🎵 Music & Nature 🍃 'Music and nature are two things that fill the soul and we are overjoyed to bring our community together once again to celebrate and learn collectively together' -Will Piper
If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us for sure it is that we can never underestimate or under-appreciate the value of community. There is true power and synergy in gathering like-minded individuals together and rejoicing in bringing awareness and advocacy about the importance of environmental protection and sustainability to others. This year Rock the Green’s 11th Annual Earth Day Celebration (FREE) presented by Milwaukee Riverkeeper & City of Milwaukee’s Environmental Collaboration Office returns with a bang at the Harley-Davidson Museum, Saturday, April 23rd from 12-3 p.m.
Over the past two years of living with the pandemic, we have been blessed to have been able to pivot and curate a series of “Rock the Stream” weekly concerts in the summer of 2020 to support local artists and non-profit organizations in times where we could not meet in person. In addition, last year, the Milwaukee troubadour extraordinaire, Trapper Schoepp treated us to a wonderful streaming show for Earth Day. However, despite everyone’s creativity and best intentions in mind, it simply wasn’t quite the same, and this year we are delighted to bring back civic advocacy and environmental sustainability with a zero-waste Earth Day celebratory event.
Rock the Green has once again partnered with Milwaukee Riverkeeper to celebrate the Earth and the volunteers who have spent their mornings helping keep trash out of our rivers, parks, and community areas as part of their 27th Annual Spring Cleanup. “It is great to have restrictions lifted and to feel like we’re back to normal,” Milwaukee Riverkeeper Executive Director Jennifer Bolger Breceda shared with a big grin in a recent Zoom interview with Rock the Green. “We have over 3,000 volunteers signed up so far, and that is highly encouraging as traditionally we have a huge surge in volunteers registering the week before the event, and this year we can take walk-up volunteers as well. We have been able to do some things over the past two years, but nothing like this. In 2020 we did a DIY clean-up, and then in 2021 we had a live clean-up event but had to cap registrations, so we didn’t get nearly the amount of volunteers we’re used to having. With the number of volunteers already registered for the event, I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
This year’s cleanup is especially important as citizens are noticing an increased amount of trash around their neighborhoods, parks, rivers, and waterways. Bolger explained, “Labhortages have been hitting every industry including the recycling and garbage industries, and there are many reasons why there is an abundance of trash in our communities right now.
In terms of waste, the thing we see the most is single-use plastics… water bottles, chip bags, plastic bags, and the like. These items will likely remain the most found items by our volunteers. The way that our Earth works, the wind, and the rain push everything into our waterways. Eventually, all of that trash that you see along the sides of roads and in parks and public areas gets into the river and can cause increased harm to the wildlife and damage the quality of our waterways. This year’s clean-up is very much needed, and I am overjoyed at the response we have had in terms of volunteers already.”
While it is important to try to get most of the “regular offender” items out of parks and waterways, part of the fun of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper Spring Cleanup is keeping an eye out for some unique items too. Bolger Breceda continued with a grin, “We will have our annual contest asking volunteers to submit pictures of the most unusual items they find… that is always a lot of fun for everyone. We’ve seen all sorts of stuff come out of the rivers over the years… bowling balls, grocery carts, mattresses, a slate chalkboard… you name it.” While playing Indiana Jones and hunting for odd items is always a hit with volunteers of all ages, Bolger Breceda stressed the importance of being mindful of our reliance as a society on single-use plastics. “Plastic is everywhere and we are really facing a plastic epidemic. Plastic does a lot of good things, but the single-use of plastics really hurt us more than helps us. Much of the items are designed with convenience in mind, and convenience is ok, but we need to find other ways to manage this. There are plant-based options and other options that are less toxic too. That’s one of the reasons we love to partner with Rock the Green. Not only do our volunteers and community members get treated to free world-class entertainment, but they also learn more about simple ways they can be part of the solution and help our environment thrive as well.”
Speaking of entertainment, this year Rock the Green is proud to welcome Elektra Records recording artist Bendigo Fletcher and Rock the Green alums V Funk to the world-famous Pedal Powered Stage for some great tunes. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Bendigo Fletcher is psyched to make their debut in Milwaukee. In a Zoom interview, Rock the Green caught up recently with singer-guitarist Ryan Anderson. Anderson and his bandmates are passionate about the environment and eco-friendly causes like Rock the Green.
Anderson shared, “I have done a lot of work in Louisville with nonprofits that support environmental sustainability. In Louisville, we have an Earth Day walk to help raise awareness and seeing the outpouring of support from community members inspired me. Love for music and nature go hand-in-hand and create a spiritual connection for a lot of people. Gatherings that celebrate the Earth are timeless and date back to early Pagan celebrations. It’s a truly powerful thing when we can connect to the Earth and use that as a reason to get together. It makes it different from just an average concert that you might choose to see during the year. We’re thrilled to be able to play and support this cause.”
The connection between nature and music has always had a profound impact on Anderson in terms of his musical craft and songwriting. “Songwriting is tied to a sense of oneness with the natural world in a way that it clears my head and helps me to prioritize relationships. The more time we spend in nature the more we appreciate it. There is a respect that has grown in me with all of my relationships with the world and its people that are all interconnected. I am able to enjoy my life more when I’m connected with the natural world. As a writer, fewer ideas come to me when I feel cluttered and bogged down with superficial things. Celebrating the Earth and connecting with it grounds me with my songwriting and really connects me with my music.”
As we all can imagine, life on the road for touring artists can always be a challenge when it comes to finding ways to be more environmentally minded and cut down on waste. However, Anderson encourages folks to just be mindful and start with small, manageable steps. “Using a Nalgene bottle sounds simple, but makes a huge difference in cutting down on waste,” Anderson continued. “As artists, we often are offered single-use plastic water bottles in green rooms while we are touring. We try to avoid these and just fill up our Nalgene bottles. It bothers us all to have so much plastic go to waste. It is depressing too. We can all make a difference just by being a little more mindful.”
Bolger Breceda, Anderson, and everyone involved with the Rock the Green Earth Day Celebration are delighted to be able to be together once again. Bolger Breceda, especially, can hardly wait. ”I love this partnership with Rock the Green and Milwaukee Riverkeeper. Lindsay does such an incredible job putting on such an awesome event. We spend the whole morning cleaning up all this waste that was created; and then we get to have a party that does not create more trash, but rather educates attendees about ways to have events with zero-waste. It’s incredible. We’ve got to be outside, laugh, talk, rejoice, and enjoy great music and delicious food, along with learning about ways we can all make a difference to help our planet.
This year’s location of the Rock the Green Earth Day Celebration is also significant for Bolger Breceda. “The Harley-Davidson Museum is right on the Menomonee River so we can see the beautiful waterways we helped protect during the morning’s clean-up while sharing a great vibe together and celebrating the Earth.”
Music and nature are two things that fill the soul and we are overjoyed to bring our community together once again to celebrate and learn collectively together.