Rock the Vote Seeks Country Artists

Nashville Meeting Draws Top Label Executives, Talent Managers

Representatives of Rock the Vote met with country music executives Tuesday (April 20) at the ASCAP building in Nashville to urge them to enlist their artists in the non-partisan voter registration project. They also announced plans are being made for a major pre-election concert in Washington, D.C.

Fred Goldring, Rock the Vote’s board chairman, and Simon Renshaw, a board member and manager of the Dixie Chicks, spoke to a group of about 25 executives that included Joe Galante, chairman of the RCA Label Group; James Stroud, principal executive of DreamWorks Records; Luke Lewis, chairman of Universal Music Group Nashville; Connie Bradley, senior vice president of ASCAP; Scott Siman, of RPM Management, which handles Tim McGraw and others; Bob Titley, executive vice president of TBA Entertainment, which manages Brooks & Dunn and others; Ken Levitan, president of Vector Management, whose clients include Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Trace Adkins and others; Tony Conway, president of the Buddy Lee Attractions booking agency; Kerry O’Neill, a specialist in entertainment consulting and business management; and Tracy Gershon, senior director of A&R and artist development for Sony Music Nashville.

Renshaw opened the meeting by stating that country artists are already involving themselves in politics. He held up a copy of Country Weekly magazine featuring a photo of George Strait and President George Bush on the cover. Then he showed a bumper sticker that read, “Dixie Chicks for President.” He stressed, however, that Rock the Vote is “truly a non-partisan organization” whose only goal is get people to register and vote. He argued that musical artists can have more impact on their fans than actors. “Artists resonate [directly] with their audiences,” he maintained, “unlike actors who play different roles.” He added that the Chicks had made a donation last year to help underwrite Rock the Vote.

The main theme of Renshaw and Goldring’s presentation was that Rock the Vote is organized to make artist participation easy. Goldring called this year’s presidential contest “a real watershed election” and, thus, one that calls for maximum voter involvement. He suggested four ways for artists to take part: by putting a link to Rock the Vote on their Web sites; by allowing Rock the Vote’s “street teams” to set up registration tables at their concert sites when they are on tour; by printing Rock the Vote’s Web site address on their albums; and by recording public service announcements.

Goldring said there will be a Rock the Vote bus tour of 30 major college campuses starting in June. The tour, which aims to register student voters, will also make stops at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Goldring invited artists to perform at these events to help build crowds, estimating that the average attendance at these stops will be around 5,000. Motorola, Cingular and 7-Up are jointly sponsoring the bus tour. Artists will not be paid for these performances, Goldring explained, but they are permitted to secure their own sponsors as long as they are not competitors of the tour’s primary underwriters. Renshaw noted that — because of the campus locations — such secondary sponsors cannot be liquor or tobacco companies.

Renshaw suggested the country music industry impose its own “brand” on these voting registration activities, perhaps by calling the campaign, “Country Rocks the Vote.”

In what may turn out to be the biggest news of this year’s Rock the Vote efforts, Renshaw said that there will be a pre-election concert in Washington, D.C., which “will probably be a stadium event.” If so, that will mean a lineup of major stars. After the meeting was over, Renshaw told a date for the D.C. event has yet to be set. He said he didn’t know if the Chicks would perform at it. “Right now,” he noted, “they’re having babies.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to