46 For 46 Reimagines The Political Concert For 2020 And Beyond

Courtesy of 46 for 46
– 46 for 46
With designs on staging 46 concerts in 46 cities to help elect the 46th president, 46 for 46 will harness the power of song to impact the 2020 U.S. election.

The Allman Brothers Band rallied for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign. Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Dixie Chicks and more hit the road in support of John Kerry as part of 2004’s “Vote For Change” tour. On the eve of the 2012 vote, The Marshall Tucker Band played at a Mitt Romney rally. Major artists including Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have even sparred with presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump over unapproved uses of their music.

Music ranks among the strongest engagement tools in a politician’s arsenal. Naturally, as America enters the 2020 election season in earnest, an advocacy group has emerged to fully harness the power of song.

With 46 for 46, music industry vets Chris Moon and Kyle Frenette – the latter of whom formerly managed Bon Iver and made headlines when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 – have created an ambitious concert project centered on impacting the presidential election.

The initiative’s thrust is all in the title: 46 for 46 seeks to stage 46 concerts in 46 cities to help elect the 46th president. The shows will take place during the general election season, July 17 to Nov. 3, 2020, and feature artists with local ties to each respective market – no interlopers here.

“Instead of it being a tour and bringing artists from different places to a place to promote a single message, it’s asking artists to go back home and promote a message that they know better than we do,” says Frenette, who found inspiration for 46 for 46 when Bon Iver played an October 2018 gig in frontman Justin Vernon’s native Wisconsin to drive support for Tammy Baldwin’s Senate re-election.

“This campaign is built around voter engagement and just increasing civic engagement overall,” he says. “The fundraising piece is important, but it is secondary.”

Notably, unlike non-partisan organizations such as HeadCount, which uses its presence at concerts to drive voter engagement, or issue-focused initiatives, like Tidal’s various social justice programming, 46 for 46 has taken a categorical stand on one side of the aisle. 

“It’s no secret that the entertainment industry and music industry lean liberal,” Frenette says. “Just given the place we’re at in society and culture, it seemed like a no-brainer. We’re no longer in a place in which artists speak out and are blacklisted, like the Dixie Chicks were in 2004.”

Moon, who has worked in music management for the better part of three decades, says 46’s “primary objective is to support the Democratic nominee” and that “doing it from a partisan perspective is really important to us.”

Though 46 for 46 will unite with concerts in any state, it’s focused on swing states, from tossups like Pennsylvania and Michigan to states that lean slightly red or slightly blue but that might be in play. While no specific dates have been set, several artists have already bought in, including Nathaniel Rateliff in Colorado, Dashboard Confessional in Florida and Patty Griffin in Maine.

46 for 46 also offers a different business model for politically affiliated concerts.

“The beauty of this is that it’s built around the existing infrastructure of the concert industry,” Frenette says. “We’re not asking artists to play benefit shows. We’re not asking them to play for free. This is their business and they can do with it what they want.”

He and Moon recognize that, given today’s media landscape, an artist’s voice can move the needle – and that such advocacy may far surpass the meager financial gains of a benefit show. They’re optimistic this approach will prompt additional artists to sign on, and they say it’s already yielded results.

“Being managers, we felt like this conversation could be had with management first and foremost,” Moon says. “But when it’s crossed over into agents, it’s been really great to see how many people have raised their hands and said, ‘Yes, we want to support this, too, how can we help?’” 

To ease the lift for artists, Frenette and Moon have worked to find home state dates that are already in tour routings, so that acts don’t have to take costly, time-consuming detours. At the shows themselves, they’ll invite speakers, ask artists to plug the cause at least once from stage, offer a presence at the merch table and facilitate voter registration.

In an effort to streamline fan engagement, 46 for 46 has teamed with Propeller to build a digital portal that will further incentivize action. The company, which has previously partnered with festivals such as Bonnaroo and Afropunk, encourages actions like registering to vote on your phone at a concert by offering rewards like meeting artists backstage. Says Frenette: “Simply put, they know how to get music fans to use their phones at concerts.”

And, despite the campaign’s president-centric title, 46’s creators see its local focus as a boon to down-ballot 2020 candidates, as well as an infrastructure that can be utilized in campaigns beyond 2020.

“In the long run, we’re looking to continue to engage with all the artists that raised their hand around this initiative, because it’s not like our work will be done,” Moon says.

“Music has the ability of bringing people together and exciting people,” Frenette says. “Our goal with this is to just make politics cool.”