In September 2016, the indie-folk act Bon Iver returned from a five-year break with a new album, 22, A Million, that reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. But lead singer Justin Vernon saw the album’s success as a chance to do something bigger.
During a tour stop in Sydney, the band asked fans for donations to benefit one of the largest local shelters for abused women in the area, Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter; by the end of the evening, it had raised $11,000. That overwhelming response led Bon Iver to launch the 2ABillion campaign, through which the group raises money for human-rights charities at every stop on a given tour.
2AB collects funds from online auctions for concert ticket packages, a portion of merch sales and on-site donations. So far, the campaign has raised nearly $340,000 over the course of three tours for such charities as youth music education nonprofit Girls Rock Denver. Last year, the average donation to each partner was nearly $7,000. In April, 2AB’s funds helped the Argrow’s House women’s shelter in Illinois pay off part of its mortgage.
“Not everyone is safe,” says Vernon. With 2AB, “we thought we could not only learn about the organizations helping those in need, but also allow our fans to encounter these groups.” He says that roughly 7,000 fans have participated in 2AB at on-site charity tables alone, leading to more than 4,300 signatures collected for various campaigns and initiatives. Vernon also shares the names of each charity partner with the band’s 756,000 Twitter followers and 564,000 Instagram followers, and takes time onstage to shout out their efforts.
During Bon Iver’s current tour for new album i,i, the band is playing some of the biggest venues of its career — and 2AB is thriving as a result. After the tour’s West Coast dates, which included stops at San Francisco’s Chase Center and Los Angeles’ The Forum, 2AB netted $65,000 in donations. Vernon expects that number to double after the East Coast leg, which ends on Oct. 19 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, Noth Carolina.
“Engaging with so many people at the show will help us reach more survivors this year,” says Alison Safran, founding director of Surviving in Numbers, which raised more than $1,000 for its campus sexual assault prevention workshops at Bon Iver’s Sept. 15 date at The Forum. And at the Sept. 3 tour stop at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Girls Rock Denver raised funds to help launch its inaugural after-school program. “Artists uplifting arts organizations in such a tangible way is a big deal, and we’re happy to see more of it,” says director of communications Kenzi Everitt.
Molly Beahen, Bon Iver’s manager, says that as 2AB grows along with the band, the team aims to select charities that cross all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. “We’re always striving to do more,” she says — for instance, the Latinx-focused women’s shelter Casa de Esperanza was picked as an upcoming Minnesota partner. The band also changed the language of 2AB’s fliers to be inclusive of all sexual orientations.
“When we work in the industry, it’s really easy to forget that music has a power that goes beyond the sales charts and competition,” says Vernon. “[It’s important to] remember that music can embolden people and give them the strength to be whom they want to be.”