HeadCount at Hangout: Promoting Voter Registration Through the Power of Music

All photos, including featured image, credit: Elena Lin

On Saturday of Hangout Festival, we stopped by the HeadCount tent that was on-site and asked festival attendees to vote for the Mayor of Hangout. Beyond that, though, organization representatives were engaging in fruitful conversation around voting and the power of voting, then giving people an opportunity to register before heading to their next stop. While a music festival may seem like an interesting space to have these sorts of conversations, at first thought anyways, it actually is a great way to reach a crowd!

We spoke with Katrina Vassallo further about the organization and some of her experiences working with it. You can read our interview below!

We’re here today with Katrina of HeadCount at Hangout! Tell us more about yourself and what your role is.

Thank you so much for being here, and we’re excited to be here at Hangout Fest. My title is Senior Manager of Field Operations. My role this weekend is to ensure that our volunteers and team leader are having a good time and that the whole event just goes smoothly and great. When I’m in the office, I’m making sure that our volunteers nationwide have the supplies and support they need to work the campaigns and are doing the work and getting the job done.

Tell me about the mission of HeadCount.

HeadCount was founded in 2004 as a non-profit, non-partisan org. The core of what we want to do is to help people use their voice and we’re meeting people where they are to make it easy for them. We want to make sure we’re helping young folks and marginalized communities that aren’t always going to have the same access as other folks.

We know that being at festivals and tours, there is a price range that could serve as a gate, so we’re stepping out of the comfort zone of the music industry as well to do community events and working with smaller non-profits to get everyone registered. I believe there’s a statistic that there are 8 million 18-year-olds every year who can register to vote – that’s so many people and without being taught that it’s important to register in a friendly and digestible way, it’s not accessible.

We want to make sure voting isn’t something you’re being spoken down to about, but that you feel empowered and know it’s important so you want to do this.

What kind of message do you tell people who feel like their vote doesn’t matter?

This is such a great question because this is so real. Really at the end of the day, if you don’t vote, other people are going to and you’re not using your voice. I break it down to something that they can relate to. Maybe voting for a President seems very far away, but what about voting for your town or city’s Mayor? There are people that make all of these laws about where you live and where you reside that affect your everyday life. I always talk about local elections because they’re not so big and so far away.

What was the drive for HeadCount to first appear in the music industry?

HeadCount was founded by a sportswriter who was a huge music fan and a musician in the band, The Disco Biscuits. They were at concerts and festivals, enjoying themselves, and realized that they knew so many people who weren’t registered. It came out of the organic nature of the spaces they were in and getting the support of the bands they were connected with. Bob Weir from The Grateful Dead is on our board, so working with Dead & Co. has always made sense, but now we’re trying to expand to different artists too. Dave Mathews Band is a great supporter of ours, but their demographic has aged, so now fans who are listening to Jack Harlow and Post Malone and Megan Thee Stallion are a younger demographic and it just makes sense.

People are excited to be around music, so you can catch the energy and match it and bring it to voting while making folks don’t feel pressured about it. We make sure we bring voting to them in a good and safe environment.

What has been one of your most memorable experiences from working at a festival or show?

I can’t even tell you the number of shows I have worked at, so this is hard but here’s my most recent one. We have a board here today that says “Vote For the Mayor of Hangout” and Doja Cat was unable to make it this weekend, but a girl came up and asked why Doja wasn’t on there and showed me a video of her crying about Doja not performing. It was one of those moments where the pure energy that people bring and share with me…it’s really amazing.

How do you find your volunteers?

There are a couple of different ways. One that has been huge is getting the artist to post so their fan base is then seeing that HeadCount will be on a tour then fans can come to do the work and go to the show for free. It gets to the network and base of their fan base. We have a ton of other resources too. We have a huge email list of people who sign up through our web portal. It’s also “hey, you like what we’re doing and you’re interacting with us? You should do this too!” You get to go to shows for free and talk to people, and if you like talking to people, it comes easy. Artists and word of mouth are huge for us.

What would you suggest as the next best way to make a difference, beyond voting?

Well, this may feel like a surprise, but it’s volunteering. It doesn’t have to just be with us at HeadCount, but there are so many different organizations that need human power to help their campaigns and programs. Even if it’s just digital volunteering to get the word out, that’s huge. There are so many different types of organizations that do so much great work!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Hangout has been an absolute blast! This is my first year coming and HeadCount has been coming since 2012. I have been to festivals kind of like this, but nothing quite like this. It’s a beast of its own in its own fantastic way and the pieces that all just collide…we’re just having so much fun and there’s great energy from people here!

Elena Lin Administrator
I am a concert/festival photographer based in St. Louis. I’m always eager to travel for new music and experiences and to meet new faces!
Elena Lin Administrator
I am a concert/festival photographer based in St. Louis. I’m always eager to travel for new music and experiences and to meet new faces!

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