The award is awarded in three categories: "improving," "outstanding," and the standard "Greener Festival" award which falls between the two. The organizers of the award, UK non-profit A Greener Festival, said that they were particularly pleased that 12 festivals had won the "outstanding" award in 2009, including repeat winners Rothbury and Bonnaroo in the US. The Award is based on a 56 part questionnaire which covers office management, greenhouse gas emissions, supporting green initiatives, travel and transport, waste and recycling, water management, environmental protection and noise reduction.Almost all the festivals were visited by an independent auditor to assess their green efforts.
Auditors were pleased this year by Bonnaroo, which also won an "outstanding" award in 2008. The festival auditor noted that in 2009, Bonnaroo concentrated on a "Buy Local" message, and improved their energy footprint by installing new electrical capabilities. This allowed them to plug directly into the local power grid and reduced their energy consumption in the process. Other on site features include permanent water wells, a composting pad and the newly planted Bonnaroo Victory Vegetable Garden. Bonnaroo's many areas of education include the necessity of carbon reduction, the need for composting, reducing bottle water usage, viable uses of solar energy, recycling everything possible, and reducing the use of unnecessary items.
Not to be outdone, Michigan's Rothbury Festival, also a 2008 "outstanding" award winner, scooped up the same award in 2009. The festival, which heavily promotes its green credentials, impressed its auditor with its effective promotion of alternatives to bottled water, impressive rates of composting and recycling, and a commitment to sourcing products locally that stretched all the way to the stages, where several local bands were given the chance to play to new audiences. According to Sarah Haynes, President of the Spitfire Agency, Rothbury's greening consultant, "Rothbury works hard to have the minimum impact on the planet while having the maximum impact on its people. We always 'green' with transparency in the hopes that others will take notice and join us in this most important mission."
Two other US festivals won the award for the first time in 2009. California's West Beach event, held on the beach in Santa Barbara, joined the Atlanta Jazz Fest in garnering the awards.
All winning festivals will receive a special trophy designed by Sade Goddard from Keswick School in Cumbria, England. Goddard designed the award as part of a competition among UK school children. Her winning design features a Red Kite motif and is made from recycled plastic bottles, crushed CDs and remolded "Wellington" boots, a necessity at the perennially muddy Glastonbury festival.
The winner of the overall Greener Festival Award 2009 will be announced at the UK Festival Awards which will be held at the O2 Arena in London on November 19th 2009.
A Greener Festival co-founder Ben Challis said “We were worried that in a year when the recession bit hard we might see Festivals shying away from their ongoing commitment to green issues, but we have been generally pleased with the efforts of festivals around the world to keep sustainability high on their own agenda and to promote environmental awareness to fans. We had more ‘outstanding’ winners in 2009 and a 20% rise in applications from 2008, with more international applications than ever including five winners from Australia, four from the USA and four from mainland Europe.
The Greener Festival Awards are supported by insurance brokers Robertson Taylor.
STS9 keyboardist David Phipps talked to JamBase about the Katrina survivor who inspired them to donate all proceeds from their new remix to charity, the difficulties of being a socially motivated dance band, the group's new documentary, and locally-grown keyboards.
"We were in New Orleans for some gigs, and we were delivering the last amount of food that was donated [by our] Sector 9 food drive through the Conscious Alliance food drive system." STS9 keyboardist David Phipps drops bombs like this often in conversation. He's telling the story of how the band decided to devote their considerable annual fundraising efforts for a variety of charities to just one organization this year, Brad Pitt's Make it Right foundation. And along the way, he casually mentions that the band is responsible for having generated multiple truckloads of food for food banks around the country.
He continues on, downplaying the band's role. "It was kind of a photo opportunity, to be honest, it's not like we're working in the back of every one of the trucks that's out there delivering the food. We had this awesome local driver who got us there in the van and gave us this amazing tour of the town...he was giving us history and pointing out things that we would have never seen. We asked him to drive through the ninth ward. We had been there not long after the hurricane. We got out of the van and not much had changed. But there was this one street that had my dream house--totally sustainable, green built, world-class architect designed, and right next to that were a couple of FEMA trailers. I didn't want to stare too much, it's like staring at a car wreck, but this guy came out and invited us into his FEMA trailer and showed us this 3-ring binder full of the business cards of the people who had visited and this videotape of his granddaughter's dance recital. We were very much at home and told him that we were considering [a contribution to] Make it Right."
For years, the band had been donating $1 from the sale of every ticket to a variety of charities. "We've always had kind of an activist stance from the very beginning of the band and that gradually...crystallized into a direct way of tying our concerts and activism through ticket sales," Phipps says. The money had traditionally been split evenly. One-third was designated for local Atlanta-area organizations like Mariposa's Art, an after school art and health program. The second third went to causes nationwide including funding a project to help the students of David's brother Allan Phipps, a high school teacher in South Florida, design and build a solar-powered car that competed in the Dell-Winston School Solar Race from Texas to New York. The remaining money went to a variety of international causes. Over the years, as the band's popularity had grown, the donations had grown, too, topping the $100,000 mark in 2008. "This year we kind of noticed that we were making some good dents in some things by splitting it up, but we wanted to see what if we put it all to one thing," David says.
