Somewhere in Albuquerque, music is blasting, people with wild hair and flowy clothes are dancing barefoot, and the DJ is bobbing along to music. Except passersby observing the crowd can’t hear any music.
Anyone running into the dancers at Headphone Dance Party, gathered in public parks like Tingley Beach, will likely be handed a pair of headphones on arrival. The headphones have two channels and go out far enough that any listeners who don’t feel like dancing can walk around and listen privately. Upon returning the headphones, many new event-goers will contribute to future dance parties by donating to the DJ or the non-profit of the week; last week it was La Plazita Institute.
Brandon Kennedy, pediatric nurse, father, broadcaster and volunteer for KUNM, The University of New Mexico’s broadcasting station, has tapped into the rewards of community service work in various endeavors, namely since the pandemic began.
When he has time off from nursing, Kennedy is known to spend time with his two children, DJ live on KUNM and voluntarily head the non-profit fundraising event, Headphone Dance Party. The dance party bloomed from a private, neighborhood affair called Driveway Dance Party.
Kennedy started Driveway Dance Party in 2020 during the pandemic, with only a couple sets of headphones. It developed into an evolving group of thankful people, delighted to pitch in to his cause. These donations earned Kennedy enough money to put towards equipment and even more sets of headphones.
Kennedy has always been interested in music, which led him to develop an interest in sound recording and live engineering. He took a class at a local studio, which eventually led to some volunteer work at KUNM in the late 1990s. His main incentive is to build a network of sound relationships through everything that he does.
He started off doing engineering for Native America Calling, learning from others as he went. This gave him the model that everyone has something to bring to the table.
Since 1990 when he started volunteering, Kennedy says he’s stumbled into most of the things he’s done, including KUNM, the Headphone Dance Party, and groups of friends that have organically developed through his work. Now, he’s doing it in more of a conscious way.
"Brandon has been a valuable community volunteer broadcaster at KUNM for more than a dozen years. He specializes in our KUNM Freeform music format and has a powerful focus on the New Mexico music and arts communities,” Richard Towne, KUNM’s general manager, said. “He brings the kind of passion and enthusiasm to his KUNM broadcasts that really shines for our listeners. His commitment to so many other non-profits in our community deserves our respect and admiration. And hey, who doesn't love a headphone dance party?”
Headphone Dance Party is an ongoing radio frequency event that uses a three-channel system and provides headphones and mixes for public dance parties that raise money for KUNM and other causes, including a KUNM staff member with an advancing stage of cancer.
Kennedy, accompanied by a DJ, tours several outdoor public spaces of Albuquerque to host Headphone Dance Party. The weekly event often gathers a large community of listeners, all eager to dance and donate. Many contribute exclusively to keep the party going.
“When the pandemic began, I started having people over in my driveway. I only had a speaker and then I bought some headphones so we could go late and avoid disturbing the neighbors,” Kennedy recalled.
Kennedy keeps two jars beside the headphones he keeps next to the DJ tent should anyone decide to pitch in. One jar is for donations for the DJ and the other is for the fundraiser of the week.
Since it all began in his driveway, Kennedy estimates that up to $7,000 in Headphone Dance Party equipment were all paid for by donations and up to $20,000 in party donations have gone to several nonprofits.
Kennedy, fulfilled by his work, makes time for it in very creative ways. He picks up his daughter from school just as his show, Freeform, starts. To accommodate this, he hosts a hybrid show. He pre-produces the show for the first hour and a half by taking the music files, and arranging them so his edits are exactly where he wants them. This method gives him enough time to bring his daughter home while Freeform plays.
“Everybody has the capacity for [volunteering] and it will make your life better for doing it. The challenge is figuring out what feeds you,” Kennedy said. “What do you have to bring to the table? It could be new skills or a skill that you don’t yet have in your tool box. Everybody has something to contribute.”
Community is vital, in Kennedy’s eyes. Shared experiences like Headphone Dance Party draw that out of Albuquerque residents in exactly the ways Kennedy hopes for. When he was last awarded money for his fundraising work, he admitted it would go right to more sets of headphones for more dance parties.
Check out each upcoming Headphone Dance Party event on Facebook.