Keep­ing It Con­scious

Fes­ti­val big­ger, bet­ter, still sus­tain­able

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - RIVER VALLEY - JO­CE­LYN MUR­PHY

Last year’s in­au­gu­ral sus­tain­able mu­sic fes­ti­val Homegrown on the River re­cy­cled nearly 2,500 pounds of trash that oth­er­wise would have gone to a land­fill, do­nated more than 300 pounds of food waste to a lo­cal pig farmer and through so­lar power, re­turned 80 per­cent of the en­ergy it used back to the grid.

“You never know un­til you do some­thing like that if peo­ple are go­ing to par­tic­i­pate or they’re go­ing to fight you on it,” says Jes­sica Sum­ner, fes­ti­val lead co­or­di­na­tor. “I think that was what I was most pleas­antly sur­prised [about], that not only did every­one re­ally par­tic­i­pate in our sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tive, they told their friends, they came up and thanked us later, they posted about it on so­cial me­dia — we were just over­whelmed by the pos­i­tive re­sponse of that as­pect of the fes­ti­val.”

“I haven’t seen an­other fes­ti­val run [that way]. It was so clean. No trash any­where to be found,” adds John Henry, gui­tarist of The Squarsh­ers, a Fayet­teville “groove­g­rass” band that was part of the lineup. With the idea of keep­ing the same tin cup all week­end and us­ing your same bam­boo uten­sils, Henry says the fes­ti­val lit­er­ally gave par­tic­i­pants the tools to think more con­sciously about sus­tain­abil­ity.

“Most places are try­ing to pack in as many peo­ple as they can and have as suc­cess­ful an event as they can, and I think a lot of times that en­tails def­i­nitely hav­ing a trash ser­vice, but not nec­es­sar­ily think­ing it all the way through to how can we have peo­ple re-use at a fes­ti­val. Most [fes­ti­val­go­ers] aren’t re­ally think­ing about it, but if the fes­ti­val’s think­ing about it, they can give you that stuff and [show you how to do it].”

With no glar­ing fail­ures in the first year, Sum­ner says fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers are look­ing to ex­pand their ef­forts for year two — in ed­u­ca­tion and in prac­tice. In an un­usual part­ner­ship for a gov­ern­ment agency, the Arkansas Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity is on board as the pre­sent­ing spon­sor of the mu­sic fes­ti­val’s sec­ond year and will fa­cil­i­tate a youth re­cy­cling pro­gram that will both in­form and en­cour­age the whole fam­ily in con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. Com­bined with the re­turn­ing re­cy­cling/sort­ing sta­tion from GreenSource Re­cy­cling and the on-site farm­ers mar­ket pro­vided by Ozark Nat­u­ral Foods, Homegrown is the lead­ing ex­am­ple in Northwest Arkansas — and pos­si­bly the en­tire state — of suc­cess­fully host­ing a sus­tain­able large-scale event.

“That is a place where my friends and I grew up — float­ing that river and hang­ing out — and [these are] the same peo­ple who are help­ing me throw this fes­ti­val now,” Sum­ner shares. “So we want peo­ple to have a good time — to en­joy fes­ti­vals and live mu­sic as a fam­ily in a re­spon­si­ble way, in tak­ing care of the Mul­berry River. I don’t need much more than that.”

But of course the es­sen­tial el­e­ment draw­ing guests to the fes­ti­val — the mu­sic — is re­ceiv­ing as much at­ten­tion as the in­creas­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. Fea­tur­ing mostly blue­grass and folk mu­sic in its first year, the fes­ti­val lineup has ex­panded to in­clude rock, funk and even elec­tron­ica in 2017. In ad­di­tion to The Squarsh­ers, Northwest Arkansas fa­vorites like Arkansauce, Vin­tage Pis­tol and Justin Pe­ter KinkelSchus­ter per­form this year. And be­ing sur­rounded by fa­mil­iar faces and friends from the Arkansas mu­sic scene is what Henry is most an­tic­i­pat­ing with his re­turn.

“Ev­ery fes­ti­val I go to, I’m look­ing for­ward to pick­ing with my friends and just play­ing mu­sic all night,” Henry says of his fa­vorite fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ences — in­clud­ing last year’s Homegrown. “I find that largely dic­tates my feel­ings of a fes­ti­val — whether or not there’s a bunch of peo­ple play­ing acous­tic in­stru­ments un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing. If there is, then I had a great time. And if there isn’t, I may have had a good time, but it wouldn’t have been as good as it could have been if we were all play­ing mu­sic un­til we didn’t re­al­ize it was morn­ing again.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY JEREMY SCOTT

Self-pro­claimed “groove­g­rass” band The Squarsh­ers re­turn to the Homegrown main­stage this year at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 4. The group re­leased de­but al­bum “Won’t Set­tle Down” on June 16 and will per­form new songs and old fa­vorites at the fes­ti­val.

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