So the band had been looking for a new cause for a while, but nothing had grabbed them until that chance encounter, a visit that occurred with some serendipity not because they were on tour but because they were delivering food to a food bank. But taking the plunge on a new charity and breaking their old ties wasn't something they did lightly. "It was a hard decision for me," Phipps says. "That was my brother's solar car, Mariposa's art ended up going bankrupt this year...it was a hard decision but I think we made the right one."
David goes on "We kind of decided [on our visit to New Orleans] that this was what we wanted to do. And the full price tag for building a house [through Make it Right] was around $150,000. We couldn't promise that we can make the connection and build this man's house, but we wanted to be a part of this effort. Here he was however many years later....and still had all kinds of hope." The band decided to find the funds to build a complete house, which meant that they would have find $50,000 more than they had already planned on raising. They threw in all of the proceeds from their VIP ticket sales, but they needed more. And so the Peaceblaster: The New Orleans Make it Right Remix was born.
They started out inviting friends of theirs in the DJ and hip-hop world to take on individual track and the project soon snowballed. By the time they released the remix album, available online as mp3s for $0.99 each or $9.99 for all 30 with all proceeds going to Make it Right, the band had more than 30 collaborators including the Glitch Mob, Pnuma Trio, and rapper Abstract Rude. To make room for everyone, the remix album stretched to a full 30 tracks, including no fewer than five different (and all excellent) versions of "Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist," the band's standout track from the original Peaceblaster album.
Fans of the original album will be pleasantly surprised by the remix. The production is top-notch throughout and the inclusion of multiple remixes of certain tracks lends itself to some outstanding experimentation. "These tracks really come across as a heartfelt, true donation of [the contributing artists'] time and talent. This wasn't something just thrown together. We're really excited," says Phipps.
One of the highlights for folks who like lyrics with their music will be the three different versions of "Hidden Hand" that are now new and improved with some stunning lyrics. The versions range from dark (Abstract Rude rhymes ominously that "It's not all over just cuz one man 'came the president/Not to be negative but you know how the rest of us is") to cautiously optimistic ("all we want to do is improve the situation that we got before we pass it to you," riffs GFE) to nearly transcendent, as in the Lowpro Lounge's effortless intro segue from JFK's Ich Bein ein Berliner speech to Obama's inaugural address to Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream. The 25 songs on the album not named "Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist" are every bit as good, and even though it clocks in at almost two and a half hours it stands up to repeated listening.
Phipps says that despite the band's strong ideals and progressive leanings and the forceful lyrics in the remix, they don't want to alienate fans. "We try to do it not in your face. We're not directly addressing the audience with a hard idea or statement," he professes. "We throw up a bunch of dots that are obviously creating a connect the dots picture but we leave it up to you to connect those dots and that way you're participating, learning, and not just being told something. If you wikipediad or googled 'Hidden Hand, Hidden Fist' or 'Metameme' you'd invariably come across an article that was talking about some historical or political or sociological idea. And maybe by connecting [those dots] yourself there's a true sense of learning something as opposed to [it] being delivered as lyrics in a song. The ideas that there's clues embedded in this makes it fun for us....and hopefully fun for the fans"
There's also a pragmatic aspect to the band's decision to keep politics and music somewhat distant. He recalls the band's early years: "We were very inspired by the the 13 moon calendar...and it was so identified with us [that] for a good five or six years of our career nobody ever talked about our music. It was always about Mayan numerology or something that was not necessarily what we were wanting to talk about when we wanted to talk about our band. It really kind of overshadowed our music....We've learned to be a little bit more restrained in our [politics] and we feel like it's more effective."
Oh, yeah, the music. When these guys aren't dropping off truckloads of food or organizing 30 friends to do a charity album or funding solar-powered race cars, they're also making some of the most original music around, and they're relentless in their drive to push the edges. Writing songs can take years for the band, as each song may go through 20 or 30 iterations before they're finally happy with it. Every member of the band plays two instruments, a laptop and something more traditional, and the computers are fully integrated into every step of the process. "Most of our music, we'll have laptops and software and we'll start a song idea. It gets imported into the studio computer. Maybe the drums will be replaced by real drums, the bassline will be replaced by the bass player. And we'll come back and [decide] we liked the original drums better, take the live drums out. And then a week later the the live drums are back in and the bassline is being recorded," David explains.
But after years of being known for the technicality of their music and their unique computer-driven sound, the band might be ready to pull the old switcheroo on fans. "We've gone...I don't want to say as far we can, but we've really gone headfirst into that whole methodology of creating music and being able to bring something that's bigger than your own instrument to the stage and pull it off--the laptop and the guitar. But now the pendulum's swinging. We find ourselves playing acoustic guitar and a real piano and trying to write some really beautiful progressions and melodies that are just really strong [and] timeless as far as technology. The next round of Sector 9 might be completely different."
