Floyd Fest, a music festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia held on the last weekend of July each year, featured a majority of earth friendly, socially conscious bands in their line-up this year. Among them were Donna the Buffalo, The Duhks, and The Horse Flies, all of whom agreed to speak with Got2BeGreen about their thoughts on green festivals and sustainability.
David McCracken, keyboardist for Donna the Buffalo, and Vic Stafford, the band’s drummer chatted about Floyd Fest and the other green festivals they attend, including Grassroots, Shakori Hills, and The Great Blue Heron. David says, “The whole concept of these green festivals is really, really cool, because we are now able to get together ten thousand or more people without making such a huge mess.” He adds, “Everybody is using waste, plastic bottles, cigarette butts, glow sticks. Everybody’s got a whole lot of waste to contribute.” Vic says that it’s nice when so many festivals are now attempting to leave “no footprint behind.”
Tania Elizabeth, fiddle player and singer for The Duhks says, “When we did our first tour, it became readily apparent to me that touring is an incredibly wasteful way to live.” So, she started thinking about ways they could minimize their impact. At that point, the concept of Greenduhks, the bands green think-tank and sustainability project, was born in her mind.
Tania says, “I started a word file on my computer of all the different sustainable companies I wanted to partner up with or tactics we could use as a band on the road.” She later teamed up with Greg Ching as Sustainability Coordinator to help run the Greenduhks Project while she was busy touring with the band. The project’s main goal is “educating concertgoers on small things they can do to make a big difference” while at the same time making earth friendly choices as a band.
The Puryear Family, of which Donna the Buffalo’s lead guitarist and songwriter, Jeb, is a member, runs both the Grassroots and Shakori Hills Festivals. David says the Puryear festivals are really working hard to be completely sustainable. David and Vic were both glad to see Floyd Fest striving towards some of the same green-minded goals.
David mentioned Grassroots festival made it mandatory this year for vendors to use all compostable utensils, plates, and cups. At Shakori Hills, in particular, they turned their compost back into fertile soil and use it to landscape and improve the festival grounds. Both David and Vic are hoping the same will become a reality at Floyd. Indeed, Floyd Fest is moving in this direction and has convinced most of the vendors to voluntarily compost this year, with a plan for making it mandatory in the future.
Most of all, David and Vic both seems proud to see so many people of like minds out working together. Vic was refilling his water bottle from Allgood during the interview, a “really nice metal bottle offered to all the artists to reuse in an attempt to cut back waste.” David was really impressed by the Floyd Fest “garbage police” at the recycling stations, and spoke about a friend who took photos of a group of kids volunteering at Shakori Hills to get up at six each morning and empty out the dumpsters. They were sorting out all of the garbage, making sure it was ready for the recycling center. He says, “It is so impressive that people will put so many hours into cleaning up after us and making sure things are done correctly so all of it doesn’t just end up in a landfill somewhere.”
Tania says the first thing they did when starting Greenduhks was simply to implement a recycling program for the band on tour. They too provided the band with reusable water bottles and added recycling bins to the tour bus. She says, “It was something easy to add, because it’s crazy the amount of plastic, food packaging, and containers you use and throw away on the road. Every little thing you can do to offset this helps.” She also personally carries “To Go Ware,” reusable food containers, and her own set of reusable utensils for the not-so-green places where plastic is still in use.
In addition, the Greenduhks latest campaign is called “Turn if off.” Tania says they are talking to the fans about turning off the lights, the TV, the computers when they’re not in the room. She is excited about the campaign because “it’s something easy that anybody can do regardless of their age, race, sexual orientation, or religion.”
At first, she thought it seemed almost silly, “such a small thing for a campaign.” But, then, she thought about how many friends and family she has seen wasting energy in their homes. She says, “The last couple of generations have been raised to think electricity just happens like magic. We don’t think about where it comes from and the impact this has on the environment.” She knows “not everybody is willing to take all the steps to be green” but “think of the impact if everybody did a few simple things like turning it off each day.” Tania is committed to spreading these ideas in an attempt to offset the band’s carbon footprint.
Does any of this really make a difference? Well, David explains that he never used to think about his waste at all until he joined Donna the Buffalo and started attending the festivals. Now, he composts at home and is always looking for ways to minimize his impact on the earth. He just got back from a trip to Holden Beach with his family. On a beech walk with Kimmy, his girlfriend, to collect seashells, he ended up picking up garbage instead, feeling “really appalled at the amount of trash lying around.” He says a sign he saw at The Great Blue Heron Festival inspired him. It read, “If everyone here picked up just one piece of trash that would be 8000 less pieces of litter in the world.” Now, he makes a point of picking up at least one piece of trash where ever he goes.
