Rocking the Vote: Music with a message

The upcoming presidential election is going to be a historic one, regardless of the outcome. Without getting too into the partisanship of it all, we may end up with our first non-politician president, our first democratic socialist president, or our first female president. It is an incredibly exciting time to be a voter in the United States, and yet, we have an incredibly apathetic voter turnout in the country.

Approximately 73 percent of eligible voters have not voted in the primaries and caucuses that have taken place thus far, according to and This is terrible, because the only thing worse than ending up with leadership you don’t agree with is knowing that you could have used your voice to vote for another candidate, but yet did not do so. With so much apathy in our voting system, it is easy to get discouraged.

Voter suppression in Arizona, an insufficient number of ballots at polling places and strict voter ID laws that make it harder to vote are not encouraging signs, either. Luckily, the civic duty of voting has found an ally in the music industry, specifically through the efforts of the non-partisan, non-profit organization HeadCount.

Music and politics have always overlapped. Whether it is Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan or the Dixie Chicks, musicians often use their voices and platforms to share their political views with their crowd. For every musician that outright supports and campaigns for a candidate, there are just as many who want to support the act of voting. These artists want to see low voter turnout  change within our country, and often partner with HeadCount to accomplish this goal, one concert at a time. HeadCount provides resources needed to register any and all viable concertgoers who are not already registered, to promote information on voting and registration deadlines and to help people understand the sometimes-complex idea of absentee voting, as well as other examples of civic participation.

I have had the opportunity to work firsthand with HeadCount on many occasions as the Team Leader for the St. Louis area, and it is one of the best experiences – both on a music level and a service level – that I have ever been a part of. From working ever-ranging concerts, including those from singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and jam-electronic extraordinaires Sound Tribe Sector 9, each show seems to heighten the experience more than the last. Through these shows, I have noticed a common thread, regardless of the musician playing the show. That thread is an incredibly welcoming community, who thank us for our work (even if they are already registered to vote), and are invested in our mission. Through these interactions, I see how interested music fans often are in politics, but sometimes do not have the means and/or knowledge to register to vote in other settings. Much like peanut butter and jelly, music and politics complement each other quite nicely and heighten one another to not only create new art through political views, but also by creating new voters.

It would be such a different world for us if Woody Guthrie’s guitar wasn’t a “machine [that] kills fascists” or if Bob Dylan didn’t see the times as “a-changin’, ” because they would have never instilled a passion for politics in their listeners who may have otherwise gone their whole lives without casting a vote. We see this passion continuing in musicians during this election year. Vampire Weekend, Killer Mike (of Run the Jewels) and Red Hot Chili Peppers have all actively voiced support for Bernie Sanders, playing rallies and tapping into that demographic that may not have voted otherwise. Hillary Clinton has also gotten support from many artists, ranging from Beyoncé to Pharrell to James Taylor. While the ideals of musicians often line up with those of Democratic nominees, ultimately what is important is exercising the right to vote, no matter which nominee you support. That process of voting might be a tad bit easier if you visit a HeadCount table the next time you are at a show. I encourage you to register and to spread the word about getting out to vote, to enjoy live music and to check out what HeadCount is all about by volunteering with the organization on their website. After all, your favorite musicians are supporting a candidate, why shouldn’t you?