Forty thousand pounds of plastic. That's how much the Vans Warped Tour recycled in 2008 as part of its Warped Eco Initiative. Now in its fifth year, WEI is helping to turn one of the longest running, largest touring musical festivals into one of the greenest. Phoning from the Time Warner Cable Amphitheatre in Cleveland, Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman balked at the suggestion that the tour is changing colors due to negative external response to the footprints it leaves behind.
"I've been around touring for a long time. I come from Claremont, Calif., which is known for its recycling programs. I know that any kind of touring is going to leave an impact."
Though he knows the tour will leave something behind at every stop, instead of leaving a Bigfoot-sized dent in each venue they play, Lyman has been working on reducing it to a toddler's shoe print.
"The whole thing started with the idea of using biodiesel on our buses," Lyman said.
So he called Willie Nelson.
"They were like, 'How many buses do you want to do?' We said, '17 production buses, 19 trucks.' They were like, 'It will never happen. We have two buses and a truck on the Willie Nelson tour,'" Lyman said laughing. "Now, we [have] anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of biodiesel on site a day."
That's right. Each day. And when the cost of biodiesel climbed along with fossil fuel prices, Lyman stayed the course.
"We did it last summer when the accountants were telling me to stop doing this. Biodiesel got up to $6 a gallon delivered. I said no, we're committed to it."
The commitment goes beyond just fuels. The Kevin Says stage, which travels from venue to venue, is completely solar powered. And things like cleaning up after feeding hundreds of musicians every day would be much easier on a catering company if they used disposable dishes and silverware. However, it would also produce tons of trash, likely to be dumped in the local landfill in each city the tour plays. So guitarists, drummers, singers, electricians and other members of the tour plop their garden burgers on biodegradable plates and dig into their meatless breakfast sausages with biodegradable forks made from potatoes or cane sugar or corn.
"[In the beginning], that stuff was hard to find," Lyman said. "Now you can order it directly through a company like Sysco. They've got those products in their line. Instead of having them shipped out to the road like we used to, or carrying them on our trucks, we get them as part of our normal order [from city to city]."
And then there's the Eco Team.
On the Warped Tour's Web site, local 'tweens and teens can register to pick up trash during a show. As might be expected, they get into the show free, they get a T-shirt, and they maybe even get a meet-and-greet with their favorite rock star. They're asked to commit to a full eight hours, but since the kiddies are having the four Rs--Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic and Recycling--pounded into their growing heads at home and at school, a day spent picking up discarded water bottles, greasy food wrappers and paper cups isn't such a stretch ... especially if they get to do it to a live music soundtrack. Lyman is hands-on there, too. He stops by the volunteer tent every morning before the show kicks off.
The bands on tour are expected to do their part as well. They recycle any batteries they use, and each bus is equipped with a recycling bin that is collected and emptied each morning.
For a lucky group of volunteer kids and/or musicians each year, Lyman adds a benefit to recycling other than the warm, fuzzy feeling they get from helping the environment.
In conjunction with Phillippe Cousteau, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Earth Echo (and grandson of Jacques Cousteau), Lyman takes a group of volunteers or the band who has shown the most initiative on an eco-learning trip each October to places like Key West, Fla., or St. Croix.
As involved as he is in the recycling, Lyman isn't militant. He especially wants the musicians involved in the tour to want to do the right thing (even if it is so they can win a trip).
"I try to instill by learning and give people a choice. I find that's the best thing to do. I can get pissed off at [bands] for leaving trash around, which I do, but [I want] to motivate them to take something back to their touring life afterward."
Many of them do. Alesana, broody emo cuties from Raleigh, N.C., went on one of the eco trips and high-energy Philadelphia darlings The A.K.A.s run fully on vegetable oil, courtesy of Lyman who gave them $2,000 to convert their van as a reward for their dedication to the eco movement.
As Lyman was on his way out of the Cleveland venue to go shopping for new socks, he yelled out, "Yeah, go ahead and play. I'm finishing up an interview." A band called Draft Week For Red Letters had been playing outside the venue all day. They stopped Lyman as he walked by and asked if they could play for him. He understands that everyone has to begin somewhere, whether they're hoping to sign a record deal or recognizing the importance of their part in building a more ecologically sound environment.
Draft Week didn't sound half bad through Lyman's cell phone. And if they promise to recycle, they're off to a good start.
The Warped Tour hits the Idaho Center on Friday, August 7. For more information, visit warpedtour.com.the AKAs