While the band is moving towards a more acoustic sound in some ways, it's beefing up the high-tech production behind the studio work. The band has made improvements including the ability to mix 192 tracks simultaneously, to its recording studio, where the original Peaceblaster was recorded. "We've really kind of made some leaps and bounds. We've graduated from 'yeah, we have a home studio' to 'we actually have a recording studio here.' We're getting more confident....and we've learned so much that [we've shrunk] the time that it takes. We think we might have another 5 or 6 song EP coming out in the fall. We've never followed up a huge studio album with another release just about a year later....I hope [fans will be surprised by the next EP]."
With the electronic focus fading from their live audio, it only makes sense that they'll move into the light shows that have arguably done as much to attract and keep fans as the music itself. To that end, this summer's tour will feature a heightened role for the three huge LED displays that the band first experimented with last year. Phipps gets especially excited when he talks about the lighting changes. "The LED thing is going to be awesome this whole summer!" He exclaims. "We brought in two really premiere video artists...we sent 10, 15 tracks to both guys to create original video content based on the borderline conspiracy big brother vibe that was underlying in Peaceblaster. Our lighting designer, Saxton, is very much of the [Chris] Kuroda school and was moving towards more and more and more and more moving lights. We wanted to do a video element for a while and just kind of pushed him over the edge. [We don't want] to succumb to what people think we should be. It would be really easy to just be that other techno-jamband with the Phish light show and call it a day but I think we can do better than that."
The band's not just experimenting with video on stage, it's even putting the finishing touches on a new documentary called ReGeneration. What started as aseries of interviews with everyone from Howard Zinn to Noam Chomsky to Talib Kwali has morphed, like all the band's projects, into something more. "We wanted to put out to the 11 year old kid who's wondering 'what am I going to do with my life' as an example that hey, we're artists that have made it living our dream, you don't have to live under the thumb of any institution. It grew as we added more and more commentators and participants and interviews, it really turned into a motion picture on the role of media, advertising, parenting, environment, on how that shapes the apathy of an individual. It really came to be a call to action against apathy. You can make a difference and you're making a difference regardless, so what kind of difference can you make? This is a great follow up statement to Peaceblaster and Make it Right and the vibe that was set by those projects....It's a good hour and 20 minutes of visual assault," David says energetically.
Phipps gets equally excited about some other new instruments. "I got into modular synthesizers. [It relates to] the buy local, sustainable vibe, as well as just the quality. I would rather buy something handmade in Northern California than another plastic piece of shit Chinese keyboard. So all of my gear efforts have gone away from plastic shit into this boutique stuff."
And just like that, he's talking about sustainability again. Asked about the sustainability of next week's uber-green Rothbury, for which the band will be one of the main late-night attractions on both Friday and Saturday, Phipps says "Rothbury was a huge inspiration [last year], [it was] a relief to see that a festival could take that direction and really take it at its core. So much more can be done, [but] we're off to a good start....if you can have 100,000 people going home from a festival and they can know that an effort is being made and they can take that home and be inspired by it, it's at least a start."
Pressed about whether the band will start asking other venues and festivals it performs at to follow Rothbury's lead, Phipps admits that he hasn't thought of that, if only because until recently the band wasn't in a position to make that kind of demand. "I haven't gotten used to our newfound fame...we've been doing this for 11 years and all of a sudden we're headlining a bunch of festivals. Usually we're playing at 2 [pm]."
Their new popularity is taking the band by surprise in other ways, too. Many fans know that the band is headlining a mini-festival of its own in Atlanta in August, pairing up with Lotus, Ghostland Observatory and labelmates Dubconscious for a day-long audiovisual treat. What fans might not know is that this festival is something of an apology to fans. "We got rained out of our last concert in Atlanta and had quite an angry audience on our hands. We were sitting in our tour bus and they announced that the show was cancelled and the bus was being rocked by people leaving the venue. We were kind of cracking up to ourselves, like 'this is some Guns 'n Roses shit right here.'"
This is a piece that I wrote as a planned feature or newswire article for the main JamBase site but it ended up getting killed for a variety of reasons. Since the folks I interviewed were all so nice and I wanted to publicize the good work that Bonnaroo is doing, I'm posting it now on the blog--a little bit late but better than never.
Whether you love Bonnaroo or hate it, no one can argue that the festival has been a trailblazer since it first launched almost a decade ago. In every aspect of the festival experience, from the acts to the vibe to the crowd it attracts, Bonnaroo is the standard that we compare all other festivals too. That's true for ranking a festival's sustainability, too. Bonnaroo's organizers have over the years taken increasingly large and visible steps to limit the negative impacts of the massive event on the planet and nearby community. Through 2008, they'd done just about everything under the hot Tennessee sun possible to green the event, a veritable laundry list of actions that included outreach programs, massive recycling, organizing buses to bring in fans to cut down on traffic, donating space to endless nonprofits in their Planet Roo ecovillage, recycling greywater from showers and sinks as dust suppression water, and countless other actions large and small. Their efforts were rewarded with the rare "Outstanding" award from the British festival sustainability organization A Greener Festival last year.
