decades while out on tour with the Grateful Dead. “I guess I’m voting by absentee [ballot] this time around. Generally speaking, it’s just easier for me to go down to the poll and just do it. It’s kinda nice, I kinda like doing that.”
Responding to a question from Crawford, Weir, a founding member of HeadCount, went on to explain how he does his own research to learn about the candidates up and down the ballot. “Well, I listen,” he explained. “I go online a lot and read what they have to say and watch the clips of what they have to say, and I’m disappointed a lot by the fact that nobody speaks in much depth these days. Everybody seems to be focused on doing short little … ‘sound bites,’ and that in no way can cover a lot of the depth of the issues I’d like to hear more about.”
Keeping with Democracy Comes Alive’s mission to educate viewers about the history of voting rights, Crawford steered the conversation toward the a pivotal Constitutional amendment. “The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971. That changed the voting age from 21 to 18. Back then, you were in the Grateful Dead. How did you guys promote voter engagement? Did you back then? Or has it just changed so much as far as bands being involved in voter drives?”
“In the early years of the Grateful Dead, we never promoted political awareness much,” Weir recalled. “We didn’t feel it was our place to do that. As I’ve gotten older, my views have changed on that. And also, the times have changed. We’re more in touch as a culture, as a society, these days than we were back then. We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have mobile phones, we didn’t have all that kind of stuff. So, it seems that these new times probably dictate a new awareness of the the inter-relationship of all of us as individuals in a society. In that regard, it seems also appropriate that we be a little more forward about… I guess, everybody’s being a little more forward about their views, political and otherwise, so I’m part of that soup now, too.”
The pair also addressed the ever-present issue of how a musician can best encourage participation in an inclusive way. “How do we, as musicians, break out of partisanship and bring people together as best we can during terribly polarizing times?” Crawford asked.
“It all refers to the premise that democracy is an attempt to make policy out of what the majority feels policy should be,” the Grateful Dead guitarist noted. “Our democracy is built around that premise plus the addition of things like the Senate and the Electoral College that aren’t really that representative of the greater whole of America, but rather favor agricultural America. So, it’s a balance, but you have to come at it with the understanding that not everybody gets their way all the time, but you still have to work with the system and you have to pull together once the votes are cast and once the decision is rendered. If you didn’t get your way in the election, it’s time for you to buck up and put your shoulder at the wheel and pull anyway and meanwhile look toward the next election to get your way. But it has to be done with the understanding that majority rules.”
Noting that he has two young daughters voting this year, Bob Weir implored, “I wanna see a lot of kids voting, a lot of younger folks voting, in these elections, because it’s gonna make a difference for my kids. And it will also make a difference in our culture. Younger people tend to be more altruistic and more idealistic than older folks do … and I would like the politics and policies to reflect a little more altruism and a little more idealism. That’s where you kids come in.”
Diving deeper into the topic at hand, Weir continued, “I’m not sure how many new ears or unregistered voters we’re addressing here, but there are bound to be a few of them. Here’s hoping that, in any case, anyone who’s watching what we’re doing or listening to what we’re saying will go out to their friends and go, ‘Listen, let’s make the changes we need to see.’ We, [as musicians, are] addressing, probably, a younger audience than major news networks, and these younger folks, this is their future. They’re the ones with the most at stake in the coming elections and subsequent elections because they have the most years in front of them. What gets nailed in now, a lot of it’s gonna stay nailed in. So, it’s really important, as far as I can see, for those folks.”
“Some younger folks think to themselves, ‘well I haven’t had a lot of years to spend studying the issues.’ Yeah, but you also have your gut feelings and whatever it is your compass points you in the direction of, and that’s what most people are going by anyway, so go and do it.”
Bob Crawford helped wrap up the conversation by laying out the imperative at hand in simple terms: “I think both of us want to impress on people that you need to plan your vote out … make sure you know where you need to go to vote if you’re gonna vote in person, know the voting hours, prepare to be there a long time.” [Note: Get all the info you need to vote at HeadCount.org].
You can watch the full Democracy Comes Alive conversation between Bob Weir and Bob Crawford below:
Democracy Comes Alive Conversations – Bob Weir & Bob Crawford
Bob Weir and Bob Crawford joined 50+ performers and 10+ other speakers as part of Democracy Comes Alive, presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with voter registration nonprofit HeadCount. The 10-hour streaming event, powered by Nugs.TV and Plus 1, generated $40,000 and counting in funds for HeadCount as well as the participating artists, who remain out of work as the pandemic continues. In addition to the funds generated, Democracy Comes Alive led thousands of people to HeadCount’s tools to check your voter registration status and register to vote. For more information, head here.