“Rothbury is committed to harnessing the spirit of the music festival community into a durable social movement. Rothbury is created by people who are passionate about music, and about live music in particular. We are captivated by the unique experience that a perfect musical moment offers; when we transcend beyond individuals and into a collective. It’s a connectedness that invites palpable inspiration and real opportunity to create a lasting change. This is the Rothbury mission.”
A twelve-hour car ride from DC, through Maryland, West Virgina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, including a 9-hour-plus chronological discography of The Beatles (a la the trip to Bonnaroo 2007), thunderstorms, fireworks, coffee, and Cheez-its…
Thus began a journey to the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan. In its inaugural year, the Rothbury Festival 2008 set out to improve upon the modern festival’s massive environmental impact and, even further, on the festivalgoers’ overall consciousness of our collective and individual environmental footprints. Rothbury’s goal to “throw a HUGE party…with a purpose” showed through in every aspect – from the hundreds of composting and recycling bins, to the sugarcane and corn-based cutlery (compostable), to the pocket ash trays, to the use of clean energy and carbon-offsetting, to the daily Think Tanks with popular artists…You can find the entire extensive and impressive commitment here: http://rothburyfestival.com/festival/our_commitment.php
Thousands of tons of garbage and millions of tons of cigarette butts are generated each year at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, et al., and given the current hot-button issues of climate change/global warming/overall planetary destruction via human ignorance and ineptitude, Rothbury attempted something truly valiant: get a bunch of people together who talk the talk, and get them to walk the walk.
Despite the environmentally sound premise, Rothbury was a party and festival first, and a forum for social change second. For four days in early July, upwards of 50,000 people from all 50 states met on Michigan’s west coast and partied hard. Drugs were overabundant, beer and liquor flowed from dawn to well beyond dusk, and glow sticks littered the air and ground in the hundreds of thousands. (I’ll get to the music in due time – see Parts II – V, soon to come, for day-by-day breakdowns.)
Producer Jeremy Stein and Madison House worked hard to follow through on their promises of eco-consciousness and thoughtful celebration, and people seemed willing to comply at least with the simplest aspects of enviro-friendliness. Listening to artists speak during Think Tanks, properly disposing of waste in compost and recycling cans, and making do with the mere one napkin that came with each food purchase came easily to the masses. But cigarette-butts, used glowsticks, and Nitrous Oxide balloon waste were rampant in the campgrounds and the venues.
I was surprised to see how easily people made small adjustments, but also how difficult it was for us to stop our own self-destructive behaviors at the behest of our environment. I’m not sure that there’s a remedy for the Nitrous balloon problem (other than…not inhaling Nitrous from balloons or even (GASP) throwing them away after using them?), but the aforementioned ash trays were not as accessible as they could have been. If the festival provides an ashtray to every participant upon entering the site next year, that will be one less thing – or, rather, thousands fewer things — they’ll have to clean up.
For a first-year festival, the organizers did well to provide enough shade (via “Sherwood Forest” and tents scattered across the site) and interactive elements (creating “recycled” artwork over the course of the four days, providing batting cages and other sports, having a Guitar Hero RV…the list could go on for days) to keep the entertainment-hungry crowd more than occupied. Between six stages (and one secret stage in the forest), hundreds of organic food and clothing shops, and spinning monkeys (you’ll have to attend next year to figure that one out), even the most weathered and cynical festivalgoer was entertained and swept up in the Rothbury moment.
I hardly consider myself a wily veteran when it comes to music festivals. This was my second, and almost certainly not my last. The “come as you are” and “love everyone as you love yourself” vibe was spiritually infectious, to the point of non-drug-induced euphoria. I only hope that Stein manages to keep the same feel for next year’s festival (which is confirmed in the planning stages as of today). Rothbury is undoubtedly a new institution in American music festivals, and it has improved on key components that other festivals lack: fantastic weather, environmental sustainability, and four days of non-stop, mindblowing music.
Tomorrow — Part II: Day 1