The Hill is alive with Reverb-erations

Guster lead singer Adam Gardner addresses Congress today, on biodiesel and greening the music industry.

By Tobin Hack

When Adam Gardner and some buddies started the alternative rock band Guster more than a decade ago, he had no idea how big they’d get. He didn’t foresee co-founding Reverb (the brainchild of his wife, Lauren Sullivan)—a nonprofit that has  jumpstarted a sustainability movement in the music industry, and greened the tours of artists including the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Norah Jones, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And he certainly never expected that today he would find himself on Capitol Hill, addressing Congress on the future of biodiesel.

This morning, Gardner testified before the Select Committee on Energy Independence at a hearing titled “The Gas is Greener: The Future of Biofuels.” Other attendees included representatives from biofuel companies and the NRDC. Yesterday, Plenty chatted with Gardner about Reverb, Guster, and the hearing.

What’s your main goal in addressing Congress?

I’m the voice from the road, from the trenches. Guster busses and trucks have been running on biodiesel for almost two years now, and Reverb has helped other bands’ touring fleets use over a quarter million gallons. So I think Congress wants to hear about our experiences, and about the attitudes of today’s young people. We’re on the road a lot, talking to young people and students; I think it’ll be important for Congress to hear that this is something that not only bands want, but a lot of young people (who will be buying cars in the future) also want. It’s good for local economies, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for energy security, it’s good on so many levels. This stuff works, but it’s hard to get. Reverb doesn’t want to have to coordinate local suppliers to come out to fuel up artists’ tours; we want tours to be able to pull into any Flying J or truck stop and get biodiesel. The government needs to step in and make this happen.

I also want to emphasize sustainable biodiesel. Biodiesel’s great, but it’s not great if we just end up supporting factory farming. When we played at the FarmAid concert, I was fortunate enough to meet the founders of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, and I’m going to outline their principles in my testimony before Congress. Putting the power into the hands of a few is not the goal here; we want to take this back to the farmers, back to the communities where people can grow, sell, and process their own fuel regionally.

In your work through Reverb, what’s given you hope?

Every once in a while, you wake up in the morning and you go, “Am I being effective? Does anybody care?” So one of the coolest things to see is the response from fans. A good example is the carbon offset program we tried out with the Barenaked Ladies, so fans could neutralize their drives to shows. We’ve only done two and a half tours with BNL, but they’ve already neutralized close to 6 million miles of driving through fans alone. Seeing that response from fans definitely encouraged me and Lauren, and all of Reverb. Give fans a way to participate, and they will. Give them a way to make a difference, and inspire them to do so.

How green can a concert really be?

Obviously the easiest way to lessen the impact of a tour is to not do one. But the live experience can’t be replaced with a web-cam. Short of that, you have to look at every bit of the footprint. Eighty-five percent of a show’s carbon emissions comes from fan’s driving to shows, not the lights, not the stage. That’s why one of my favorite venues is the civic center in Portland, ME, because everyone can walk to it—it’s in the center of town. The biggest thing that needs to be looked at when you’re greening a concert is public transportation, carpooling, and the location of the venue itself.

Is there an artist whose tour you’ve been dying to work on?

I know Radio Head will be touring next summer, and I would love to be involved with that. And Coldplay as well—they’ll be touring 2008. I would love to get more into the Hip Hop world, and more into the Country world. I know Tim and Faith are very into environmental issues, and they’ve contacted us. I’d love to do the American Idol tour. Just to reach all sorts of different demographics. We purposely haven’t been working with many hippie, environmental jam bands because a lot of those folks are already doing so much. We work with Dave Matthews Band, which is very environmental, but he’s also a pop artist. But I’d be really excited to work with a Fifty Cent. I want to start stretching out into other genres. This is about reaching the masses.

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