Rock the Green Sustainability Festival is not your everyday music gala. From the free, reusable Canned Water for Kids aluminum cans handed out at the door, to the wide variety of eco-friendly activities (including learning about honey from the Beevangelist and about river clean up efforts from Milwaukee Riverkeeper), to even being able to purchase all natural, Earth friendly dog treats from high school entrepreneurs from Teens Grow Greens, Rock the Green is so much more than a showcase of bands. Rock The Green’s mission to educate the community through interactive one-to-one experiences that spotlight sustainability organizations and innovators, and entertain by presenting a world- class festival that showcases zero waste efforts on a large scale, was met and then some on a gorgeous early fall Saturday. “We are in a time of urban renewal,” stated first time festival attendee, Henry Wend of Milwaukee. “Ten or fifteen years ago, we wouldn’t have ever even been in this beautiful part of town (referring to the Reed Street Yards). Now look at it, we have made efforts to clean up the Milwaukee River, and people are using it for recreation, biking has become hugely popular, and more and more people are choosing to be more Earth conscientious at home-- recycling, composting, using less fuel and creating less waste. This day is a celebration of all that and more.”
“This festival has a sustainable picnic kind of vibe,” stated Baio, one of the artists performing on the main stage when chatting about Rock the Green Sustainability Festival. “It’s an honor to play a completely sustainable festival. It is something truly special. All festivals should be like this.”
With blue skies beaming and the sun shining brightly across the Reed Street Yards, the 2017 Rock the Green Sustainability Festival got off to a great start. For entertainment, Rock the Green had two stages- a main stage, and their world famous Pedal Power stage that is fueled by the kinesthetic energy produced by volunteer bike groups who ride while the musicians play. Two bands from the Girls’ Rock Milwaukee camp, Negative/Positive and Gas Station Sushi, provided fans with a high octane set packed with raw emotion and energy. The bands were both incredibly tight, especially given the young age of the musicians.
Renya then lead off the afternoon on the main stage. Sisters Vic and Gab, who are from Milwaukee via Texas, have evolved into a polished indie pop act as Reyna. Their lush sound, warm melodies, and ear grubbing hooks were a hit with the fans who came out early Hits like “Ink on My Skin” and “Matinee” were especially well-done.
Milwaukee guitar sensation, and Gibraltar proprietor, Evan Christian was up next on the Pedal Power stage. Christian offered a brief acoustic set to open the festival and set the tone for the day, but was back with a vengeance during his power blues set with a full band. In many ways, Christian's shredding guitar work and powerful bass thumping was foreshadowing to some of the music that we’d hear later in the night by Ben Harper. “You can be with anyone, anywhere, doing anything, but you’re here with us, and we don’t take that lightly,” proclaimed Chris Baio at the start of his set on the main stage. The Vampire Weekend bass player and vocalist’s latest solo album, Man of the World released earlier this summer, features lush soundscapes and danceable groovy numbers. Backed by only a guitarist, and some tracks, Baio’s well-choreographed show featured great interplay and some outstanding dancing by Baio who engaged a mid-afternoon crowd with his contemporary take on retro new wave sounding grooves from an earlier era. Head bopping cuts like “Sensitive Guy,” and his addictingly catchy single, “Sister of Pearl,” had the afternoon crowd on their feet and dancing along. Milwaukee’s Devil Met Contention, was the sharpest dressed band of the festival, with each of the members donning a matching dark suit. They brought their southwestern tinged tunes to the Pedal Power Stage, riding into their set with a unique sound and soulful energy. Lead singer/songwriter Ehson Rad’s deep vocals and storytelling helped lead almost the entire crowd at the festival at the time over to the Pedal Power Stage for their late afternoon set. Equal parts musically rocking and lyrically poignant, Devil Met Contention are a band on the rise who held the audience in the palms of their hands during their forty-five minute set.