Music community finds fresh ways to go green
During a recent interview, the Ditty Bops’ Amanda Barrett begged for a mention of their petition to start a tax on plastic bags. “If you wanted to give out our website, I would not say ‘no,'” Barrett said. “Because we’re wearing plastic until we get 4,000 more signatures. We’re excited to wear it for the cause, but we’ll be excited to be wearing natural fibers too.”Barrett and the other half of the Ditty Bops, Abby DeWald, are clear leaders in the environmentally conscious music world. Last year’s nationwide tour was entirely on bicycle (with a support vehicle), and this year’s tour focuses on local, sustainable agriculture.They’ll bring their unique, playful sound to the Snowmass Summer Free Concert Series on Aug. 16. Expect them to talk up organic and the plastics campaign at least little. They might even have copies of their absurdly cute 2007 Vegetable Bikini Calendar.The Ditty Bops are activist standouts, but even the Ditty Bops need to pay bills. Increasingly, the push toward green is pulled by groups like the Ditty Bops and pushed by business. The commercial sector, with green businesses leading the way, are pushing bands and festivals to be more green.
It’s no longer a surprise to hear of environmental initiatives and wind credits. Going green is about as new as going anywhere else. Part of the reason why change is snowballing is because the push is coming from a new direction. “Carbon neutral was the 2006 word of the year” said Steve Szymanski, co-owner of Planet Bluegrass, which runs the Telluride Bluegrass and RockyGrass music festivals. “It does seem there’s awareness in the mainstream about global warming now. Almost every morning on NPR there’s a story about global warming now.”This year, Telluride Bluegrass announced it would offset all of the carbon emissions of the festival and the travel to and from the festival of musicians, crew and festival-goers. Five years ago, the festival started a relationship with New Belgium Brewing, and the company pushed a green agenda that the festival was more than willing to embrace. “We’re being so bold as to say we’re carbon-neutral,” said Szymanski. “To everyone throwing an event, they should know that the majority of the carbon being generated is from people driving to and from the event. Ninety percent of the carbon is being generated by driving to and from Telluride.”Szymanski readily admits that New Belgium is largely responsible for the greening of Telluride this year. Though one might assume the green push came from musicians, he said many of the musicians are actually being educated by Telluride and the business sponsors working with Telluride. “In some ways, [musicians] are insulated from it,” Szymanski said. “They’re driven in, do their thing and drive away. Last year Bonnie Raitt and the Barenaked Ladies were very gracious about mentioning what we were doing onstage, but they were some of the first to mention it directly from the stage. They both ran biodiesel buses and were working on sustainable practices.”
The Ditty Bops’ Barrett said the commercial sector is invaluable even to artists who are driving the environmental push. For the bike tour, the Ditty Bops had sponsors, many of which are the same sponsors for Telluride. Clif Bar and New Belgium Brewing are two of the companies leading the push. “We think they’re for real,” Barrett said of a visit to the New Belgium plant on the cross-country bike ride. No small praise from a woman wearing plastic until her petition gets the necessary signatures. In 2005, Clif Bar started supporting musicians and festivals (such as Telluride and Bonnaroo), and in 2006 they named the partnership Clif GreenNotes. They’ve hooked up with bands like Gomez and Hot Buttered Rum and helped get Martin Sexton into a biodiesel bus. When Sexton spoke about the new bus back in February, he talked it down to a certain extent and said he wasn’t really the impetus behind it. He had hoped to do something after watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” and ended up in touch with Clif Bar.
As part of the program, all of the T-shirts for this summer’s tour will be made with organic cotton, and his tour bus will run on biodiesel. Szymanski thinks the green revolution has gone so far into the mainstream that they might even be behind the curve. And of course, he’s hoping Telluride will continue taking forward steps as the festival moves on. “There is a whole activist group of musicians out there and they’re out there, they’re on it,” Szymanski said. “Franti, he’s all over this kind of stuff. They’ve played Telluride.”Those are the folks who got the ball rolling, but by many accounts, it’s rolling. Now the music world has to see if that will rock the boat. “Everyone wants to look green,” Barrett said. “It has potential to be incredible.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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