Live music, drinks and friends aren't typically associated with voter registration. But United We Jam, Austin Music People’s second annual event, aims to give Austin’s music industry a political voice.
Thirty venues on the 600-900 blocks of Red River Street, encompassing the area known as the Red River Cultural District, will host the two-night music event. Starting at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, each venue will host local bands. Venues such as Stubb’s, Mohawk and Empire Control Room & Garage will charge a maximum $5 cover fee to shows including Mother Falcon, Residual Kid and Mrs. Glass. While bands perform, Austin Music People’s team will roam the streets, registering audiences to vote in this year’s local elections.
Since 2011, Austin Music People has advocated for the “brands, bands and fans” that make Austin the live music capital of the world. The organization pays attention to policies and changes occurring in the city while surveying the impact they will have on the music industry.
“Anything that touches music touches us in one way or another, so it’s our job to kind of be a watchdog over laws and ordinances and make sure they’re music friendly,” said Jennifer Houlihan, executive director of Austin Music People.
Austin Music People and the club owners in the Red River Cultural District created United We Jam last year to promote local bands and increase voter registration.
“It was an experiment, and what we wanted to do was have a music event that wasn’t a festival,” Houlihan said. “We didn’t want wristbands. We didn’t want street closures. We just wanted local clubs and bands to get business without big out-of-town sponsors.”
Despite having only 12 participating venues last year, Austin Music People felt that the event was a success. The team registered 150 voters and received thousands of signatures on a petition that officially declared the area a cultural district.
“We’ve made voting the main focus to involve Austin in the political process and awareness of issues that effect the musicians around town,” said Denis O’Donnell, owner of the White Horse club.
The event requires each participating venue to find and pay its own local talent. In addition, all proceeds from the cover fees go directly to Austin Music People to support the research of civic issues.
“We wanted to do something with locals because we all remember when things were cheap,” Houlihan said. “And now, locals can’t go anymore. They can’t have any fun, so we thought, ‘Let’s do something as inexpensive as we can make it.’”
After this year’s elections, there will be almost an entirely new set of council members. James Taylor, general manager at the Holy Mountain, believes this year’s team will have greater success in registering voters who will help elect a council that is more awar of Austin’s culture.
“To have an organization like Austin Music People and someone like Houlihan, who can advocate for the interest of the music community at City Hall, is going to be a huge asset going into this next election cycle,” Taylor said.
O’Donnell said United We Jam is different from the typical music festivals that take place in Austin. He said it helps to create a voice for business owners in the district.
“It shows a strong unity of our industry when all these clubs join together for one cause,” O’Donnell said. “It puts benefit and focus on our voice to our council members.”
Houlihan said Austin Music People plans to make United We Jam an Austin staple.
“We’d love for it [to] be citywide in five years,” Houlihan said. “We started with a few. We weren’t quite sure what was going to happen, but we got some traction, and it’s very exciting.”