At Bonnaroo, positive vibes extend to democracy, not just music

As the 20th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival gets underway Thursday and Friday, both in terms of attendance and actual buzz, one nonprofit is capitalizing on the colorful chaos to promote democracy and civic engagement.

Under a bright disco tent in the Centeroo Nonprofit District sits Headcount, a national, nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes voter registration through music festivals across the country. There were Bonnaroo-themed voting pins, a cool tent and a variety of inflatable sofas, which were popular with festival-goers.

That’s exactly what we’re aiming for, says Chris Tallent, Headcount’s field director.

“We’ve been coming to Bonnaroo for years – this is one of the biggest festivals we’ve ever been to,” he said. “We’re happy to be here.”

Including Bonnaroo, the group sets up camps at more than 1,000 in-person events each year to promote voter registration. Since 2003, the group has attracted more than 100 people through music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Pride Music Festival and RuPaul’s DragCon, as well as touring with celebrity partners such as Ariana Grande, Beyonce and Dead & Company, according to the organization’s website. Thousands of voters.

Tallent explained that such events are an important aspect of civic engagement because the population tends to be young, many of whom are unregistered.

“Festivals are a great venue because we always try to meet people where they are and bring joy and positivity to democracy,” he said. “Especially to get young people involved in voting democratically, there’s no better place than gigs, festivals and concerts.”

Voter turnout in Tennessee has repeatedly been among the lowest in the country. While 79% of eligible Tennesseans are registered to vote, the state ranks 43rd, according to a study by the MIT Election Performance IndexRD In terms of voter turnout in the country, only 31% of the state’s population voted in the 2022 election cycle.

The national average that year was 47%.

Tallent said he hopes events like these can help reverse low voter participation.

“It’s important to register people to vote because we need a democracy that is inclusive of everyone and we want everyone to be civically engaged,” he said.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee coverage of First Amendment issues is funded through a partnership between the Freedom Forum and its news funding partners.

Have a story to tell? Contact Angele Latham via email at, phone 931-623-9485, or follow her on Twitter: @angele_latham

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