BOSTON — "This is to support the voting process!" Brandon Kress announced from the stage of Café 939 on Sunday night at the kickoff of the Choose or Lose Tour.
He asked the people in the audience who were over 18 years old to raise their hands, and then asked those of age who had registered to vote to raise their hands again. Those who hadn't were ordered to a registration booth just outside the venue's doors. Only then, after such civic duties had been addressed, could the main event — performances by headliner LocksleyLocksley, Hymns and local act Brite Lite Brite — take place.
Indeed, great music in a great venue is only one aspect of the tour, which is also intended to raise awareness of veterans' issues and runs through October, closing with a show near Washington, D.C., the night before Election Day.
Until October 15, concertgoers of age can register to vote before, during and after the show. "Voting is about the most powerful thing people our age can do," explained Nicholas Owens, who manned the registration booth alongside fellow registered voters/ Berklee School of Music students Jonathan Rostamabadi and Annie Dillon. And for those too young to head to the polls on November 4, Rostamabadi explained, "It's just important that we raise awareness."
However, the tour's primary mission is to highlight the issues plaguing veterans upon returning home from deployment, and how they can be addressed. Local veterans will appear at every stop on the tour to speak with concertgoers and further inform them on the issues veterans want the country's next administration to focus on. Gavin and Sean, two concertgoers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, stressed the importance of properly funding VA hospitals and that "when [veterans] do come back, they get the screening they need, and they're able to seek care through the VA system," Gavin said, adding that such benefits should be made available to the wars' homeless veterans.
Sean continued by explaining how vital it is to expedite physical and mental screenings post-deployment, so that soldiers can declare disability if needed. It often takes six to nine months, Gavin explained, for a claim to be processed by the VA. "In that time frame, when a veteran's returning to the States, he's obviously dealing with a lot of issues," he said, listing "reimmersing himself in society, providing for himself and a family, if that exists as well" as factors that soldiers must take into account upon their arrival.
Getting involved and furthering involvement in local and national politics was a theme that continued throughout the evening, even when the bands took the stage. "If you're under 18, you're not too young to get involved!" screamed Locksley frontman Jesse Laz; he implored fans of voting age, once again, to register to vote at ChooseOrLose.com.
Neither Locksley nor Hymns consider their music especially political, "but we do care," Hymns singer Brian Harding stressed. The band's catchy, country-inflected set list was an even split between tracks from 2006's Brother/Sister and their latest release, Travel in Herds. Though they don't have any political songs yet, it's an idea they haven't ruled out — "We'll see after this tour," Harding teased. What they like best about the outing is how "it gets kids fired up that normally wouldn't be political," stated bassist and first-time voter Matt Shaw.
Entering the stage (with a giant American flag as a backdrop) to an instrumental version of the national anthem, Locksley powered through a 90-minute set of danceable pop rock tracks. Audience interaction was heavy, particularly from the Laz brothers. Lead singer Jesse implored fans to dance, clap and cheer between and during songs, while bassist Jordan took his playing off the stage and jammed in the audience. Songs played came mostly from their recently re-released latest album, Don't Make Me Wait. As they've long been wont to do, the foursome scattered covers throughout their set, including tracks by Richard Hell, the Small Faces and even closed with the White Stripes' "Hotel Yorba."
As the night drew to a close, spirits were high, and the room filled with "Hail to the Chief" playing in the background. Locksley and Hymns met with fans and signed posters. Once every fan was attended to, they boarded their buses (Locksley recently dubbed theirs "The Straight Rock Express") to inform, rock and register all over again in a city near you.
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