The Duhks have also chosen to convert to organic foods, and make a point of shopping at the local co-ops and farmer’s markets to support organic locally grown farms wherever possible. They wear eco-conscious clothing and sell only sweat-shop free, organic cotton shirts. Plus, their latest CD eliminated all the plastic, and used only recyclable paper packaging printed with soy-based ink. They even go so far as to use earth friendly shampoos, soaps, and cosmetics. They are truly leading by example.
David’s son Riley agreed the festivals are where he’s learned most of what he knows about sustainability and the environment. Although, he’s taught a little bit about recycling and landfills in school, David says it’s minimal. Mostly, he is learning from meeting and talking to all the people who attend these festivals to sell their wares, talk about their ideas, and work together to make things better.
Now, Riley has seen many amazing things people can accomplish as a group. For instance, he’s watched Shakori Hills and the Puryear family change their festival grounds over to total solar power energy by selling solar cells for ten dollars a piece. Eventually, by collecting solar power all year to “sell back to the grid,” they hope to completely offset their energy use.
Donna the Buffalo just played for the Mountain Aide Benefit Concert on the Shakori Hills festival grounds several months ago. The band often gives their time and talent to socially conscious activism, to events like this benefit to educate people on the need to stop mountain top removal coal mining from destroying our environment and our watersheds. David says the band really began to talk about their energy consumption as a result of that particular benefit and have been batting around ideas like converting the tour bus to biodeisel, but he’s unsure that it will be feasible at this time. Still, they are trying to find more ways to reduce their footprint.
Richie Stearns, banjo, guitar player, and vocalist for The Horse Flies, and also the president for Grassroots Festival, says they reached the Floyd Fest this year on 110 gallons of used veggie oil. Judy Hyman, the band’s violin player, adds that the band travels in two green vehicles these days, an old truck they converted to biodeisel and a Prius. She says it’s really nice to travel in them not only because it helps the environment, but also because “it smells great. It makes you hungry, but it’s so much nicer” than the smell of regular gasoline.
Judy says they come from Ithaca, New York, a very green conscious community, so thinking green is part of their daily lives. Their community’s recycling center sounds lovely, nestled among gardens, and full-time long-term staff working as educators, and free dumping and recycling for everyone in the community, including everything you can imagine in their recycling programs. She adds, “It takes a long time to turn a ship the size of [America] around, but as long as people are doing things like this, coming together to learn from each other, opening our mouths and our minds, we can certainly make a difference.”
David says, “It’s not perfect, these green festivals. It’s true they still have a long way to go to make things completely sustainable.” Not only is he concerned over the amount of gas and energy used “to bring everyone together in a field,” be he recently noticed the kids at Grassroots throwing thousands of glow sticks into the air at night. He says, “It looks really cool, but at the end of the night these are just things that become more trash. The kids are having fun, but they need to think about the consequences of their actions.” Still what counts he says is that “we keep on trying to make it better.” He seems really proud to be a part of such an eco-conscious group of people who are working so hard to improve things.
Tania and The Duhks will continue to strive for positive changes, as well. She is now working on a transition for Greenduhks. Originally, they were attempting to partner with other companies and non-profits, but it has been “difficult to keep people engaged for any length of time.” They are now looking to turn Greenduhks outward and “create a forum for artists, non-profits, and socially conscious businesses to look for and find solutions and spread information.” She is looking to create a resource for everybody to come together, to take what she’s started and make something even bigger and better.
In addition, she’s working on a personal project, as well. She is “writing a book on how to be healthy on the road” and is conducting a study of artists “trying to figure out how they live, getting actual statistics about their habits.” She’s interested in identifying “the main challenges artists face to living healthy on the road and how we can confront them and help the businesses we work with provide greener, healthier choices possible in the process.” She adds, “Being a touring artist is terribly unhealthy, terribly unsustainable, terrible for the environment, and generally speaking, it isn’t even profitable for the artists.” She’s looking for a way to turn this around, a way to make things better for everyone involved and for the earth.
The majority of the bands in the line-up at Floyd Fest this year were ready to talk, think and act green. Many joined Rock the Earth’s panel discussions to help educate festival attendees about the issues we are facing on the environment and to get people involved in brainstorm solutions to these problems, working together to make a change. Perhaps most impressive were the bands like Donna the Buffalo, The Duhks, and The Horse Flies, who are leading by example, going above and beyond in their attempt to reduce their carbon footprints while working hard to educate others on the need to think and act green.
All photos were provided by Amanda C. Sandos and Kimmy Tiedemann. Many thanks to those who agreed to interviews, for their music and their willingness to work towards making a difference for our earth.