But under pressure from "party with a purpose" competitor Rothbury, organizers knew that if they wanted to continue to be seen as leaders in the sustainability arena, they'd have to redouble their efforts. Festival managers and sustainability coordinator Laura Sohn of AC Entertainment quickly got to work figuring out what worked and what hadn't at Rothbury and got to the task of making an already strong sustainability scorecard even stronger.
They started with the waste (see sidebar) . Many fans were introduced to the idea of plant-based compostable cups, knives, and forks at Rothbury. The disposable items, instead of rotting in a landfill, can be tossed in a compost pile and in a few months will be converted along with food waste into a nourishing soil amendment that can be used to grow plants. Bonnaroo had actually been using these materials since at least 2007 and had already mandated that all its vendors make the switch to compostables, but many fans didn't know or care that they were supposed to toss their used beer cups into a compost bin instead of a trash bin. So this year Bonnaroo will have about 1000 compost bins along with 1500 recycling bins and 1500 trash cans spread in clusters throughout the venue and campgrounds, and the festival clean-up specialists Clean Vibes will manage an army of volunteers called "Trash Talkers" who will help fans get the compostables, recyclables, and trash into the right bins. Clean Vibes owner Anna Borofsky says, ""It takes a huge volunteer base to get the coverage that you need to really do the composting. One of these days it will be second nature to people that they can compost a beer cup or a fork, but right now we have to educate them." The mantra of any good greenie has always been to reduce, reuse, and recycle. While the organizers are recycling and reusing (as compost) as much of the waste as they can, they still needed a plan to help them reduce it. As any festival-goer knows, one of the biggest sources of waste at these events is from bottled water. According to Sarah Haynes, who runs the sustainability efforts at Rothbury and teamed up with Bonnaroo to reduce bottled water use in Tennessee, the average festival attendee goes through a staggering 24 bottles of water over a 4 day event. Of course, festival promoters and vendors love the revenue stream from water, but with bottled water getting an increasingly bad name in environmental circles Bonnaroo decided to forego a big chunk of change and invite fans to bring in their own refillable containers. The festival has always offered free water, but this year it has greatly expanded and improved its availability and taste with four locations offering free filtered water from new wells inside the main concert area. For people who want the convenience of bottled water all over the venue without having to find one of those four water stations, Bonnaroo is teaming up with Stanley nineteen13 for its Bottle-less Water Program.In addition to the usual free high quality well water, patrons who buy a limited edition reusable Bonnaroo water bottle will be able to get free filtered drinking water from beer stations throughout the festival.Stanley and Bonnaroo will donate one dollar per bottle sold to Global Water Challenge, an organization that is generating an international movement to meet the urgent need for safe water and sanitation. With trash and water firmly under control, the festival was also able to do something this year that had been on organizers' wish list for a long time--it got a permanent electrical hookup for the Centeroo area. Having a grid connection means that the festival has been able to cut back on the number of generators it needs by 70% and slash the amount of biodiesel needed. While fans will still see generators in the camping areas, the concert area and backstage sections will be largely generator free. This cuts down on noise, opens up space, improves festival air quality, and removes a huge number of sources of heat that make an already sweaty festival even worse. The festival is currently recalculating its carbon footprint to account for this change and will purchase green power certificates and carbon offsets to make up for any extra emissions. The festival is also planning a solar installation that will generate power all year long.
The last item on the checklist was sourcing products, especially festival food, locally. Bonnaroo buys as many supplies and utilities from its own Tennessee area as possible. The festival has also compiled a list of local food purveyors and farmers and handed it out to all of its vendors with strong encouragement to use it. Vendors who don't get the hint may find themselves facing a mandate to buy locally in future years. This is great news for foodies, as locally-procured vegetables are almost always fresher and tastier than the stuff that gets shipped across the country.
While organizers know that they have more work to do to become truly sustainable, they are also justifiably proud of the job they've done so far and the improvements they've made this year, especially with keeping the spending local. As Laura Sohn says, ""Being able to buy local offsets, being able to support local vendors, rural farmers...it's an amazing thing." It certainly is. If you are lucky enough to head to the farm this year, make sure to check out all the new improvements. Read all about the complete sustainability efforts of the festival and get more info on carpooling, buying your own offsets for the festival, and more at http://bonnaroo.com/festival/greening-facts.aspx A day in the life your festival trash.
Ever wondered what happens to the mountains of waste generated by the city-sized population that descends on Manchester, TN, every June? Handling that waste is one of the organizers' biggest challenges, and over the years they've developed a range of strategies to help deal with it all. Most of the heavy lifting is done by Clean Vibes, the well-known festival and concert cleanup outfit that has a history stretching back to Phish's It and Coventry festivals and beyond. Clean Vibes organizes teams of paid employees and volunteers to handle all of the waste and leave the festival grounds looking as good as new after the event. They maintain more than 4000 trash, recycling, and compost barrels around the festival and also run the Clean Vibes Trading Post where fans can turn in recyclables to get points for items ranging from a Butterfinger candy bar to an autographed Phish Poster.
