Environmental education has been my passion for many reasons, but I’ll admit I focused on animals and nature because I’ve been cynical about humans, feeling they have few redeeming qualities any more. But, over the past few years I’ve begun to have hope in humanity again. I see the extraordinary things a small group of people can accomplish when they forget their differences and come together for the good of their community. It’s called Grassroots, and it’s sweeping the nation. One of my favorite examples of a Grassroots movement started with the band Donna the Buffalo and their eclectic “Herd” of followers.
If you have not heard Donna the Buffalo’s funky mix of purely danceable music, you really should give them a listen. Make sure you pay attention to the lyrics along with the music to get a sense of the positive messages put forth by talented songwriters Jeb Puryear and Terra Nevins. This coming weekend, starting April 16th, they will once again host the Shakori Hills Music Festival in Silk Hope, North Carolina. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of their families, friends, and fans, the entire festival grounds will be carbon neutral and completely solar powered by the end of this year. Long before the Grassroots efforts this past election, this group has shown me just how much a small herd of people can accomplish when they come together for the common good.
I joined the herd many years ago, as soon as I heard Donna the Buffalo’s mix of deep emotional topics like social and political justice and environmental awareness with their sounds and rhythms that stimulate movement and an overwhelming sense of joy in the listeners. To really understand their feel good vibe, you must experience them at a live performance, preferably bouncing up and down with the rest of the Herd near the stage. Their diverse group of fans is made up of people spanning all races, ages, and backgrounds, and they are always ready with a smile and a hug, not only for friends, but also for every new face that taps a toe with them.
But, what can a band “on the funky side” and a motley group of hippies really do to make a difference? Well, here’s where you’d be surprised. This particular Grassroots movement started very small, with one show in Ithaca, New York to raise money for local AIDS organizations. Members of the band were excited by the success of the show and decided they wanted to continue the fundraising effort for other worthy causes. They created the Grassroots Music Festival every July in Trumansburg, New York. Eventually, the Herd grew until they added a second bi-annual festival called Shakori Hills Music Festival in Silk Hope, North Carolina every April and October.
Since, they have expanded into a nationally recognized effort that also promotes other Grassroots festivals all over the country. They have raised funds for disaster relief and others in need of assistance, social justice, political activism, environmental conservation, and green living, to name a few. They have accomplished all of this while at the same time providing exposure to local, regional, national, and international cultures through music and the arts. In short, they offer a great time, a way to relax and enjoy living, while you learn and grow.
Since my first exposure to Donna the Buffalo, I have been addicted to their sound and have bought every CD I could get my hand on, and because I follow the band, I have also attended every Shakori Hills Music Festival. My favorite aspect of Shakori Hills is, of course, their campaign for green living. They offer things like recycling and composting and teach attendees about proper recycling methods. They provide a bio-diesel shuttle bus to the festival from a number of local towns and cities, and promote car pooling by offering free parking to any car arriving with four or more passengers. Areas of the large property have been designated “Natural Preserves” where no camping is allowed. Plus, festival organizers regularly announce many ways everyone can pitch in to help the local environment.
Rather than selling bottled water for a profit, Shakori Hills offers a large filtering truck to refill and reuse bottles for an honorary donation. Food vendors offer organic and healthy food choices and serve on recyclable materials as much as possible. It is not uncommon to hear adults remind their children to take only one napkin rather than a handful from the food stands or to see children picking up trash and recyclables around the park. The festival even provides a Sustainability Fair throughout the weekend with environmental education talks and activities, and a number of healing arts providers are on hand to teach all manner of exercise and healthy living techniques.
The latest green project at Shakori Hills is aptly named the Solarize Shakori Hills Project, a fundraising campaign to purchase solar panels for the festival. At $10.00 per cell, they sold thousands of cells last year and have already built panels to solarize most of the property. They expect to be entirely carbon neutral and solar powered by the fall festival in October of this year. (For information on how you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In addition, many of the other regular performers at the festival have started promoting sustainability. For instance, Grammy Award Nominees The Duhks announced last festival that their latest CD is packaged entirely with recycled materials and soy based inks. They also have a Greenduhks link online to talk about their own Sustainability Project for touring and living green and teaching their fans “about the small things they can do make a big difference.”
Donna the Buffalo and The Herd don’t stop their charitable giving at the festivals alone. The Herd has created their own “Side to Side Charities,” which the band supports and promotes, and together they have raised tens of thousands of dollars for community services to feed the hungry, house the homeless, empower women, end racism, serve children in need and with special needs, save homeless pets, and provide goods and services to low income families. They will literally give you the shirts off their backs. A large collection of donated clothing can be found at every festival and is free to anyone who needs it.
How is this Herd inspired? By listening to the music of Donna the Buffalo, and by watching the band and their fellow Herders walk the walk and talk the talk for change. Now, we finally begin to see Grassroots movements taking center stage after the largest effort of its kind entered our political realm last Presidential election, and it’s about time. The power of Grassroots can no longer be denied. Although I’ve been an advocate for environmental change for as long as I can remember, the Herd has taught me to give back to my community in many other ways. I now volunteer for local arts organizations, give time and money wherever possible to help President Obama continue his efforts for changing and improving our nation, and work with organizations like the YWCA YGyrl leaders teaching girls about Leadership and Community Services so that they can become the advocates for change in the future.
I continue to attend every Donna the Buffalo show I can afford. Why? Because I come away refreshed, renewed, and reminded that humans are a wonderful species capable of great kindness, giving, and love, and an inherent goodness. I am reminded that there is a great power in every small community, and every grassroots effort, no matter how small, has the potential to change the world.
Photo appears courtesy of Kimmy Tiedemann.