Brooklyn Bowl owner and concert promoter Peter Shapiro understands how the power of music can motivate fans to take action. The longtime board member of non-profit, non-partisan voter mobilization organization HeadCount has seen the group register hundreds of thousands of young people to vote since the organization formed in 2004. And now he's starting a four-year term as board chair, just as the ramp-up for the 2020 presidential election begins.
The position has previously been held by co-founders Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits and former journalist Andy Bernstein, who is the organization’s executive director.
"If the youth vote turns out in 2020, that will impact the election," Shapiro tells Billboard, noting how close the 2016 presidential contest was in six swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. "I believe that young people understand that participation in our democracy is more important that ever."
Shapiro started in the music business operating the iconic rock club Wetlands Preserve in New York City and has opened multiple Brooklyn Bowl venues and helped restore and now operates the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Shapiro created Lockn fest and the Fare Thee Well concerts in California and Chicago, celebrating 50 years of the Grateful Dead.
"People have so much respect for Pete because he gets things done," Bernstein tells Billboard. "We don't know exactly what Pete is going to bring, we just know it is going to be big."
Since its inception, HeadCount has registered nearly 600,000 voters at concerts and via its website, HeadCount.org. Its national network of more than 30,000 volunteers are currently registering voters at Ariana Grande’s Sweetener Tour as well as tours by Billie Eilish, Death Cab for Cutie and Dave Matthews Band. Last month, HeadCount registered nearly 1,400 voters in just one weekend at Bonnaroo. The organization's goal is to register 200,000 voters by next November and help turn out 1 million young voters by providing election reminders and creating opportunities to communicate with elected officials on issues around LGBT rights, climate change and criminal justice reform. HeadCount manages “Participation Row” activism villages on the current Dead & Company tour and the upcoming Lockn’ Festival.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help recruit the next generation of voters and political leaders,” Shapiro says. “HeadCount is one of the leading youth-oriented political engagement organizations in America, so becoming chair of the board is a great honor and responsibility. I look forward to helping push things to the next level.”
Brownstein, who remains a member of the HeadCount board and will now have the title of founder and chairman emeritus, tells Billboard, “It’s an honor to pass the reins to my friend of more than 20 years.”
The HeadCount board of directors also includes Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, John McCrea of Cake, Kam Franklin of the Suffers, Ticketfly Founder Andrew Dreskin, AEG Live promoter Don Strasburg and former White House official Alyssa Mastromonaco, among others.