Clean Vibes relies on fans to properly sort their waste. Educational signage and about 400 volunteer “trash talkers” will coach patrons on which kinds of trash belong in which bins at the festival. Compostables are handled onsite on a gravel composting pad with special drainage--after a year about 90% of the compost's volume will have disappeared leaving behind a rich organic mulch that is perfect for gardening and is reused on the farm. Volunteers pull out any noncompostable materials from the bins as they're dumped on the pad, a nasty job made even worse by the hot Tennessee sun, so if you're attending do them a favor and don't contaminate the compost!
To manage all that extra compost, the festival has doubled the size of a backstage composting area. According to Sohn, after a year the festival waste is completely broken down except for the occasional fork, the utensil she says seems to take longest to degrade. Planet Roo will host a small demonstration garden using some of the compost generated from last year's event while Sarah Bush of Knoxville gardening outfit Edible Revolution will hold workshops on how to successfully make and use compost in your city apartment so that fans can carry on the good work at home. After it's all over, a second group of 400 volunteers cleans the site. Recylable cans and plastic bottles are shipped off to Orange Grove Recycling in Chatanooga, a facility staffed by mentally challenged adults. The crew at Orange Grove will return any compostable cups they find to the farm in Manchester to be composted. Recyclable paper and cardboard are handled by local businesses in keeping with the festival's decision to support the local economy wherever possible, and the remaining waste, unfortunately, ends up in a local landfill. Clean Vibes owner Anna Borofsky says that in prior years approximately 20% by weight of the festival's waste was diverted to compost and recycling, and notes that while this sounds low compared to Rothbury's claim of over 80% diversion, Bonnaroo measures reduction in weight while most other festivals measure by volume. This year they are hoping to raise the amount diverted by almost half to over 30%.
WANTED: Environmental Auditors for the Greener Festival Awards
Thirty-two music festivals around the world picked up the Greener Festival Award in 2008 for implementing sound environmental practices at their events and helping in the fight against climate change and waste. To receive the Award, each festival must submit a four page application form with details of their green efforts. To maintain the integrity of the Award, each event is independently assessed by an Environmental Auditor. The Auditors verify the accuracy of each application and make their own assessment of the festival's environmentally friendly practices.
The Greener Festival Award is now looking for additional Auditors for the United States. This position is not paid but there is a $200 travel stipend per festival and festivals will also provide two tickets with limited backstage access for the Auditor and one guest. Most audits take between half a day and one full day to complete. The Auditor is expected to write up a short report on a pre-formatted form. The rest of the time at the festival is the Auditor's own to enjoy.
The Greener Festival Award is looking for festival fans that have a background of working live events or have a background in environmental science. Current Auditors include a venue manager, a journalist, an artist manager, a record company executive, a TV producer, a festival manager and two environmental scientists. Above all, Auditors must understand the workings of a music festival and have the confidence to ask questions about environmental practices at a live event.
A number of festivals around the U.S. have expressed an interest in receiving the award for 2009 and interested professionals with relevant experience from all areas of the U.S. are invited to apply. To apply, please email a resume or description of your relevant work experience and a short note explaining why you feel you are qualified to be an environmental auditor to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30 2009. Don't forget to tell them where you live and how far from home you're willing to travel.
Festivals interested in receiving the award are also encouraged to get in touch at the same email address or download an application package from www.agreenerfestival.com.
This is a repost of the Panjea article that went up today on the JamBase features section at: http://www.jambase.com/Articles/15330/GreenBase--Panjea's-World-Community Visit the JamBase version for links, pictures, and comments.
"Considering that I was just out [listening to Snoop Dogg] there and he was saying, get stoned, get drunk, and fuck, and he had like thousands of people singing with him, I think maybe the political lyrics might not be as popular, but it's not going to deter me. I have to feel good about what I'm singing when I'm out there and the band has to feel good about what they're playing behind," says Chris Berry, leader of Panjea. "It's what I have to do; it's not a choice. It's not whether or not I even contemplate whether it's making it successful or not, it's just what we have to do." Berry is ruminating on the difficulties of being a political band in an era where politics and music don't always mix while Snoop Dogg finishes up his 4:20 p.m. festival set.
It's not often that you run into a band like Panjea that has a mission statement. Sure, past decades have yielded still-touring acts with strong political overtones going back to Bob Dylan, U2 and Rage Against the Machine. But the more recent wave of acts, with rare exceptions like Michael Franti and State Radio, have opted to leave politics out of their music. Enter Panjea, an Afro-pop collaborative with big goals. Specifically, the group is a "project set on healing the world." The band takes its name from the supercontinent Pangea, and their goal is to use music to unite people as closely as the continents were once united.
