A More Sustainable Jam: Greening Summer Music

Each summer, like thousands of other music lovers, a few friends and I travel to see our favorite bands play, sometimes, if we're lucky, for many shows in a row.  In the spirit of peace and love, we gather to celebrate the community music creates, but what many don’t realize is that such gatherings can put some serious stress on the environment. Festivals and tours come with a lot of not-so-green baggage—between the food used to feed concert goers and the water (usually bottled) that keeps them hydrated to the massive amounts of fuel it takes to get attendees, staff and performers all to the venues, festivals and tours can leave a giant carbon footprint.

In light of this, musicians and activists are creating initiatives aimed at ‘greening' music festivals and tours. Here are some examples of how musicians and concert-goers are trying to tread a little lighter.

This year, my friends and I will hop “on tour” to follow Phish, a band known for supporting sustainable agriculture, through the Northeast. In fact, drummer Jon Fishman and his wife Briar own a small farm in Maine. In 1998, the band performed at Farm Aid and in February of this year, Fishman and band mate Paige McConnell were special guests at “Hug Your Farmer,” an all-star jam session to support Pete Johnson, a local Vermont farmer (founder of Pete’s Greens) whose barn was destroyed in a fire. For past tours, Phish has collaborated with Reverbto green their tours as well as with Eat Well Guide to point their fans towards sustainable food options.

Among Phish’s followers are the Green Crew (or G-Crew), a group of volunteer fans established in 1994 to help with coordinated recycling and clean-up efforts at every show. Jake Swiger has been doing Green Crew since 2009. “The most important thing to me about Green Crew is that it helps show the town or city that we care about our impact on the community, environment and spreading awareness about recycling,” Jake says. “We want the community and venue to want us to come back.” In return for their efforts, volunteers receive free tickets for that night’s show—and occasionally other perks for those G-Crew Phans who “chase,” or hope to hear certain less- often played songs from the band’s extensive repertoire. “In Hartford in 2009 Trey told us to pick five songs that we want to hear and that the band would play one of them,” Jake fondly recalls. “That’s how I got my first ‘Colonel Forbin’s'.”

Many festivals are hopping on the greening bandwagon, too. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, a three-day celebration that attracts nearly 170,000 guests, has instated numerous green initiatives in recent years. Examples include the Energy Factory’s “Sweatshop Mixer,” a chance for aspiring DJs to perform 30-minute sets using energy generated by people-powered hamster wheels, tour de energy bikes, energy swings, energy see-saws, hand cranks and other alternative (and novel) energy sources, and “Carpoolchella,” which rewards a few lucky carpooling concertgoers with VIP access to Coachella for life. San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is also making huge strides in environmental-ethos, boasting an “Eco Lands” component. Explicitly green music festivals include Chicago’s Green Music Fest and Project 30-90 in New Orleans.

One musician decided to take greening the entire touring industry into his own hands. In 2004, Adam Gardner, Guster guitarist/vocalist, and his environmentalist wife, Lauren Sullivan, launched Reverb, a non-profit organization designed to green music tours. Reverbhelps make music tours more sustainable by designing greening programs and organizing educational grassroots outreach programs for the fans. They work with touring bands by providing on-site coordinators to oversee events, managing eco-friendly practices with the hospitality and catering staff (i.e.: locally sourced sustainable food), creating custom riders that include green requests sent in advance to each venue, arranging biodiesel fueling for tour vehicles, setting up large-scale waste reduction and recycling initiatives, calculating the carbon footprint of the tour and arranging appropriate carbon offsets. Fans get involved in the greening process through Reverb’s Eco-Villages, where they can learn about green initiatives through environmental displays and activities. This year, Reverb is working with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Brett Dennen, Dave Matthews and more.

As an advocate for sustainable food systems and a dedicated fan of road tripping for music, I know that eating well on the way to tours and festivals is an important part of supporting local communities, promoting sustainable environmental practices and staying healthy. That’s why I'm proud to say that Eat Well Guidehas easy-to-use tools to help artists and festival organizers help fans find local, sustainable and organic eating options while on the road. Eat Well En Route is a mapping tool that allows concert goers and other travelers to plug in starting points and destinations and plot good food options en route to the show. Eat Well Guide has also helped musicians like Phishand Jack Johnson show their commitment to sustainability by creating customizable good food guides for fans to use that list good food options near venues.

There is a long history of music and environmental activism, and recently, artists and others in the industry— with the help of their fans, inspired activists and organizations – have done a lot to lessen the environmental tolls they rack up with their annual sojourns. If you, like me, will travel this summer to enjoy the music you love with the people you love, remember the environment you love—and take care to preserve it so that we can enjoy the culture of summer music for many years to come.