Music festivals all over the country -- from Bonnaroo in Tennessee to Bumbershoot in Washington -- have been pushing eco-friendly energy alternatives for years, blending education with doses of rock and hip-hop. Of the 10 organizations at Bonnaroo last June there to promote renewable resources, one company calculated the festival's carbon footprint, while a different organization oversaw recycling efforts. The Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington was carbon-neutral this year, and organizers at Bumbershoot flaunted biodegradable signage and used biodiesel generators.
The wave of music festivals combines hands-on environmental education with a carnival atmosphere, and the latest festival to join the fight is the Echo Project, a three-day event starting Oct. 12 on a 350-acre plot south of Atlanta. The inaugural concert brings together such diverse acts as Spoon, the Roots and Futureman & the Black Mozart Ensemble while introducing the latest eco-friendly technology. Festival headliners will perform on a solar-powered stage, and recycling programs will be in full swing.
Echo Project organizer Nicolas Bouckaert isn't just banking on a trend, he says. He is committed to bringing about change, even though putting on a sustainable event costs significantly more than using traditional energy sources because of the relatively expensive technology used.
"If you could do something in a green way, why wouldn't you?" says 25-year-old Bouckaert.
On Saturday, Sept. 29, Bouckaert banded together with Georgia Power and Rivers Alive for a Chattahoochee River cleanup. With a black garbage bag in tow, he paddled around the river in a kayak, picking up trash. The cleanup project is part of the festival's outreach, and volunteers will receive discounted ticket prices. They strapped on orange vests and took to paths around the Morgan Falls hydroelectric dam or waded in the river. While most found empty water bottles, miscellaneous trash and maybe an errant sandal or shoe, a few volunteers came across sporting equipment.
The marriage of music and the environment gathered steam when organizers at the 2004 Lollapalooza festival got on board to use hydrogen fuel cells. Low ticket sales forced the concert under, but the environmental festival movement has since reached a fever pitch because of current events.
"Global warming is real and people believe it. Before, they didn't believe that at all," says Neal Turley of Sustainable Waves, a company that will provide a solar-powered stage for all three days of the festival. "It's almost like a part of the event these days. You gotta have a green element." The stage, which uses 28 amps of power, operates at a level lower than traditional stages. Turley contends that using solar power to fuel amps and monitors also makes sense from an audio standpoint. "The power that's going into our amps is very clean, and it basically runs those more efficiently than they would run if they had power," he says.
Bouckaert has been wanting to put on a music festival since he graduated from college, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in romance languages and marketing. When he came back to Atlanta after graduate school, Bouckaert asked to use family land his father has been collecting in bits and pieces since the '80s. The land sits mostly vacant, with future plans for a horse farm.
"It is a pristine piece of land right now," Bouckaert says. The low-impact nature of the Echo Project is practical: If trash is left behind and the land suffers, the festival might not survive its first year. Bouckaert has hope, however, that people will leave the land as they found it, and the Echo Project will become a way to introduce greener methods for years to come.
"It's a way to use this property one time a year for a major cause," Bouckaert says.
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