GreenBase was lucky enough to catch up with the band over the summer at Rothbury (read the Roth review here), where for most of the weekend band members were scattered all over the giant festival, sitting in with Railroad Earth and State Radio, assisting with the art installations and even teaching the crowd how to play a giant flying monkey drum set. With band members living in New York, Boulder and San Francisco and constantly on tour with their various other projects, it's not often that they all get together in one place. Over the course of an hour, we talked about the fragile political situation in Zimbabwe, the challenges facing the next U.S. President and the opportunities for music to have a positive impact on people and the environment.
The collective, made up of a core group of about six musicians but often exceeding a dozen people in its rare stage appearances, blends political sensibilities with insanely catchy African rhythms and instruments. Listening to the group perform at Rothbury, it was hard to believe that anything this melodic and danceable could be a song of protest. That's partly by design, according to trumpet player and keyboardist Danny Sears.
Panjea "I read a lot of the fan mail that comes in, the forums and the MySpace page, and I can tell you that seeing what people write in, they're very moved by it," says Sears. "I think the people that we do affect are affected in a very positive way. The people who want to be reached, are reached. Some people are swayed in the right direction, but you're always gonna have people who are just not into it but maybe they enjoy the grooves and they feel the music and we can reach them that way."
Sears, like everyone in the band, is truly a musician's musician and definitely knows a thing or two about grooves. Casual music fans might not know these names, but they probably know the bands that Panjea's members have played with. When he's not jamming with Panjea, Sears frequently appears with Railroad Earth, Guster and The String Cheese Incident.
The String Cheese Incident, not coincidentally, is one of the reasons for Panjea's initial success. SCI mandolin and violin player Michael Kang is the most famous member of Panjea. Like almost everyone else in the band, the South Korean-born artist has spent plenty of time outside the U.S., and these experiences have informed both his politics and his music. SCI fans accustomed to the apolitical nature of that band might be a bit surprised to hear Kang speak so passionately about issues like globalization and its effect on the environment.
"Our way of life transcends national boundaries. It's coming to the time where we are not going to have to look at what's going on in our backyards but recognize that the planet is our backyard," says Kang. "It's a matter of just recognizing, being grateful for what we have. The first thing that we all have the power to do is just conserve the stuff that we use."
The band's political and environmental messages have strong roots in Zimbabwe and southern Africa, where Berry spent nearly a decade learning the mbira, a traditional African thumb piano, as well as the ngoma drum. Berry became a star in Africa by the time he was 23 and soon started to impress musicians on this side of the Atlantic. A chance meeting in New York sometime around 2002 or 2003 with current band saxophonist Chris Cuzme soon led to the introduction of Berry and Sears and the beginnings of Panjea. In 2006, Berry and Kang traveled to Africa for several months and they returned for a second trip in 2007. It was while living in Zimbabwe that Berry met Zimanai Masanago, Panjea's guitar player. Masanago, a bandleader and songwriter in his own right, also pens political songs written in his native Shona dialect. "Shona culture uses a lot of proverbs," says Masanago. "When elders talk to each other and to children, they use proverbs and very simple things to talk about very big things. That's the way I approach the songs that I write in Shona for our band, Pachedu."
Chris Berry - Panjea "I think the main issue is economic and political survival on a daily basis, just keeping your head above water," says Masanago about southern Africa. "People are trying to survive, so the issue of environmental awareness is really a secondary issue." In places like Mali, the fourth-poorest country in the world with a per capita income of about one dollar a day, economic and social issues take priority over environmental issues, although he maintains that "people are really connected naturally to their environment." But these issues don't stop people from having a good time, even in the face of poverty so extreme that bands can't afford the gas to go on tour. But, he points out going on tour isn't really necessary. "Most of the countries like Zimbabwe are really small. So people just go play and come back home."
Coming home is a bit of an issue at times for some of the band members. Several of them, like Martinique-born bassist Patrice Blanchard, have spent so much time on the road that "home" has become somewhat of a nebulous concept. And although all of the band members are currently based in the U.S., some of them are worried about the political future of the country they now call home.
"I'm not American, but I'm so concerned about your next election," says Blanchard. "If you guys [make] the right choice, the American President being very influential, that could change the whole landscape. Bush could have been one of the most important presidents for starting the green revolution, but he decided not to. The next one has to. Otherwise, I think I'll move. I'll go to Australia, where the environment is a big issue. I'll go there [laughs]."
Kang, on the other hand, isn't having any of this talk of moving.
"I'm not a [U.S.] citizen either," he says. "I've chosen to stick around and become a part of the solution. When I [traveled] to Africa, it made me realize this is why I've spent so much time in the States, because there's actually something we can do about it. That led me to want to get involved with becoming part of the solution in whatever way [I can]. If we're not going to do it, nobody else is. I'm not going to count on any politician to do it for me. We can find ways to do a lot of this in our communities."
