MTSU students tuned up to Rock the Vote with bands from Nashville-area universities Tuesday, Sept. 22, during a nationwide National Voter Registration Day virtual event to get Americans registered and ready to vote in the Nov. 3 elections.
And graduate student Miranda Johnson of MTSU’s American Democracy Project chapter appeared between performances to urge viewers to make their voting plans now to make their ballot counts on Nov. 3.
Shelter Cove’s members are guitarist and senior astronomy major Ethan Forrest of Nolensville, Tennessee; vocalist and May 2020 commercial songwriting graduate Abbie Garrett of Hendersonville, Tennessee; and drummer and senior philosophy major Andy Modaff, a Lisle, Illinois, native who now lives in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Senior applied physics major Andrew Shields of Clarksville, Tennessee, also plays bass with the band.
Frank Baird, an assistant professor of audio production in the Department of Recording Industry in MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, made the connections for his students when former colleagues at Belmont contacted him about the Rock the Vote event.
“When they called me, I thought, ‘Okay, this is nonpartisan, this is getting young people to vote — that’s easy for me to get behind, so I’m in on that,’” Baird said. “And it’s also one of my only opportunities this semester, because we don’t know what’s going on with COVID, to get my recording industry students … to do this kind of event, because there’s very, very few live events.
“Here we are in September and it’s all ‘turn the red lights on!’ because the live entertainment industry got shut down on March 14 and none of us have worked. … If you’re a technician, light, sound, video, whatever happens to be, there were no concerts this summer and there’s no concerts being planned anytime soon. So it’s a great chance.”
The groups, which included students and alumni from Belmont, Fisk University, Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University, taped their performances a week ago at Belmont for the Rock the Vote show.
The Rock the Vote event falls one month before the last of three 2020 presidential debates, set Oct. 22 at Belmont.
MTSU alumnus Nic Dugger and his nationally acclaimed TNDV Television handled the live video production at Belmont’s Curb Event Center with colleagues from Nashville-based Stereophonic Films and students from the College of Entertainment and Music Business there.
Belmont’s new health protocols limited the number of personnel for all the outside performers and crews during the production sessions. Along with Baird, the MTSU indie rock/pop band got permission to bring a single audio engineer to handle their sound for their set.
“We were given a list of COVID protocols: only one band could be in that room at a time,” said May audio production grad Ashley Mills, a native of Jane Lew, West Virginia, who now works full-time for MTSU Production Services, the university’s multimedia service department.
“There was no overlapping, so … that was weird, and having everyone stay six feet apart. Normally, on a stage, I’m parked up with the backup singers anyway. And they had the (mixing) board in a completely empty room. … I do that for rehearsals all the time, but there were just minimal people — maybe one or two streaming guys just for video equipment, you know, and just (Professor) Baird, the band and me.”
Mills enjoyed the challenge of creating the sound for Shelter Cove’s performance and said she was glad to boost her professional experience, noting that while she often prefers empty-room rehearsals to fine-tune the audio before a show, “I’d also rather rehearse with people there so I can get the balance just right.”
“Some people think you can just program your board and get it all … and not be able to change any of the knobs or any of the sound,” Mills said. “You can’t do that; you always have to be changing your EQ (equalization), you always have to be paying attention. If that guitar has a solo, it better be turned up and cut through that sound.”
Along with Shelter Cove, the Rock the Vote performers also included indie rock/pop artist Annie DiRusso from Belmont; R&B/soul singer-songwriter Lauren McClinton, representing Fisk; a cappella group The Melodores from Vanderbilt; and spoken-word artist Sommer Jade from TSU.
Nashville-based indie rockers Moon Taxi, who met while they attended Belmont, returned to the campus to headline the event with guest Bren Joy.
Johnson, speaking with event host Kate Cosentino at the video’s 26-minute mark, said she planned to take advantage of early voting opportunities to cast her ballot and urged others to do the same.
“If you get there early, there’ll be less lines and less people, so it’s imperative to go vote early if you cannot go election day,” said Johnson, who also works with the Tennessee Campus Democracy Network, a 29-university organization that works to engage students in their communities.
Cosentino reminded voters who plan to cast ballots in person to expect long lines; wear masks; bring appropriate IDs, pens and hand sanitizer; and to stay six feet away from fellow voters.
Executives from across the U.S. music industry established Rock the Vote in 1990 in response to censorship of hip-hop and rap artists. The organization first teamed up with MTV to encourage young people to learn about and exercise their rights as citizens.
Rock the Vote has encouraged voter registration and participation ever since, embracing technology and corporate partners as well as face-to-face efforts to help register more than 12 million U.S. voters. In the 2018 midterm elections, 81 percent of voters affiliated with Rock the Vote turned out to cast their ballots.
Today, millennials and “Generation Z,” which the Pew Research Center says were born between 1981 and 1996 and those born since 1997, respectively, make up nearly 40 percent of America’s voters and are the focus of Rock the Vote’s efforts.
Monday, Oct. 5, is the deadline to register to vote in Tennessee in the Nov. 3 election. Early voting in Tennessee is set Wednesday, Oct. 14, through Thursday, Oct. 29.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)