Tierra Whack and Moses Sumney headline the New Music Festival

For the past few years, Gino Nuzzolillo has packed up his car and hit the road to help organize town hall meetings across the state. Nuzzolillo, 26, works with the nonprofit Common Cause North Carolina. The town hall meetings – which have taken place in 25 different counties – began their work when Moore vs. Harpera case about the redrawing of electoral districts in the state went before the US Supreme Court.

At town halls stretching from Greenville to Sylva, Nuzzolillo and his Common Cause colleagues regularly explained the importance of the electoral districts gerrymandered by the Republican legislature. People came to the rooms with folding chairs, spoke and listened – an encouraging demonstration of democracy in action. But not many of them represented an important new voting bloc: Generation Z.

And who can blame them?

“People who looked like me … weren't going to show up at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night for a town hall meeting,” Nuzzolillo explains in a Zoom call. “We wanted to put something together that met young people like us where we were; that recognized and took seriously that no one under the age of 35 is remotely excited about what they're having to vote on this year – and that's especially true after last week.”

Enter CAROLINADAZE, a new music and arts festival series that Common Cause North Carolina just launched. The events, featuring local and national talent, will take place across the state this fall; today, the nonpartisan organization announced the series' first installment: The first concert is scheduled for Sept. 14 at the Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh and will feature Tar Heel heavyweights Tierra Whack, Lute, Moses Sumney and Helado Negro.

Tickets go on sale Thursday, July 11, for $35-$40; July 8-10, tickets will be available for $25 in advance. That's a remarkably low price for a multi-artist lineup. Hopscotch, which takes place a few days earlier in Raleigh, sells three-day festival passes for $159; one-night tickets for Sylvan Esso's recent GoodMoon concerts in Durham started at $73.

A festival in Asheville will be announced later this month, with more locations and dates to follow.

“I have worked in the music industry for decades and CAROLINADAZE stands out,” Raleigh musician Tift Merritt, a consultant to the concert series, wrote in the press release. “Every decision – from the artist lineup to the branding to the vendors and the organizations that benefit from this concert series – was made with love and with not only young people in mind, but also in leadership.”

The September concert is billed as a “movement-building” event and will also include speeches from community leaders and contributions from local nonprofits and art dealers. The goal, Nuzzolillo said, is to advance Common Causes' mission of increasing voter turnout, but also to politically mobilize Generation Z beyond the election.

We want to give young people like me a chance to see a vision of what democracy can look like in North Carolina that goes beyond a slogan, beyond just going to the ballot box.”

“We want to give young people like me the chance to see a vision of what democracy can look like in North Carolina that goes beyond a slogan, that goes beyond just going to the ballot box, [where we] “We can actually hear from people organizing in different parts of the state and see the diversity of people coming together and wanting more,” he says.

A new vision of democracy might be welcome to young voters, whose optimism about the future and the Democratic Party, as reflected in the polls, is not very bright. While protests against Israel's war on Gaza, on and off college campuses, now approaching the 10-month mark, speak to renewed political energy, President Biden's rigid stance on the issue has proven unpopular with young voters. Polls from April – before Biden's lackluster debate – show the president leading by just two percentage points among younger voters.

In 2020, however, post-election polls among 18- to 29-year-old voters showed Biden ahead by 24 percentage points.

But a lot can change between now and November. And as Nuzzolillo points out, Common Cause North Carolina hopes to encourage voters to participate in the lower-ranking elections, especially in light of the important gubernatorial election between Josh Stein and ultra-conservative Mark Robinson.

Sailor Jones, deputy director of Common Cause North Carolina and a longtime activist in the region, traces the organization's focus on young voters to past political conflicts in the state.

“Everyone between the ages of 20 and 50 in North Carolina is looking for something to fight for and against,” Jones says. “The loudest rallying cries we've had in the state of North Carolina have been Amendment One, HB 2 and the Moral Monday movement. They were all defenses against an oppressive legislature and executive branch in a state where we were doing a red wave that was hurting everyone. This is an attempt to finally give us something to fight for, a positive vision that extends well beyond 2024.”

A portion of the proceeds from the September 14 concert will go to grassroots groups in the South such as the Carolina Abortion Fund, the Campaign for Southern Equality, the Carolina Migrant Network and the HBCU Student Action Alliance.

“Many young people are motivated to take care of the people they love,” says Nuzzollilo. “We see that because that is the work we do every day, and we want thousands more people to be able to see and hear that too.”

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