Native Kentuckians S.G. Goodman and Jim James are hoping to encourage voter registration with their upcoming all-star online festival, “Which Side Are You On: Voices for Kentucky and Beyond.”
The Old Time Feeling singer-songwriter and My Morning Jacket frontman have teamed with Hood to the Holler and Rural Organizing for the three-hour Oct. 1 blowout, during which they will perform alongside Jason Isbell, Bright Eyes, Phoebe Bridgers, Nappy Roots, Chris Thile, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Durand Jones, Leyla McCalla, James Lindsey and many more.
The show will be hosted by Kentucky House Rep. Charles Booker, who will discuss voter registration, voter eligibility and key voting deadlines in between acts. And though the music is the draw, Goodman tells Billboard that the goal is to get the word out about how, where and when Kentuckians — and all Americans — can vote in the Nov. 3 election.
“I feel democracy works best when all voices are accounted for,” says Goodman, who decided to hold off on launching the event until closer to the general election in order to shine as bright a light as possible on the show’s message. “I’m not speaking for Jim, but I know he agrees with me that now, more than ever, Kentucky politics is national politics.” That’s why the duo were determined to fill the performer roster with home-state acts including rappers Nappy Roots, Lindsey and others.
The bipartisan event has taken on an even bigger significance than either could have imagined. Daily headlines have put Kentucky in the spotlight Thanks to Senate majority leader and the state’s senior senator Mitch McConnell’s controversial announcement this week that he will seek to seat a replacement for late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as soon as possible, with less six weeks until the election.
Booker is the founder of Hood to the Holler, whose goal is to build “broad coalitions, breaking down barriers of race and class, and fueling a people-centered movement to build political power and transform our future.” In a statement, Booker said, “I launched Hood to the Holler in dedication to everyone who feels ignored, abandoned, and fired up to push for real change. We are telling the true story about our common bonds, and breaking down the barriers to democracy. Part of that work includes our goal of shining a light on voter disenfranchisement, and leading an effort to register and engage 50,000 Kentuckians. Music is a powerful way to help tell that story, and we are excited to present this virtual music fest.”
Goodman says that the event will be available on most major streaming services, including YouTube, the Amazon Music Twitch channel, Luck Reunion and many more. (Click here to register for the show.) As a young person and daughter of a Western Kentucky farmer whose major label debut tackles issues including mental health and reconciling her identity as a gay woman with the views of her hometown, 31-year-old Goodman says the issue of voting is very personal for her. She points to a sense she has that people her age have lost faith in American democracy and the electoral college system. Afraid they might think their voices — and votes — don’t matter, Goodman feels called to use her platform to restore faith in democracy and to call anyone, regardless of their party or persuasion, to get involved and exercise their constitutional rights.
“Kentucky has such a rich history of political activism through music … such a rich history of people using music for change,” she says, noting that the festival’s name was inspired by a 1930s song of the same title written by Harlan County, Kentucky, activist Florence Reece during the peak of the state’s bitter, violent coal wars between miners and mine operators. “So making sure they’re hearing calls to do their civic duty from fellow Kentuckians is really important right now.”
That means using music to reach the estimated 170,000 non-violent ex-felon Kentuckians who’ve had their voting rights restored to let them know they can cast a ballot this year, as well as of-age high-school students and first-time voters. She says, “It’s not just about Kentucky politics this year, it’s about civic engagement and making sure people have the tools they need to take part.”
The event’s goal of getting accurate information out to voters is especially important in the midst of the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the confusing and often erroneous information continuously spread by President Donald Trump about mail-in and early voting.
In a statement, James seconds her motion, saying, “No matter who you are or where you come from, your voice and vote matter now more than ever before. So get involved, get inspired, and VOTE!”