How green is my music?
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SONIC REDUCER It's not easy being green, music lover. Because I've tried to shove my big fat cultural consumption hoof into a smaller carbon footprint, but I can't dance around the numbers.
I've ponied up the green stuff for nonprofits, come correct at the composting and recycling bins, and threatened to finally get the crusty Schwinn into shape despite the near-death horror stories from bike messenger chums back in the day. But what can a music-gobbling gal do when faced with the hard if rough facts spat out by, for instance, the free online Carbon Footprint Calculator? After selecting "I often go out to places like movies, bars, and restaurants," I watched my print soar to Bigfoot proportions thanks to my nightlife habit I supposedly generate around the US average of 11 tons of CO2 per person rather than the mere 8.5 tons if I indulged in only "zero carbon activities, e.g. walk and cycle." Even if this out-late culcha vulcha flies on zero-emission wings to each show, I'm still feeding a machine that will prove the undoing of the planet, since the Calculator estimates that hard-partying humanoids need to reduce their CO2 production to 2 tons to combat climate change. We won't even get into the acres of paper, publications, and CDs surrounding this red-faced, would-be greenster. I'm downloading as fast as I can, but I wonder whether my hard drive can keep up: hells, even MP3s and the studios and servers that eke them out add to my huge, honking footprint. Must I resign myself to daytime acoustic throw-downs within a walkable radius from my berth? Can I get a hand-crank laptop? Just how green can my music get?
Well, it does my eco good to know that a local venue like the Greek Theatre has gone green all year round: Another Planet has offset an entire season's 113 tons of CO2 emissions; composted over two tons of cups, plates, and utensils; used recycled paper and soy-based ink on all their printed materials; and offered a $1 opt-in to ticket-buyers to offset their environmental impact. I can feel my tonnage shrinking just staring at the numbers. And while gatherings such as last year's Treasure Island Music Festival sported zero-emission shuttles and biodiesel generators and this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will team with Amtrak to provide a free train that will move campers from Los Angeles' Union Station to Empire Polo Field sans smog-spewing traffic jams, artists like José González have embarked on green tours, adding 50 cents to tickets to support nonprofits. Yet such efforts might prove more consciousness-raising than anything else, González concedes: "For me, playing mostly solo and touring with a small crew, I feel like the actual cut down on emissions is marginal comparing it to major artists, so it's more about the symbolic value of it, and the ripple effect it might bring."
Still, CO2 spendthrifts like me need a swift kick in our waste-line. Lining up to deliver are such music-fueled events as the free South Lake Tahoe Earth Day Festival April 19 and the Digital Be-In 16 April 25 at Temple nightclub, organized by the Cyberset label with an "ecocity" theme aimed at sustainable communities. Green practices, Be-In founder Michael Gosney says, "may not be huge in of themselves, but they set an example for communities to take these practices back into their own lives." One such community-oriented musician is String Cheese Incident mandolin player Michael Kang, who'll perform at the Digital Be-In and appear with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks at the free Green Apple Festival concert April 20 in Golden Gate Park.
Organizing seven other free outdoor Earth Day shows throughout the country on April 20 as well as assorted San Francisco shows that weekend, the Green Apple Festival is going further to educate artists and venues the usual suspects that inspire me to make my carbon footprint that much bigger by distributing to participating performers and clubs helpful Music Matters artist and venue riders: the former encourages artists to make composting, recycling, and offsets a requirement of performances; the latter suggesting that nightspots consider reusable stainless-steel bottles of water and donating organic, local, fair-trade and/or in-season food leftovers to local food banks or shelters.
But how green are the sounds? Musicians like Brett Dennen, who also performs at SF's Green Apple event, may have grown up recycling and composting, but he confesses that environmentalism has never spurred him to craft a tune: "Things as big as global warming have never moved me to write about it, even though I'm doing what I can." And Rilo Kiley's Blake Sennett, who plays April 17 at the Design Center Concourse, may describe himself as a "recycling animal I love it! I go through trash at other people's houses!", yet even he was unable to push the rest of the his group to make their latest CD, Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros., 2007) carbon neutral.
So maybe it comes down to supporting those leafy green rooms, forests, and grasslands we otherwise take for granted. Parks are the spark for exRum Diary member Jon Fee's Parks and Records green label in Fairfax, which wears its love of albums on its hand-printed, all-recycled-content sleeves and plans to donate a percentage of all its low-priced CD sales to arboreal-minded groups like Friends of the Urban Forest. Fee and his spouse Mimi aren't claiming to have all the answers in terms of running a low-carbon-footprint imprint, but they are pragmatic ("In order to support bands, labels need to give them something they can sell to get gas money," Fee says) and know their love of the outdoors segues with many musicians. "You develop that camping mentality from touring," he offers. "You're not showering, and you're hanging out for long periods of time. Everyone loves to be outside." That's the notion even those too cheap to buy offsets can connect with until the weird weather is at their doorstep.