Community is a reoccurring theme throughout the band's conversations and music. Panjea is, after all, a band focused on transcending geographic and political boundaries and bringing people together. In a world where we are increasingly disconnected from each other despite the ease of being connected at all times, the band is using its music to bring us together. So, it's not surprising that Berry wraps up our conversation with a message to JamBase readers about community.
"I just want to say how thankful I am to JamBase and all the fans who are a part of it, because it's really a forum in which musicians can be empowered. It feels like we're taking the power back to the people through JamBase. It's a real forum for us to communicate directly to the fans, as I like to call them."
Panjea play this Friday and Saturday (12/12 & 12/13) in San Francisco and two nights in Colorado for New Years. Complete dates available here).
Panjea recently re-released their entire catalog digitally through reapandsow. You can check it out here.
Peats Ridge, the Australian music festival that might just be the world's greenest festival, announced its full lineup yesterday. Not being Australian, I've never heard of any of these bands, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to go to this festival in the worst possible way. Partly it's because it looks like one New Year's Eve party that actually doesn't suck, partly it's because January in Oz looks to be a damn site better than January in Boston, and partly it's because it looks like quite possibly the prettiest festival venue on the planet.
And if none of the more than 200 (!!!) musical acts, including sultry Aussie beauty Kara Grainger, do it for you, there's always the pure pleasure of being in a festival that sets the bar for all other green entertainment happenings. Check out this short list of what's being done at the festival: "100% biodiesel generators, odour free composting toilets, grey water management, container deposit system, organic waste composting, reclaimed materials for decoration, certified organic food at our stalls, biodegradable cutlery, onsite bike couriers, natural ink printing, chemical free cleaning products...and the list goes on!"
And before you say that it sounds like Rothbury or Bonnaroo, take a moment to ponder that the festival started in 2004 as a purely green festival, long before the idea caught on on this side of the Pacific, and that they're doing things that neither of the big two US green events are doing yet including using composting toilets and commissioning full environmental audits.
If you're one of the lucky ones who gets to the festival, make sure to let us know how it was in the comments! Meanwhile, enjoy this video of Extended Family, Australia's Best Blues Band of 2006, performing at the 2006 event.
Over the summer, GreenBase noticed that The Crystal Method's Ken Jordan was one of the most-involved artists with the green discussions happening at Rothbury. Then about a month ago, TCM released a remixed version of Barack Obama's speech set to the band's 1999 classic "Now is the Time" at the Democratic National Convention as a free download. Since the band is better known for being a hard-partying electronic music outfit than a political or socially motivated act, we thought we'd get in touch to see what was going on. Ken Jordan, one-half of the band, took time out of a busy DJ tour schedule to speak to GreenBase contributor Jason Turgeon. He called us from his new Ford Escape Hybrid while sitting next to his girlfriend, Janine Johnson, the brains behind the non-profit group Green Wave Enterprises, and we discussed the upcoming election, his evolving green views, and a recent fundraiser on a solar-powered stage, among other things.
We're not quite sure how Ken has found the time to go green and get politically motivated since he's also busy doing a fall North American DJ tour, preparing to release a new album, and prepping for a live tour in support of that album, but we're glad he's making it happen. Make sure you grab a copy of the "Now is the Time" remix from the band's website. If you're into electronic music make sure to check them out as they swing through your area on the DJ or live tour. In the meantime, enjoy this interview and don't forget to vote on Tuesday!
JamBase: You were really involved at Rothbury with some of the Think Tank things...and then you [released] the new Obama remix. Tell us what's on your mind.
Ken Jordan: We just did an Earthdance fundraiser at my house...it's like a yearly thing where there's events all over the world, you know?...It's like the rave version of Earth Day. It raises all kinds of money for nonprofits.
You did that at your house?
Yeah, I've got a nice pool, we did it at the house. We had Adam Freeland there, and Scott and I had fun. We did it with Greenwave.
So you're a closet greenie! When I was [doing research] on you, I was looking around for some kind of signs that you were some crazy Greenpeace supporter and I couldn't find any. This [seems like] it's all kind of new for you guys.
It is new for us.
Was there a moment that triggered this for you or was this something that you'd always kind of thought about?
Well, my girlfriend really started opening my eyes to everything (laughing).
She's sitting right next to you in the car?
Yeah (laughing). Once you start opening your eyes, everything starts getting really clear and obvious, you know?
So how long ago would you say that was?
Probably about a year ago.
So now that your eyes are open what kind of things are you seeing? Are you greening stuff in your house or on your tour?
Well, I'm driving in my hybrid. I got rid of my Range Rover and got ... [a Ford] Escape hybrid. I'm really hoping that when we do our next live tour next year that we can get a biodiesel tourbus. That would be really cool.
How about the current tour?
We're trying to green our rider...we're trying to do things...with less of a carbon footprint, trying to do less of the plastic bottles of water, everything that goes to waste or landfill. Some promoters and clubs are receptive and others aren't. A lot of the problem is that some of the times when we get booked our old rider goes out, but we're working on that.
