With Sweepstakes Model, Pledge 46 Keeps 46 for 46 Activist Spirit Alive

Courtesy Pledge 46
– The Final 46
With just 46 days remaining until the 2020 election, Pledge 46 continues to team with artists to drive voter engagement.

As Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and more jockeyed for the nomination in the Democratic primary’s early days last year, one promising live music project transcended intraparty divisions: 46 for 46, the ambitious concert project designed to stage 46 concerts in 46 cities to help elect the 46th president.

Proudly partisan and focused on harnessing the bonds between musicians and the communities they hail from, the organization seemed poised to make headlines and, it hoped, to sway voters.

By early March, early 46 for 46 allies such as Nathaniel Rateliff and Patty Griffin had been joined by Bon Iver, who announced three Wisconsin shows with 46 for October, and Tenacious D, which announced a “Twisting Hard To The Left” theater tour for September and October, presented in part by the organization. Of course, the pandemic interfered.

“We tried to make it virtual,” says 46 for 46 co-founder Kyle Frenette, who formerly managed Bon Iver and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018. “Then in about May, we realized the virtual stuff is very oversaturated – no one seems to really want to do it or understand how it’s going to work. So why don’t we just fully lean into the sweepstakes model?”

The pivot sounds tough – a political organization predicated on live music, removing the live music element – but was surprisingly smooth for Frenette and 46 co-founder Chris Moon. Initially, 46 for 46 had teamed with Propeller, a company that spurs social action by offering rewards, to build a digital portal to further engage fans at shows with meet-and-greets and other goodies. Even without concerts, that aspect could live on.

“We had planned initially anyway to create civic engagement at the shows using Propeller,” Frenette says. “This is what they specialize in, incentivizing action amongst fans. Now we’re just doing what we had planned to do without the shows.”

46 for 46 even rechristened itself Pledge 46, the name it had initially given the initiative it created with Propeller.

The lineup secured by Pledge 46 is proof positive of the pivot’s success. Artists including Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff, Trampled By Turtles, X Ambassadors, Sylvan Esso, Zola Jesus and Dashboard Confessional have already launched campaigns, and Pledge 46 has more in the works with The Head and the Heart, Angel Olsen, Wye Oak and Hippo Campus.

The new system awards 10 “points” on Propeller’s platform for every dollar donated, which fans can then spend on entering contests or purchasing rewards. For five points per entry, donors can enter to win a signed acetate of My Morning Jacket’s new album The Waterfall II, a virtual guitar lesson with Isbell or virtual hangs with artists such as Sylvan Esso and Zola Jesus. Concerts still figure into the equation: Among Pledge 46’s coolest contests are opportunities to win trips to see Bon Iver in Sydney and Trampled By Turtles at Colorado’s Red Rocks – once live music has safely returned, naturally.

“The way that you increase your chances of winning is by performing more civic action,” Frenette says.

For the risk-averse, rewards such as signed copies of albums by Rateliff, Lissie and Dashboard Confessional go for 1,000 points and remove the sweepstakes model’s element of chance. (“Our buy-it-now option,” says Frenette with a laugh.)

“All these specific actions increase your chances of winning, but also make it easy to understand how easy it is to get involved in the political process from your couch,” Frenette explains.

Though Moon admits he’s eternally “glass-half-full,” Pledge 46’s digital shift has inarguably yielded results, including some that might not have been possible with 46 for 46’s original model. To date, Pledge 46 has raised more than $27,000, generated more than 13,400 pledges to vote and has even driven over 700 volunteers to sign up with the progressive political group Swing Left. With contests remaining open until the day before voters head to the polls (or get absentee ballots mailed), those numbers will only grow.

“It does take away the chance of the artist to maybe speak out more directly to the audience,” says Moon, alluding to 46 for 46’s initial request that artists plug the cause at least once from stage. “But they’re hitting a broader reach of their audience through socials. We were all bummed [in May] about, ‘Oh, we can’t see real live performances, we aren’t going to be able to experience this in the way we thought we would.’ But I think this has been a healthy, exciting byproduct of the reality that we all find ourselves in. We’re probably driving more quantifiable engagement by going online like this.”

With 46 days remaining until Election Day, Pledge 46 has continued on in the spirit of its predecessor, albeit in a different way.

“One of the reasons we started doing this was I really felt like there was a lack of voice around politics from artists, collectively at least, to some degree,” Moon says. “I’m still shocked at the lack of gumption or motivation for artists to step forward given the climate and what’s going on. There’s an opportunity here to rally people if you’re so inclined and have a certain belief.”