Bonnaroo 2009: How Green Was Your Festival?

Educating the Masses
Spreading green ideas among its thousands of visitors is one of Bonnaroo's proudest green aspects. But no one likes to be preached to, especially at a music festival (unless Public Enemy's doing the preaching).

At Planet Roo however, Bonnaroo's environmental zone, a number of workshops and booths gave visitors a good dose of green wisdom. A gardening session centered on the festival's on-site victory garden drew 50 people -- a big number considering the constant stream of concerts and events the festival had on tap.

The consortium Carbon Shredders was also on site, encouraging fans to track their personal carbon reductions and inviting them to pledge to reduce their energy usage by 10 percent by 2010.

The non-profit Global Water Challenge (a 2009 TH Best of Green winner) was helping to hand out t-shirts to festival-goers who signed up to write letters to their congressmen. "We're aiming at people who are politically active and care about social issues, and this is a great place for that," said Paul Feith, GWC's president. "When they find out about it, they ask, 'Why aren't we doing something about this?'"

(See Matt McDermott's recent interview with Feith).

The Green Band Wagon
However many sustainable efforts were happening around them, the green spotlight only rarely landed on the festival's artists.

There were some great green actions by the festivals' main attractions. Cellist Ben Sollee biked to Bonnaroo (with his equipment!) from Kentucky. Bobby Kennedy delivered a rousing speech on the coal industry after Wilco's set on the headliners' stage, and Robyn Hitchcock mentioned his work with Cape Farewell during a press conference. Environmental messages sometimes appeared on television screens next to the main stage. Fans who picked up trash were eligible to win signed souvenirs at the Clean Vibes trading post.

But few performers mentioned, or seemed aware of, the festival's sustainability push. While the artist area included a composting and recycling station, during our visit, sustainability efforts weren't mentioned. The plastic water bottle, that favorite prop of the music industry, was in full abundance; filling stations were absent.

In a curious mixture of green and not-so-green, we spotted Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear refilling an aluminum water bottle -- with a plastic water bottle.

Though the music industry is showing more love than ever for enviornmental causes, keeping tours carbon-light (often with the help of groups like Reverb) is hard work.

Andrew Bird, an avid biker and former biodieseler, told us that he stopped using the "renewable" fuel when he realized his tour was driving out of its way to refuel and that biodiesel might be hurting food supplies.

Bringing artists on the sustainability bandwagon is "one of the things i'd like to get them to do," says Sohn, the sustainability chief. She noted that the Telluride Music Festival has banned plastic water bottles, forcing artists to use bubblers and reusable thermoses. "That's something we want to think about."

The mess left behind is so massive that even though it ended two Sundays ago, the cleanup at Bonnaroo won't be finished until this weekend.

Next weekend, the green-minded Rothbury kicks off, followed by a slew of other big (but not necessarily green) music fests, like Pitchfork, Lollapallooza and All Points West.

"There are many things we can do better operationally and behind the scenes," says Sohn of Bonnaroo. But the legacy of the fest's efforts is just as important, she says -- among other energy-intense festivals and the fans that flock to them in carbon-heavy droves.

"The biggest effort that the fans see is how to do it, how to take it home with them, and the ripple effect we can have throughout the year."

For more Roo, see SPINearth's round-up and catch highlights on Fuse this Saturday
More on Bonnaroo at TreeHugger
Bonnaroo 2009: The Green, the Bad and the Ugly
Andrew Bird Tells Us Why He's Not Using Biodiesel on Tour
Bobby Kennedy, Jr.: Let's Get Arrested
Planet Green: 10 Ways Bonnaroo is Going Green

Tags: Music


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