Good Vibrations

Musicians Go the Extra Mile to Support Green Causes

Although we like to think that the music we consume is planet-friendly (don’t groups do global warming benefits?) the truth is that CDs and big-ticket tours create carbon emissions and hefty material waste streams. The good news is that an industry vanguard is recognizing that impact and taking steps to neutralize it. Some performers even try to reduce carbon emissions above and beyond their own impact.

The Hot Buttered Rum String Band travels in a biodiesel bus, as do Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson and Jack Johnson. At right,©HOT BUTTERED RUM STRING BAND

Such popular performers as Gomez, Guster, Barenaked Ladies, Hot Buttered Rum String Band, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, The String Cheese Incident, Neil Young and Willie Nelson have all used biodiesel to fuel their tour buses. Willie Nelson has gone further than most and helped found The Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company, which retails the cleaner-burning, renewable fuel.

Other bands, including Tea Leaf Green, Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks and Sound Tribe Sector 9 are offsetting the carbon emissions of their internal-combustion tour buses. Most do this by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from such companies as Green Mountain Energy Company and NativeEnergy. These entrepreneurs in turn sell the carbon credits and use the proceeds to finance and buy renewable energy, including wind, solar and biomass, to help "green the grid."

The Dixie Chicks are working with the Makira Forest Project and Conservation International to protect 850,000 acres of rainforest—the destruction of which contributes greatly to global carbon emissions. Dixie Chicks fiddler Emily Robinson encourages the group’s fans and other bands to join the fight against global warming, saying, "Together, we can make a difference in the fight against climate change, protecting our environment and helping local communities."

Many bands have also come to recognize the impact that running stage equipment can have on the environment. Last year, the annual music festival known as Bonnaroo consumed 25,000 gallons of biodiesel in its stage generators, and also recycled or reused 60 percent of its waste stream. And one stage was entirely solar powered. Barenaked Ladies, Tea Leaf Green, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, and Sound Tribe Sector 9 have all committed to purchasing RECs to offset the carbon emissions generated by their stage equipment. In making an environmental commitment, many of the groups point to a strong connection between green issues and combating poverty. They argue that the poor are unlikely to help preserve natural resources for future generations if their basic needs are unmet. Further, they point out that environmental racism leaves the burden of planetary degradation to fall inequitably on the poor.

Two bands, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the String Cheese Incident (which recently announced plans to disband), have been leaders in combining ecological and social initiatives. Both bands work to reduce their carbon footprints, and are also partnering with Conscious Alliance, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing world hunger.

Founded by a small group of University of Colorado students in 2002, Conscious Alliance offers fans an official event poster in exchange for 10 or more non-perishable food items. Their efforts have distributed 350,000 pounds of food to impoverished Native American reservations and to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Conscious Alliance works with 30 bands, including Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Weezer and Bruce Springsteen, but almost half of the food they have collected has come from the String Cheese Incident shows. Says the Alliance, "Without the support of everyone who has contributed through the String Cheese Incident, there would not be a Conscious Alliance."

The String Cheese Incident has a special name for its eco-social initiatives: "Gouda Causes." Activist fans who help with the causes, which include helping the homeless and buying supplies and musical instruments for children in poor school districts, are known as "Friends of Cheese."

For the third time, the Cheese teamed up with Quality Forward and North Carolina Big Sweep to pick up trash and plant native trees along the French Broad River in North Carolina. Some shows are dubbed "Ecological Incidents," and offer fans a chance to calculate their eco-footprints. Louis Morgan of the Bay Area Coalition for the Headwaters Forest (BACH) worked with the group and called the resulting outreach effort "far and away the most successful that BACH has ever had." Other beneficiaries of the group include the Blue Ocean Society, Save Our Springs Alliance, Friends of the Earth UK, Neighborhood Partners, Healing the Children Foundation, A Seed Japan, Street Teens, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Habitat for Humanity and Nature Conservancy Indiana, The Hope House, Hands on Memphis, Gateway Greening, Snow City Arts Foundation and Little Kids Rock.


Last October, Sound Tribe Sector 9 organized a benefit called "Vegetation Vibration: A Helping Hand For The Motherland" that generated proceeds for Ndangane, a desperately poor Senegalese village. Now that most of the village’s basic needs have been met, continuing proceeds will help buy trees, fruit and vegetable plants, tools, and agricultural education to help the village become self-sustaining and to stop desertification.STS9 has also added $1 on every ticket to its shows to benefit Ndangane, as well as Mariposa’s Art (a nonprofit that provides after-school art and music programs to at-risk youths in California) and to purchase musical instruments for public school systems that have cut their music budgets. STS9 percussionist/laptop player Jeffree Lerner says, "We have a give-and-take relationship: We are inspired and informed by our fans, and we try to do the same for them."

Bands may not be writing legislation or slapping the cuffs on polluting corporations, but they are making a difference. There’s no doubt that musicians serve as important role models, and the green is rubbing off. Michael Kang, fiddle and mandolin player for String Cheese says, "My dream is to help co-create a sustainable touring festival that will showcase renewable energy technologies such as solar-powered stages, biodiesel generators, trucks and busses, with a serious emphasis on not only celebration through music, but manifesting lasting, positive social change." —Shannon Huecker