Rock, roll and recycle

August 09, 2008|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

At Woodstock, the rock moment that heralded today's mega music events, after days of peace, love and groovy guitar licks, fans and bands left behind a stunning mass of garbage, some pushed lovingly into the shape of a peace sign.

The essence of rock rebellion then. Now? So uncool.

When Virgin Festival opens today in Baltimore, young fans will carpool, buy carbon offsets and compost.

They'll eat local, sip from cups made of corn and use recycled toilet paper. They'll take home sustainable cotton souvenir shirts and clutch programs printed with soy-based ink.

At this, as at some other major outdoor concerts in the U.S. this summer, acts come and go but greenness is non-negotiable.

Today's rock festivals give new meaning to the term "partying responsibly." With their unabashed, even zealous, pleas for environmentalism, they also signal the end of an era:

A true guitar hero wouldn't smash his guitar; he'd recycle it.

"Times are changing," says Jill Okawa, Virgin Mobile's manager of pro-social marketing. "Shoulder pads aren't cool anymore and neither is wastefulness."

The Virgin Festival started tugging at people's consciences even before they bought tickets.

To hold the event's carbon footprint to a minimum, promoters heavily pushed sharing rides to the show and taking mass transit.

People who bought at least four tickets online and entered the word "carpool" were rewarded with VIP parking and the chance to win prizes.

Those who ride the bus or light rail can flash their passes to get sustainable tote bags.

Dozens more people earned free concert passes by agreeing to be "green angel" volunteers, hovering over "waste reclamation stations" and helping festival-goers do the right thing as they consider bins labeled "compost," "recycling" and (hint, bad choice) "trash."

The angels will earn their wings by willingly reaching into the refuse and moving, say, a half-eaten sandwich from "recycling" into "composting."

"They'll have gloves," Okawa says.

While Wilco, Foo Fighters and Nine Inch Nails take the stage, some fans will groove on the lawn. Others will snake about the grounds searching for dropped cans and bottles, loot - loot licked by strangers - that they can haul to the TRASHed Recycling Store to trade for prizes.

The more garbage they bring, the better the giveaway.

Concertgoers at the Green Spot booth will be pedaling away on bicycles, creating energy to mix smoothies and light up bulbs - ideally learning that fluorescent bulbs require less power, less pedaling, than incandescent ones.

Not everyone takes well to the do-good message at a rock concert.

The band Barenaked Ladies learned the danger of downers the hard way when they showed slides about global warning before their act.

Singer Steven Page told The N ew York Times last year that the grim pregame show spoiled his fans' mood to rock.

"Sometimes," he told the newspaper, "it could take a few songs to remind them that they're there to have a good time."

Brian Allenby, a manager with Reverb, a company founded in 2004 by members of the band Guster solely to help musicians get green, says that while handling shows for Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Counting Crows, Reverb is more than wary of creating a school-marmish vibe.

"Our No. 1 rule," he says, " 'Thou shalt not preach, and thou shalt not be a buzz-kill.' "

Mark Shulman, vice president of talent for AEG Live!, the agency that runs All Points West, a festival this weekend in New Jersey, strives to balance music with message.

But, he says, concertgoers these days expect a green show.

"They will reach out to you in advance and wonder, 'Can I recycle my goods on-site or will I have to take them home with me?' " he says.

"Ten years ago at a festival, they would just drop garbage on the ground. It's completely reversed. ...

"They're looking for more than just the old adage of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."

And though some who walk a more rigid green line accuse the Virgin Fests, All Points Wests, Coachellas, Bonnaroos and Warped Tours of polluting just by their very existence, by giving people a reason to travel far and expel emissions in the name of music, Shulman begs to differ.

"If we can change the way people think," he says, "it more than accounts for the impact of the actual event."

All of this confounds John Covach, a long-haired, goateed dude with a doctorate who teaches courses on the history of rock at the University of Rochester and who cradles a Heritage Millennium in one official faculty photo and a Kenny Hill classical guitar in another.

"What's funny," he says, "is that there's a certain kind of rock 'n' roll attitude about rule-breaking or testing the rules, and yet there's something very rule-following about what's happening today.

"To say it's fascist would be a little too strong, but if you're not doing these green things, it's like you need to be punished."

The counterculture, he laments, has become the new orthodoxy. "Unorthodox," he jokes, "would be to throw your Coke can on the ground."

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