Phil Lesh & Very Special Friends will headline a voter participation benefit concert at New York’s Apollo Theater on September 7th on a bill that also includes the Harlem Gospel Choir, Terrapin Family Band, Nicki Bluhm, Talib Kweli and Robert Randolph. Formally billed as Don’t Tell Me This Country Ain’t Go No Heart: A Benefit for Voter Participation, the event will raise money for Headcount, a non-partisan organization that promotes involvement in democracy. Tickets go on sale Friday, August 17th at 12:00 EDT. The show will also be streamed online.
“This moment requires each of us to step up and get involved,” Lesh tells Rolling Stone. “Playing the Apollo the first time is both an honor for me personally and something I can do to help support as many people voting in the Midterms and beyond. I can’t wait for September 7th … and for November 6th.”
The concert will mark the first time any member of the Grateful Dead has played at the Apollo Theater. “I’m always trying to ask myself how this music can be reinvented,” says concert promoter Peter Shapiro, who is a member of Headcount’s board of directors. “I’ve put [members of the Dead] on in Central Park, Prospect Park, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, Roseland, Forest Hills Stadium … But the Apollo had never been done and it’s a magical place.”
Headcount began in 2004 when Andy Bernstein, a lifelong jam band fan and writer of the Phish book The Pharmer’s Almanac, grew frustrated by the quagmire of the war in Iraq. “A lot of people were asking themselves what they could do to make a difference,” he says. “I had this moment where I was like, ‘Hey, if I could get people to vote that go to the same concerts I do maybe that’s how I can make a difference.’” Fourteen years later, Headcount – where Bernstein serves as the Executive Director – has registered over 500,000 new voters, including 30,000 in 2018 alone. They were on the road this year with over 100 tours, including Vans Warped Tour and Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On The Run II, signing up new voters and encouraging music fans to get involved with the the political process.
“The biggest issue we face is that many young people think elections happen every four years,” says Bernstein. “Less than 30% of people under 30 voted in the last midterm. There’s a big voter registration component to what we do, but there’s an even greater get-out-the-vote component and that is really, really critical in the midterm elections when so many registered voters stay home.” Shapiro hopes this is just one of many events staged around the upcoming elections in 2018 and 2020. “I think we’re going to see a huge uptick in voters of people voting because of events like this,” he says. “This event alone is not going to change the world, but the world won’t change without events like this.”