Ah festival season in Colorado. The distinctive finger-picking, strumming and bowing sounds of rootsy, innovative Bluegrass music not only fills the air but also the campgrounds and stages of outdoor venues across the state. But that’s not all that has had a fill-up, so to speak. After all the fun is finished and the campers, festivarians and artists have gone home, the host spot or town is stuck with the big job of tidying up. Shouldn’t festivals, with their hippy, love-your-Earth-Mother be leading the dive when it comes to sustainability? Absolutely. And Planet Bluegrass—which produces the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rockygrass Academy and Festival, Folk Festival, Song School and the Wildflower Pavilion Concert Series—is leading the charge.
Planet Bluegrass’ home base is tucked into the red rock canyons in the town of Lyons, site of all of its productions except Telluride. The natural beauty of the grounds are amplified by the hum of the St. Vrain River flowing through it. It’s an inspiration both to the festival attendees and to Planet Bluegrass’ day-to-day staff who works on the grounds—and they aim to keep it as pristine as possible.
That’s a tough task when so many people show up to enjoy the sublime pleasures of nature alongside amplified music. About 10,000 afficionados attend the three-day Telluride concert, and Planet Bluegrass’ other events each draw 3,500+ dancing and hula-hooping festivarians. But those numbers are actually smaller than other mega-festivals across the nation, making it easier for Planet Bluegrass to cultivate a doctrine of “sustainable festivation.”
Planet Bluegrass has committed to a sustainability doctrine, which is more like a thesis on the organization’s dedication to the cause, and has posted its ambitious, comprehensive sustainability document online. The effort has been so impressive that in 2007, Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. declared June 23 “Colorado Bluegrass Day,” honoring Planet Bluegrass for “using renewable energy to help protect our environment while producing a world-class festival.” The honor reflects the organization’s years of leading the way in sustainable festivation and the green festival movement in America.
“All our programs are voluntary, but we love it when festivarians help out,” says Brian Eyster, marketing and communications manager for Planet Bluegrass. One such program offered at every festival this year will be the “How Green is your Grass” campsite challenge. The idea is to leave a minimal footprint on the planet and to encourage creative, sustainable campsites (essentially a “leave no trace” philosophy put into practice). The contest will provide an incentive to campers to reduce waste.
To participate in the contest, festivarian campers must write down what they are doing to reduce, reuse and recycle at their campsites, take a few pictures and then post the results in the Festival Town area. Campers then vote on their favorite postings each day, which culminates into the voting of the grand prize-winning campsite at the end of the festival. The winner receives camping passes for the following year’s festival. In the past, festivarians have used solar panels to power blenders, composted all kitchen materials and even used a small hydro-turbine to power a disco ball. One Telluride camper explained that “between the renewable energy use and the composting of corn-based utensils, I felt like last year’s festival was not only music-tastic, but also eco-lightful.”
Planet Bluegrass not only provides compost containers at all campgrounds and festival areas, but it also offers locally filtered water at each venue. This is in an effort to limit the use of single-use bottles. Festivarians can bring their own reusable bottles from home or purchase one at the site and fill up for free. “Reuse” is the key word here. Although vendors use only compostable plates and utensils, Planet Bluegrass encourages folks to bring their own “reusable” silverware, napkins, plates, vintage beer cups (from previous festivals), water bottles, bags, tarps, etc. to the festival and to take them back home.
Planet Bluegrass has already made significant steps toward reducing waste at all its events. Since 2003, its goal has been to educate not only Planet Bluegrass staff but to share what they learn and to raise the bar on the art of sustainable festivation. For those who want to know more, the organization’s website includes a new Sustainable Festivation Blog, where they will provide updates (SustainableFestivation.com) and festivarians can check out the forum that includes tips and ride-shares (Festivarian.com). •