Why would some of the nation’s top environmental leaders, activists, and academics be sharing the same stage with some of the most influential and well-known people in music? And why did a sizable portion of the audience consist of unshowered, sleep-deprived, politically active 20 and 30-somethings? In a word, ROTHBURY. The ROTHBURY Music Festival held at the idyllic Double JJ Ranch near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan attracted about 40,000 music lovers from all 50 U.S. states and 15 countries. And while the four-day festival attracted musical acts as diverse as Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio, Snoop Dogg, Modest Mouse, and Primus, politically-engaged attendees were also invited to participate in a dozen “think tank” events with the theme: “Finding Energy Independence.”
To curate ROTHBURY’S series of think tank events, Festival organizers brought in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate scientist and Stanford University professor, Dr. Stephen Schneider. Schneider helped kick-off the Think Tank series of events with a live taping of the national radio show E-Town. Joining Schneider was former Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke. The pair discussed how we might move forward with political solutions to climate change and they both put particular emphasis on the tremendous importance of the upcoming 2008 election.
“This is the fusion of information and emotion,” Schneider said of the dual roles of speakers and musicians. “The message will spread way beyond ROTHBURY.”
Think Tank events were scattered throughout the four-day festival and to keep things fresh, they were also scattered throughout the Double JJ Ranch, to give the events as broad exposure as possible.
With panel discussion names like: “The Path to Energy Independence and a New American Revolution;” “How America’s Youth are Driving the Energy Revolution;” How Do We Motivate the Masses to be Part of the Energy Revolution?” And “The Energy Revolution will not be Televised – Demanding Change from our Political Leaders and the Media,” this ecopolitical geek was in heaven. But catching all of the great panel discussions would have been a Herculean task for anyone, let alone a devoted music junkie like myself.
The ones that I did catch (besides the ones at the larger stages), were attended by a very thoughtful and interested cadre of folks, spanning the spectrum of environmentalism from committed enviros to the “green curious.” But what may have been the most special aspect of the Think Tanks themselves was seeing and hearing some real big names in music talk about what they do as individuals or as a band to lessen the environmental impact of their touring.
Speaking with particular candor about this very matter was one member of the band Sound Tribe Sector Nine who noted that they were more than a little aware of the ecological footprint of their touring the country with large coaches, tractor-trailers to haul the gear, and electricity-sucking light shows and sound systems. And even though they took steps to mitigate that impact (at one point the band used to claim carbon-neutral tours) the large footprint still tugged at him a little bit.
Festival organizers Madison House and AEG Live spoke openly about raising the bar for music other music festivals, both in terms of the actual sustainability of such a large undertaking, but also in terms of harnessing the energy from that large undertaking and focusing it on a larger social cause. And while they succeeded at raising that bar, I’m guessing they see room for improvement and will come back with an even more impressive festival experience next year and for years to come.
This post was originally published at Red Green and Blue