This is the first in a series of posts covering the Good, the Green, and the Contaminated in America’s music festivals. This summer, my husband Ben and I will be partnering to cover the advent of greening and sustainability in promoting, producing, and performing at live music and festivals.
Some bands, venues and festivals in the industry are slowly evolving into the green scene, while others have made it their personal mission to become fully sustainable. Â Join us as we cover everything from The Ragbirds and their waste-oil tour bus to what takes place behind-the-scenes at large multi-day festivals to minimize the overall environmental impact.
The first stop was the East Lansing Arts Festival, where we checked out some of the recycled and sustainable products and spent a few minutes talking dirty oil with The Ragbirds. It was great to see the band walking the walk with their waste-oil powered tour bus. Â Here are a few pictures from that performance along with a Q & A between myself and Ragbirds’ percussionist/manager Randall Moore.
LON: The RagbirdsÂ have been touring for two years on your veggie bus. Have you calculated the financial savings and the carbon emissions eliminated by using this vs. straight diesel or traditional gas?
RM: Not exactly.Â Â Things have been moving way too fast to crunch the numbers. Â In 2008 we were spending an average of $1000 per month on fuel.Â Â This year we are traveling twice as much and spending less than half that amount.Â Â As for carbon emissions we have reduced our overall amount by a significant number.Â Â Our van emits negative carbon emissions when running on waste vegetable oil.Â Â We still do run on diesel for maybe 10% of our travel, but as much as is possible, we run on waste oil.
LON: What has been the ease and/or difficulty in finding waste oil sources while on tour and have you ever found yourselves in a situation where you were without back-up fuel and unable to locate a VO [vegetable oil] or WVO [waste vegetable oil] provider?
RM: Itâ€™s a hunt each time, and sometimes we strike gold on the very first try, while other times we have to search for hours.Â Â We are never stuck because we can always run on diesel if need be.Â Â Itâ€™s most difficult in more environmentally progressive towns because the bio-diesel companies have placed their claim on all the dumpsters and set up contracts.Â Â Itâ€™s easiest in the Mid-West where people are just like, â€œYouâ€™re gonna run your van on that?!!â€
LON: Aside from the bus, what other initiatives or actions have you taken to tour more sustainably?
RM: We do a lot of little things that anyone can do, like traveling with refillable water bottles and coffee mugs, using dry-erase boards for set-lists, recycling as much as possible.Â Â We grocery shop before tours, buying in bulk when we can, and we prepare food to take on the road in reusable containers, packed in a large cooler.Â Â The packaging for our most recent album, Finally Almost Ready is printed with vegetable based inks, and the CD tray is made from recycled plastic water bottles.Â Â Each CD saves 6 bottles from the landfill.
LON: How do you help get the message to your fans and do you work to help inform them and encourage them to be more environmentally responsible? What is one thing the average fan can do to lessen their impact at a concert or festival?
RM: Most things that people can do are obvious and pretty simple.Â Â Use only what you need â€“ less paper towels and toilet paper if you can, put everything in its place â€“ trash in the trash and recycle wherever possible.Â Â Sometimes at concerts the venue makes it impossible to make good choices â€“ they donâ€™t allow you to bring in your own containers, they serve everything in Styrofoam cups and extra needless packaging, and they donâ€™t provide any recycling options.Â Â Â More and more though, I think corporations (and venues) are getting the message that people want to make better choices and we need to continually remind them by using our purchasing and voting power.
LON: Were there any individuals, bands, or festivals that originally inspired you to take this path into sustainability?
RM: We considered vegetable oil at first, then after researching about it online, we thought it would be too hard and costly to convert.Â Â At just around this time, we camped next to our friends My Dear Disco at Hoxeyville Music Fest (2008), and they had just gotten their bus converted.Â Â Seeing it firsthand, being able to ask a million questions and see that itâ€™s actually possible put us back on the right track again, and we made the move a few months later.Â Â They recommended us to Full Circle Fuels in Oberlin, OH, and they have been so helpful from the beginning.
LON: Anything else you’d like folks to know?
RM: Well, just that we don’t sing about saving the earth, and we’re not preaching about it; we’re just doing what we can.Â Our focus is on the music, not on saving the planet.Â It’s not our microphone that gives us special voices to talk about these things.Â It’s not a hippie thing or a rock star thing.Â These are daily choices we all make – it’s as simple as what to eat and what container to put it in and where to put that container when we are finished.Â We can’t afford to buy all organic everything – we’re broke musicians.Â When we can, we do, because we know it does make a difference.Â It’s a broken world, and we all are the problem and the solution.
The Ragbirds will be heading east this month touring throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, but you can catch them on their way out this Friday, June 18 as they join the lineup at the Wayfarer Roots & Bluegrass Festival in Detroit. For more information on tickets and time, check here – www.theragbirds.com
If this small Michigan band can commit to being sustainable while sticking to their true mission of making and performing music, it seems larger bands, venues, and festivals with greater resources could and should be doing the same – right?
Check back in throughout the summer for more on this topic.