The Accidentals | Courtesy photo
The Accidentals, a band from Traverse City, released the song, “Michigan and Again” as an ode to their home state. And now they’ll be repping Michigan again as part of an online music festival Tuesday night helping turn people out to vote.
The #iVoted Festival is a free digital music concert featuring 17 stages — including one for Michigan — and more than 500 artists with the aim to increase voter turnout. To watch, voters submit a selfie outside their polling place or at home with a ballot that is blank and unmarked. Those too young to vote can let organizers know what election they will be 18 for and why they’re excited to vote.
“Anything associated with home is super-important to us,” Sav Buist, one of the Accidental’s lead members, told the Advance. “I thought it was super cool that all these bands, not just us, were contributing to this iVoted festival… for the cause of making sure everybody has an equal right to vote and have their voices heard and represented.”
The event also features a conversation with Billie Eliish, Run the Jewels, Steph Curry and more.
The #iVoted festival launched ahead of the 2020 election as a webinar that hosted top artists from around the country and specific states in order to increase voter turnout.
The festival came out of an idea on how to engage new voters that could have enough of an impact to sway election results after seeing the slim margins in key swing states in 2016, according to Emily White, #iVoted Festival founder.
“Ten thousand in Michigan is a hockey arena,” White said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 approximate margin of victory in Michigan. “Why don’t we put together a compelling concert and tie in voting?”
“Filling a venue can make a difference,” White added. “Your voice and your vote really does make a difference.”
In 2020, festival organizers said it increased voter turnout by 7.2%.
Now, after analyzing what states are home to the most competitive races in the 2022 midterm election cycle, White and other organizers have created a Lyte Michigan Stage, since it’s a key swing state, including Black Stone Cherry, Yonder Mountain String Band, Umphery’s McGee, Carl Craig, Shlump, Jaypitts and Here Come The Mummies.
This will be the second election featuring a Michigan stage.
“We reached out to the top trending artists in each state whose electoral margins are often decided by the size of the venue,” White said. “And that’s really what dictates and determines our booking process. So we’ll have a Michigan stage this year.”
White especially saw an opportunity to engage young voters with this festival. According to the #iVoted Festival website, 63% of Millennials have been to a live music event but only about 35.6% of those aged 18-29 go to cast their ballot.
And in Michigan, the youth will have a specific electoral significance in the gubernatorial and U.S. House elections in the 2022 cycle, according to Tufts’ Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
And it’s not just young people who have been propelled to cast their votes — it’s sometimes even the very artists who decide to join the #iVoted Festival that became first-time voters.
Jay Matthews, a hip-hop and R&B artist out of Grand Rapids, was one of these voters.
“I never voted at all,” Matthews said. “I never even thought about it that way, like actually voting myself. And then using the influence I had to influence others to vote as well. So it was kind of a whole awakening thing for me.”
These results of the #iVoted Festival have encouraged White to want to expand the iVoted Festival as they hope to get more funding and grow before future elections. She hopes to have a three-pronged approach in 2024: a continuance of the webinar format; expansion of the #iVoted sweepstakes, which is where a person takes a photo outside of a polling station for a chance to win concert tickets; and in-person concerts.
“As we grow financially, I definitely want to do iVoted festival for local elections and expand beyond the states we’re focused on,” White said. “We want to be mining that data from all 57 states and territories that vote.”
Mark Clague, a musicology professor at the University of Michigan, said while the festival has been effective in year’s past in increasing turnout by “leveraging” social media, popular music and star power, he does hope that the festival organizers find ways to increase civic participation not just on election day.
“What do they do next?” Clague said. “Do they stay involved? Or do they wait two years for the next election? I’d be interested to see what calls to action [there are.] … It’s more of the day to day participation in community than exercising the right to suffrage every two years that the sort of health of a democracy depends.”
Clague expressed some concern that people wouldn’t be able to physically get together with the online format, but said “the star power of the lineup that iVoted festival has put together can really be maximized” that way.
Buist of the Accidentals also acknowledged the pros and cons of the online festival, but said it allows for anyone across the nation to tune in.
“There’s no regional barrier between communication and information,” Buist said. “It creates this accessibility across the board.”
Buist added that this festival really plays on the importance of music being used as a tool to mobilize people.
“There’s a long historical context of music serving a really important role in making sure all voices are heard,” Buist said. “Everybody should have an equal right to vote, regardless of their politics.”
“It’s one thing to just say, and tell people what to do, it’s another thing to actually do the work,” Buist added. “When we join an initiative, like #iVoted, it’s doing the work.”
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