The venerated floorboards of Old Town Hall in Fairfax City will be shaking at 6 p.m. tomorrow when a show called Rock 'n' Register kicks in. The four-hour concert is bait to hook teens and twenty-somethings to register to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
The free show will feature the alternative and punk rock of local bands Darling, Booboisie and the Alphabetical Order as well as the blues beats of E-Volve. Tim Scott, an official in Fairfax City's voter registration office, will be on hand to register any Virginian who will be at least 18 on Election Day.
The project is the brainchild of lawyer Susan Reynolds, 51, of Fairfax. She said the idea came as she and her husband, Bruce, were helping their son Eric register to vote. Eric, who turns 18 in October, is one of Darling's guitarists.
Susan Reynolds said she was inspired in part by the national Rock the Vote initiative (www.rockthevote.com), which uses entertainers to motivate young people to vote, volunteer and express their views. She also was aware that well-known D.C. area rock bands such as Fugazi and Q and Not U urge fans to be politically active.
"I just started with asking my son, and I said, 'Do you think your band would be interested?' '' she said. Then, after going to the basement of their home, where Darling was rehearsing, "We asked the guys, and they all said: 'Sure! We know of bands who would do this.' And it just sort of took off from there."
That Darling's four thoughtful, earnest young members -- the others are guitarist Nick Carr, bassist Mathew Heilman and drummer Doug Andrae, all 19 -- would jump at the chance to participate in the project isn't surprising when one hears them speak. They are as serious about politics as they are about the emotive, hard-edged instrumental art rock that they write and perform.
Taking a break from one of their twice-a-week rehearsals, Carr said, "This is the only band I've been in where practice is more stressful than work sometimes because everyone challenges each other so much." And Carr is not just talking about the band members' musicianship, but about the ideas they discuss as they craft their songs, none of which have political themes.
When it comes to politics, Eric Reynolds said, "We all have different views, but we are close enough that we can get along." Eric said he has long admired artists such as Fugazi's Ian MacKaye, the Clash's Joe Strummer, U2's Bono and Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha as "people who have used their voices to make real change, not just sell a bunch of T-shirts."
"I've always been someone who wanted politics in my music," Eric continued. "But with our band I don't want any of us to be the preacher man on stage." If the band decides to add vocals to their songs, members said, any political messages would be subtle and only about issues they are passionate about.
But one thing the members of Darling said they could support without hesitation is encouraging young people like themselves to participate in the democratic process.
People shouldn't treat politics as a hobby like golf or crocheting, Eric Reynolds said. There's too much at stake.
"Politics are the goings-on and control of our lives," he said. "This is real-world stuff. This is, if I have food for my family, if I can go to college, if I am going to be able to retire, if I have air to breathe."
He criticized people such as punk rockers who he says put out "anarchist propaganda" that participating in politics is pointless because they believe "Democrats and Republicans are the same and it doesn't even matter."
The U.S. political system is dysfunctional, he said, largely because too many people have bought into that cynical thinking. Many people are motivated to push for change, he and the other band members said, but question whether their vote makes a difference. Young people need to understand, the band members said, that the solution for that apathy is to work within the system.
Andrae said: "I think the main issue is that we want everyone to get their opinion out there. We want them to vote."
Heilman agreed, saying, "We don't want to tell people what to think." What's important is that they "make their own decisions."
There has been hopeful news from two organizations that encourage young people to participate, the Colorado-based New Voters Project and the Public Interest Research Groups. They cite polls indicating that more young people are paying attention to the race between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry than did so the contest four years ago. Polls have found that 8 in 10 Americans between 18 and 24 say that the outcome of the election matters, they said. The percentage of those who say they will "definitely vote," while still only 39 percent, is up 9 percentage points from polls before the 2000 election.
The election four years ago, when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral college tally to Bush, probably contributed to young people's disaffection, the band members said.
Susan Reynolds said: "This is what makes it all so very vitally important this time around -- that we don't allow that sense that the whole mechanism for our democracy has been subverted. We need to participate in as many numbers possible in order to get it back on track. There needs to be overwhelming participation.
"And with everything that is going on in the world today and how important we allegedly claim that democracy is for everyone else, there is no excuse for Americans to sit at home and not do anything when it is time to vote for president."
While many polls have shown Bush trailing Kerry by double digits among young voters, the Rock 'n' Register event is strictly nonpartisan. The members of Darling were, for the most part, reserved about expressing a preference for a candidate.
Only Eric Reynolds professed a lean to the left of the political spectrum. But the young guitarist said: "I love democracy. I would rather that every single person in this country voted and we had a president that I didn't want than if half the country voted and we got the guy I wanted. It makes me want to cry that people are so alienated."
The concert is from 6 to 10 p.m. tomorrow at Old Town Hall, 3999 University Dr. For more information, call 703-385-7890. For more information on Darling, visit www.whoisdarling.com.