Keeping It Conscious
Festival bigger, better, still sustainable
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.”
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.