The music industry sustainability leader shares the story behind REVERB (including Bonnie Raitt’s role in its origins), talks about REVERB’s work reducing the climate and environmental impacts of concert tours, and tells a moving tale of two trips to Latin America that inspired participants (including members of Guster, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, KT Tunstall and others) to combat the devastating impacts of illegal logging.
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I first met Gardner in 2009, when he was a speaker at the ROTHBURY Festival’s “Think Tank”, which I had the honor of producing and directing. It has been a pleasure to follow REVERB’s growing track record of success stories greening concert tours and empowering fans to take environmental and social justice actions. Inspired by Peter Shapiro’s praise of REVERB’s work in Episode 5, I reached out to Gardner for a long-overdue catch up. My goal was to share with YOU – our amazing listeners – more about the work that Shapiro spoke so highly of.
In a conversation that could have lasted for hours – ideally over a campfire and beer – we immediately dove into current events surrounding the historic wildfires that have charred millions of acres of forest, shrubland, grassland and human communities across the American West over the past month. With a Mediterranean climate characterized by cool wet winters and warm dry summers, the west coast historically experienced frequent low-intensity fires. In fact, tribes up and down the Pacific Coast used cycles of controlled burns to manage the natural resources that sustained their communities. As UC Berkeley historians, Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish (2009), write in their fascinating account of California Indians and Their Environment, California’s Coastal Miwok tribe utilized fire as a tool to favor plants they used as food and fiber:
“Native people implemented prescribed burns that augmented the diversity of landscapes by helping to create a patchwork of heterogeneous habitats containing plants at different stages of succession. Fires fostered the growth of plants used for food and in the creation of perishable material culture. Managed burns also produced new forage that attracted game birds and mammals. The proliferation of economic plant and animal resources in discrete patches across local territories allowed Indian communities to implement harvesting strategies that involved the bulk collection of food, cordage, basketry material, and other kinds of raw materials. Gathering goods en mass and then stockpiling them at winter villages not only sustained people during the lean times of the year, but was instrumental in supporting the profusion of small-scale polities (villages) that dotted the landscape of Northern California.”
As a result of (1) colonists oppressing tribes and preventing them from continuing their traditional burning practices, and (2) fire suppression that largely continues to this day (though prescribed burning is slowly on the rise), massive amounts of dry fuels have built up. Forests have also become unnaturally crowded with smaller trees, increasing the risk of catastrophic fire. At the same time, the climate crisis is making the region hotter and drier – shortening the wet season, prolonging the summer drought, and increasing infestations of tree-killing insects like bark beetles. The resulting mega-fires, which have charred millions of acres this record-setting year alone, inspired Gardner and I to dive into REVERB’s work reducing the concert industry’s climate-disrupting pollution.
REVERB’s unCHANGEit campaign, for example, is offsetting the emissions of fan travel to concerts and of touring bands, themselves, by investing in projects that reduce heat trapping pollution. Gardner conveyed how Dave Matthews Band invested the funds they raised via their unCHANGEit campaign into converting low-income housing in their hometown (Charlottesville, VA) to solar electricity.
Next, the conversation explored REVERB’s origin story, which Gardner traced to the passions of his wife, Co-Director, Lauren Sullivan, a long-time environmental activist (including a stint with Rainforest Action Network). He shared the story of how the pair was impressed by Bonnie Raitt’s environmental work, which inspired the idea to take her eco-activist efforts out into the music industry more broadly – to a diverse array of bands and fans. Their goals resonated with Raitt’s manager, Kathy Kane, who supported and mentored their work through Raitt’s Aria Foundation.
“We enjoyed their mentorship so deeply,” said Gardner, “that we stayed there until it got too big, where I think Kathy said, ‘you know, I do have an artist to manage here, this is getting to be too much’, so we had to fly the nest, and we did. But really, I greatly credit Bonnie and her manager, Kathy – I’ve always considered Bonnie Raitt kind of the godmother…of the modern environmental movement within music, where she used the tour as a living breathing example of how we can all take actions to limit our impact negatively on the environment and increase our impact positively on the movement.”
Another Episode 6 highlight covered REVERB’s food sustainability work, including its Quarantine Kitchen video series, which features interviews with guests ranging from members of Guster, the Bare Naked ladies, and Dave Matthews Band to Billie Eilish’s mother, Maggie Baird. I noted that the definition of “sustainable” recipes in the show usually focuses on the type of food – such as vegan and vegetarian – rather than how it was produced (whether it was produced on credibly sustainable or regenerative farms characterized by low or even positive environmental and climate impacts). This prompted us to ponder how REVERB might expand the scope of its farm programs from supporting local food that reduces the transport emissions of production (and promotes community supported agriculture/CSAs) to organic and regenerative food that curtails the climate and environmental impacts of agriculture, generating valuable benefits for ecosystems, public health, and farm businesses alike. As Project Drawdown describes the benefits of regenerative practices like cover crops, no-till and diversifying crop rotations:
“Together, these practices increase carbon-rich soil organic matter. The result: vital microbes proliferate, roots go deeper, nutrient uptake improves, water retention increases, plants are more pest resistant, and soil fertility compounds. Farms are seeing soil carbon levels rise from a baseline of 1 to 2 percent up to 5 to 8 percent over ten or more years, which can add up to 25 to 60 tons of carbon per acre.
It is estimated that at least 50 percent of the carbon in the earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere over the past centuries. Bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Gardner replied about the prospect of REVERB stepping up its efforts to support organic and regenerative agriculture, “and let’s throw in BiPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) and female-led farms as well. That’s where we want to see that going.”
After taking a break for a song (Guster’s stellar cover of “Nothing But Flowers” by The Talking Heads), the conversation turned to REVERB’s “No More Blood Wood” campaign, which is harnessing the power of music to end illegal logging. This work is important because nearly half of all rainforest destruction is a result of illegal logging, when trees are essentially stolen from national parks and other protected areas (usually by corrupt cabals controlled by organized crime). As part of this campaign, Maroon 5 joined Guster and the Environmental Investigation Agency on a trip to the rainforests of Guatemala. On a second trip, members of Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Guster, KT Tunstall, and Kanuka Y El Tigre traveled to the Madre de Dios Region of Peru to live with and learn from indigenous community leaders about their life and death struggles with illegal logging. I asked Gardner to share stories from these trips — including what he learned and what listeners can do to be a part of the solution to illegal logging.
To hear Gardner’s impassioned response – including how illegal logging reminds him of “blood diamonds” and how he testified before Congress to support the U.S. Lacy Act, which combats illegal logging – click here to listen to Episode 6 of The Nature of Music podcast. You can also listen on podcast apps such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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Conservation Scientist & Host, The Nature of Music Podcast