The onset of warmer, longer days signals the start of festival season in Colorado. It’s the time of the year when small towns play host to some of the best musical offerings in the high country and across the Front Range. The distinctive fingerpicking, strumming and bowing sounds of rootsy and innovative Bluegrass music not only fills the air, but also the seats, campgrounds and the stages of many 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, festival attendees, and artists have gone home, often times the hosted spot in town is left with tidying up afterwards. This is where the idea of sustainability enters the scene.
Claiming the title of producing the most sustainable musical festivals across Colorado is Planet Bluegrass, with a home base tucked into the red rock canyons near the town of Lyons. The natural setting’s beauty is amplified by the hum of the St. Vrain River flowing through it. Sound beautiful? Yes, it is, and they aim to keep it that way, including festival sites. In Telluride, they produce the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, while the Rockygrass Academy and Festival, Folk Festival, Song School and the Wildflower Pavilion Concert Series are all held in Lyons. Telluride has the largest gathering of folks with about 10,000 attending the 3-day concert; the others host a range of 3,500+ festivarians.
The numbers are smaller than other mega-festivals across the nation, making it easier to cultivate a doctrine of “sustainable festivation.” Brian Eyster, marketing and communications manager for Planet Bluegrass says, “all our programs are voluntary, but we love it when festivarians help out.” 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 their entry in the Festival Town area. Campers then vote on their favorites each day, which finally culminates into the voting of the grand-prize-winning campsite at the end of the festival. The winner receives camping passes for the next 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 will hopefully limit the use of single-use bottles. Festivarians can bring their own reusable bottle from home or purchase one at the site and fill up 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 take them back home.
In just a short amount of time, Planet Bluegrass has made significant steps towards reducing waste at all their events. Since 2003 their goal has been to educate not only themselves, but also to share what they have learned and to raise the bar on the art of sustainable festivation. For those that want to know more, the organization’s website includes a Sustainable Festivation Blog where they will provide updates (www.SustainableFestivation.com) and festivarians can check out the forum that includes tips and ride-shares (www.Festivarian.com).
Given the organization’s sustainability doctrine, which is more like a thesis on their dedication to the cause, truly you can be encouraged by their efforts to lesson our impact on this earth and preserve amazing natural environments. Go to their website to view the comprehensive sustainability doctrine. It’s impressive. And the efforts achieved are so impressive, that in 2007 Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. declared June 23rd “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.
2012 Planet Bluegrass Festivals and Events
The Song School
Rocky Mtn Folks Festival
Previously published in Elevation Outdoors.