Monday, November 05, 2007

Voter group tied to Dave Matthews & Bob Weir takes big step

11/05/2007 4:00 PM, Yahoo! Music
Lyndsey Parker

HeadCount--a nonpartisan voter registration group that works with Dave Matthews, the Allman Brothers Band, and members of Phish and the Grateful Dead--announced that it has hired a former Time Warner vice president as its executive director.

Virginia McEnerney, who served as Time Warner Inc's Vice President of Corporate Relations, joined the organization to spearhead an effort to add 200,000 new names to voter rolls nationwide. HeadCount has already registered close to 60,000 voters since its launch in 2004, and has been lauded by other non-profits for its ability to keep costs down while getting top artists directly involved.

"I was so impressed with what this organization had accomplished to this point," McEnerney said, "and I believe completely in the mission of getting young people to vote and using music and concerts as the avenue to do it."

The organization was founded by Marc Brownstein, bass player for the electronic rock band the Disco Biscuits, and Andy Bernstein, a sports executive who had once authored a book about Phish. They rallied a variety of artists during the heated build-up to the 2004 election, and led a nationwide network of volunteers who registered voters at concerts.

For 2008, HeadCount will field voter registration "street teams" in about 50 U.S. cities, setting up tables at up to 1,000 concerts. Such diverse artists as Santana, Maroon 5, O.A.R., and Crosby, Stills & Nash have pledged their support, along with Dave Matthews and various offshoots of Phish and the Grateful Dead.

Former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir, who now tours with the band RatDog, is a board member of HeadCount and the organization's unofficial spokesman.

"I think for the younger folks this is particularly important, because the decisions we make will largely affect the rest of their lives," said Weir.

HeadCount will be the only group registering voters at concerts next year on a large scale. The better-known Rock The Vote has been reorganized and will focus primarily on media-based initiatives and online voter tools. Another organization that was prominent in 2004, the left-leaning Music For America, lost most of its funding and will not return on a national basis.

McEnerney said the philanthropic community has taken notice of the fact that HeadCount accomplished so much on a shoestring budget. A key element behind the success, she said, is the support of the artists themselves. Dave Matthews and members of Phish and the Grateful Dead have appeared in television public service announcements produced by HeadCount while supporting the group financially, and many artists have used their websites, email databases, and even time onstage to remind their fans to vote. Weir, whose Grateful Dead was famous for never saying a word while performing, now reminds fans to vote at every concert.

"If we don't protect democracy today, there won't be a democracy to protect in a few years," Weir said.