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Published: 2017/08/26
by Dean Budnick

Bob Weir and Marc Brownstein Sound the Call for HeadCount

Bob Weir (with signed D’Angelico guitar for Participation Row auction), 2015, Photo by Dave Vann

From the Saturday Lockn’ Times...

Be sure to stop by Participation Row, where over 1,000 folks have already taken the four actions required to enter the free raffle for a guitar signed by Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Jim James, Warren Haynes, Brandi Carlile, Joe Russo and many others. A second guitar and a signed poster are among the items also available through the Participation Row auction, with proceeds shared by all the non-profits at LOCKN’.

This is a notable LOCKN’ for HeadCount, which organizes Participation Row, as two members of the Board are performing this weekend: Bob Weir and Marc Brownstein. Here HeadCount Executive Director Andy Bernstein reflects on their involvement over the years…

This year’s whole LOCKN’ lineup features artists who have supported HeadCount for many years, but no two more than Bob and Marc. Not only do they have this official role with HeadCount—Marc is our co-chair and Bob has been on our board since day one—but they really are the two artists that are the heart and soul of what we do. They have always been there for HeadCount and always go out of their way.

Bobby really put us on the map at the beginning. He was in the first TV ads and getting to do The Bridge Session with him [along with members of The National, Sam Cohen, Josh Kaufman, Walt Martin and many others] was incredible. Then it was at Fare Thee Well where I think Participation Row really came into its own. At Fare Thee Well after Bobby played the D’Angelico guitar on-stage, we auctioned off the [signed] guitar for $526,000 and every organization got a $32,000 dollar check. That was the first time we worked with the D’Angelico and as it turned out, Bobby loved the guitar, played it on stage and the rest is kind of history. They actually ended up developing a guitar for Bobby. It’ll be their Weir guitars that we’ll be auctioning and giving away at LOCKN’ this year.

I’ve now spent countless hours with Bobby and met him more times than I could ever thought I would and I’ve never seen him once for a second be unkind to anybody. I think that kindness really comes out in his work for HeadCount. He’s always made it about more than himself and always tried to share the great gift he has with us and with the community. So I’m eternally grateful to Bobby and always inspired by him and none of the things we do would really be possible without him. Even as we branch out and get into other music genres it’s funny how it always comes back to Bobby. It was great that we started working with bands like The National but the way that we took that to another level was introducing them to Bobby and putting on an event and then it led to all these great things.

With Marc, I’m so happy that Marc and The Disco Biscuits are playing LOCKN’ because it’s one piece that’s been missing from this splendid experience that we’ve had. Marc’s involvement with HeadCount is very deep. We have a regular conference call that he’s on but where I really think that where his contribution is most meaningful, is that Marc just has a wonderful eye for the scene and a wonderful ear for what matters to young people. Marc has always been an artist who makes himself really accessible to his fans and really gets to know his fans and interacts with his fans in a very real way and that makes him uniquely qualified to lead this organization, because he really does have his finger on the pulse of young music fans in America. One of the challenges that we face is HeadCount is almost 14-years-old. When we started it, Marc and I were in the young voter demographic and we no longer are. [Laughs] So to keep your ear to the ground, to be able to understand young voters and what motivates them, it takes somebody who really is there. And Marc is out there. Marc is constantly meeting new young fans and talking to them and he has a great gift for really understanding our scene. He always has.

Through the efforts of Bobby and Marc and countless others we’ve proven our longevity. A lot of voter registration organizations have come and gone, but HeadCount isn’t going anywhere. We’re here to stay and we’re here to keep doing things like Participation Row and TurboVote and the local campaigns that take our work to another level and really address what the community needs. The community needs more than voter registration. It needs a platform where different causes and different organizations can have a voice and connect directly with people in the scene and that’s what Participation Row does. And our community needs not only to get registered to vote but get out and vote in every possible election and that’s what the TurboVote campaign does and so all of these things fit together.

We all keep kind of surprising everybody that we always sort of reinvent ourselves. So when people thought the Grateful Dead might be done with Fare Thee Well, then Dead & Company arrives. There also was a time when some people may have doubted that any of the bands in the jam scene could last into adulthood. I don’t think twenty years ago anybody was sitting around saying, “Hey, the Disco Biscuits and Umphrey’s and Sound Tribe Sector 9 are gonna be still doing what they do and doing it really well in a really relevant way in 2017.” I just don’t know if anybody could imagine what 2017 would be like.

And what we have is a community where the music is truly enduring and these artists keep on writing new music, and these artists keep on finding new combinations to play with, and people like Pete Shapiro keep on finding new ways to bring that music to people. So for HeadCount, we play this kind of unique and distinct role where we try to take all that incredible art and incredible energy and channel towards positive social change and it’s such a blessing to be able to do that. To be able to take this incredibly awesome music community and be able to just harness that energy towards such positive things is truly a gift. Participation Row in all its facets is the ultimate embodiment of that, the true manifestation of everything we want to be.

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