July 22, 2005 -- When you're taking in a loud, all-day summer rock concert, have you ever thought how much energy is needed to put on the show? The stars of one major summer tour did, and now they are taking a different route for their performances.
"People are just starting to realize that these resources are not limitless and we need to start giving back," said Nadia Prescher, one of the managers for the String Cheese Incident, a popular jam band that's part of the BIG Summer Classic rock tour. "There's no better way than in the summer with 10 to 20,000 of your closest friends … trying to make a difference."
So along with the roadies, equipment and merchandise, the bands decided to bring along soy-based diesel fuel to power their tour buses. They're also offsetting part of their electric bill by using wind energy.
The five-person group teamed up with other performers like Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keller Williams, Umphrey's McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band and New Monsoon for a cross-country tour of amphitheaters and stadiums that wraps up Sunday in West Haven, Conn.
The lineup crosses several musical genres, but the artists shared a concern for the environment and decided to take advantage of an emerging niche of organizations working with musicians to make their shows more environmentally friendly. "It's oftentimes challenging to work with non-profits … everyone on tour has a full plate, just don't have the capacity to organize it and organize it well," said environmental activist Lauren Sullivan. Her organization, Reverb, helps performers get it all done. "We do all of the advance work," she said.
That included arranging for soy-based diesel fuels for the tour buses, incorporating wind power and setting up an "Eco Village" where fans at the BIG Summer Classic could learn about alternative energy sources. Reverb will also supply an Eco Village for a weekend set of concerts with Dave Matthews Band, Black Eyed Peas and Barenaked Ladies on an island off Manhattan next week.
For the String Cheese Incident tour, Prescher said they went beyond environmentalism and evaluated every aspect of the production -- donating leftover food to local food banks, and cutting down on garbage and waste backstage.
"We're also asking all the bands and all the crew and everyone working on the tour to be using a reusable water bottle, like a camping water bottle for the entire tour and we'll be using five gallon jugs [to fill them]," said Prescher. "A large production like this would go through an unlimited amount of water bottles throughout the day and evening just backstage."
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A lot of resources are consumed in the name of a good day of music. But Prescher believes the number of musicians interested is growing even if you don't see it. "So many artists that aren't out about it, don't necessarily go after press for it, but they're just doing it. There's a very long list," said Prescher.
In the case of Reverb, the organization has an especially close tie to the music industry -- Sullivan's husband Adam Gardner is the guitarist for the band Guster. Sullivan said they saw how "powerful it was to be connected to the musical realm."
"It adds another level of interaction with people in a very different, sexy kind of setting," said Sullivan. So they decided to combine her environmentalist background with his music industry connections to help make the concert business more tuned in to environmental issues.
Sullivan helped launch Reverb after she saw Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett promoted environmentally friendly practices on their 2002 tour. Since then groups like Clean and Green and Patriot Wind have gotten in the act too.
For the BIG Summer Classic, they were able to purchase wind power for nine of their shows, including a recent show in Brooklyn, N.Y. An outdoor amphitheater seating 20,000 people would use approximately 4,000 kilowatts of energy, according to Clean and Green. By offsetting that with wind power elsewhere, they'll prevent 7,000 tons of CO2 from entering the air.
Using soy-based diesel fuel is also helping. Sullivan helped Barenaked Ladies devise a touring route for their buses this past winter so they would be able to stop at biodiesel stations along the way when possible and skip the gas station.
"When they were able to do it they did," said Sullivan. "It's something that they were very committed to trying … We know that Dave Matthews is using it, String Cheese, Neil Young, Willie Nelson -- there are lots of artists out there that are."
And, since the Dave Matthews band is regularly one of the top grossing acts of the summer season when they tour, Prescher thinks they're the type of big name act that will succeed in truly influencing procedures at venues.
And in the meantime, she'll keep working toward bigger goals, including eventually using a solar powered stage. "The bands provide a space for not just people to enjoy the music, but to enjoy the fellowship and the common goals of trying to care for our planet," said Prescher. "We've spent the past 100 years just dumping things and we've got some work to offset."