Are you getting positive response to the new Obama mix that you put out? Are people OK with you all of a sudden becoming a political act where you weren't before?
Well it's obviously pro-Obama, but we're really trying to put it out there as a pro-vote kind of statement. Although it's pretty clear who we would be favoring in the election, we're really trying to tell people to register and to vote.
Is this a song that you're going to be playing in some of your club dates this fall on your tour?
It made its club debut last night in Anaheim and it went over really well.
I saw you at Rothbury and you were all over the place. Was there anything at Rothbury that caught your attention, anything you'd like to see other people do?
Well, lots of things, but the one thing I...sort of discovered at Rothbury...was about how a lot of this stuff has to be legislated. You can try to get people to recycle or reduce their carbon footprint, but until ... governments legislate some of this stuff, I think it's going to be really hard. I really found out how important legislation is and how that might be the key to fixing everything. Sometimes people just won't do the right thing unless it's against the law not to.
So were you a voter before this? You're talking about legislation and encouraging people to vote.
I'm a lifelong democrat, but I've lived in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and I really haven't been exposed too much to the green world.
How's Scott [Kirkland, the other band member] with all of this? Is he on board with it or is it kind of your thing?
Yeah, he's fine with it. I think for the most part any non-serial killer, once they're exposed to this stuff, is for it, you know (laughing).
That might have to be my lead quote there. You just wrote the headline for me: anybody who's not a serial killer is into this (laughter from Ken and Janine).
It's not so hard to do, it's fun to do, you feel good about doing it. Overall, it's a good experience. You end up happier when you're not wasting and not polluting. That's something that I wanted to talk about. It seems that whenever we start talking about doing things that are good for the planet, people get very serious. You guys are a band that's all about having fun. Have you found that it's hard to reconcile a positive message with people having a good time?
Well, we haven't come across that yet. I was gonna say something that might get me in trouble, but maybe I won't. I was gonna say we haven't hit the heavy right wing areas yet. Who knows what will happen when we play the Obama song in Alabama? (laughing). So what's next for you? You're talking about biodiesel tour buses and driving hybrids and supporting politicians. Are you going to continue down this road for a while or are you going to continue just making good strong party songs?
Well, I really want to work with Green Wave...to get this whole greening of the electronic community going. Just simple things to start with, just changing the rider, just having actual towels from the bar instead of having paper towels, having actual glasses for the bar instead of plastic cups or plastic bottles of water. Just simple things like that which don't cost any money at all, real no-brainers. I think once given the opportunity, where it's no additional cost to anyone, I think people will really be into it. And I was going to say that when we did the Earthdance event, we were all solar powered for the sound system and everything.
Was that something you built yourself or were able to rent pretty easily?
So it worked out, you didn't have any equipment problems or anything?
Actually, DC power is the best stuff to run on anyway. If you've got good battery power, you never have any spikes or anything. It's really clean power.
Turning to your music now, what do you guys do to keep your live shows special?
We've always approached our live shows from, which we'll be doing again early next year, from more of a concert point of view instead of a DJ point of view or a rave point of view. It's always worked out really well for us, treating each song individually with beginnings and ends instead of one real long continuous set of music. And even though it's just me and Scott up there, we're playing as much stuff as possible live from our keyboards and samplers and stuff. We're talking about maybe bringing out a couple of musicians, maybe bringing some vocalists, on this next tour.
So the tour you're on now is a DJ tour?
Yeah, and that one goes through Christmas.
And I understand you're putting out a new album?
Yeah, our new album will be out in January of '09.
Are you going to have any kind of green or political stuff on the album?
For the physical release, there are a few different green packaging options out. We'll have to figure out which one we like the best.
How about the songs themselves? Are you going to put the Obama mix on the CD?
It might be on there just as a bonus track. Lyrically, I don't know if we're going to be doing anything particularly preachy. We generally try to stay away from that in our song titles and lyrics.
Regular readers might have noticed that the blog has been inactive for about a month. Don't worry, we're still going to keep bringing you the best news about green music issues around. There have been some big changes behind the scenes, and now's the time to announce them.
First, Sarah Krasley, who started this blog and was its guiding force for the first 18 months, has decided to move on to greener pastures. We're very sad to see her go but know that she'll be successful in her future projects. Thanks for everything, Sarah!
Second, the folks at JamBase, the parent site of this blog, have decided to make the green news a little bit more widespread! That means that about twice a month, readers of JamBase will see GreenBase stories mixed right onto the front page, instead of having to hunt us out over here. The upside is that our stories will be professionally edited (no more typos!) and we'll have more time to research them. The downside is that there won't be quite as much content.
So what does this mean for the blog? Well, there will be a little bit less content on it. When we post stories to the main JamBase site, we'll link to them from here. And if we find newsworthy items that aren't quite important enough to make the front page of JamBase, we'll continue to do short writeups. Other than that, not much will change. The blog will continue to exist for now and we'll continue to keep on digging up the best in green news.