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Why California Roots Music and Arts Festival Is a Model for the Festival World

Photo by: Alex Geller
by Laura Mason | @masonlazarus Sat April 22, 2017 | 10:00 AM

California Roots Music and Arts Festival takes no prisoners when it comes to greening the heck out of its event. Earlier this year we told you about the Monterey, California, event's partnership with the Redwood Forest Foundation that will see 800 new redwood seedlings planted in Point Arena, California, this year – but that's just a mere slice of Cali Roots's plan to dominate the festival world's front lines of "partying with a purpose."

As purveyors of excellent roots and reggae, there is a decidedly earth-friendly vibe to the music at Cali Roots. It's held in the exact spot where the Monterey Pop Festival broke barriers 50 years ago as one of the first prototypes for modern-day rock festivals. Instead of the overtly capitalistic, money-grubbing agenda many music festivals have adopted these days, Cali Roots takes inspiration from that massive shift in consciousness synonymous with late-1960s California counterculture. Add in the fest's gorgeous and lush environs in Monterey – home to the nation's largest protected marine sanctuary and surrounded by the sprawling state parks of Big Sur – and it becomes obvious that a festival with these ingredients would take greening initiatives seriously not only during the festival, but in the education of its attendees in hopes that its conscious message travels far beyond its gates.

California Roots Festival 2014 Alex Geller    20

Photo by: Alex Geller

However, it wasn't always this way – and just as much of the radical change in the world is similarly jolted to life, Cali Roots's progressive greening programs came to be following a shocking realization.

"It really came from wanting to do the right thing," says Co-Producer Dan Sheehan, who also lives in the Monterey area. "I came out to our main stage grounds after year three of the event and it was a mess. Plastic beer cups everywhere. At the moment I told myself we can never have this happen again. It really wasn't a pretty sight. The following year we put the plan in motion."

The festival has made huge strides in just four years' time, thanks to clever environmental partnerships and a dedicated in-house team. For example, with TripZero , Co2 emissions in 2015 were offset by 138,347 and in 2016 by an astounding 1,410,957. According to Cali Roots's website, that’s equivalent to taking 213 regular cars off the road for an entire year. The projection for 2017 is an impressive 1,693,148.

Ca Roots 2017 Greening Pages 1200

This year the festival is expanding its greening initiatives in a big way. In addition its goal of planting 800 redwood trees with the Redwood Forest Foundation through the new Redwood Pass (a special ticket that adds upgrades to the Cali Roots experience and will see two redwoods planted for each pass), the festival will outlaw plastic straws. For those who just can't sip a drink without one, compostable straws will be available, thanks to Cali Roots' new partnership with The Last Plastic Straw which strives to educate the public about and eliminate the use of single-use plastic. Cali Roots has made the pledge to become a “Plastic Straw-Free Business Leader,” a goal not often prioritized in the festival world.

Cali Roots Festival 2017 Jeff Becker 1

Photo by: Jeff Becker

Another fresh partnership is with Monterey-based compostable product company Passion Purveyors , and Ricky Rides, an environmentally-conscious ride sharing program, which is encouraged for far-flung fans to take to and from the festival.

You'd think the complexities of adding new initiatives and re-working older ones for better efficiency would lend to a lot of trial and error, but that hasn't been the case for Cali Roots. When it comes to mistakes made along the way, Sheehan says it's only been "simple things like not getting [the] weights of dumpsters pre-event so we were not able to get accurate weights on diverted waste."

As in years' past, Cali Roots will continue working with REVERB using Nalgene Water bottles to helps further offset water bottle usage throughout the year. Each American uses an average of 167 single use plastic bottles a year. Sheehan explains, “In our first year, we sold 2,500 reusable bottles and our program will help offset more than 417,000 single-use bottles per year.”

California Roots Festival 2014 Alex Geller    19

Photo by: Alex Geller

California Roots Festival is committed to being a zero-waste event. In addition to Cali Roots diverting 6,120 pounds of food waste last year (with 6,620 pounds projected for 2017), the festival will continue to reduce its waste and associated environmental impacts, including emissions, and to conserve natural resources through another year of collaboration with California-based The Offset Project (TOP). TOP works with vendors on purchasing only compostable food ware, and helps separate all compostable materials in the back of the house. Across fest grounds, attendees will see volunteer-manned zero-waste stations, consisting of recycling, composting and trash options. Any leftover food is then taken to the Monterey County Food Bank each day.

Earthwell is another organization joining forces with Cali Roots once again. Attendees are encouraged to bring an empty water container to the festival and utilize one of the many purified water refill stations, provided by REVERB, and participate in the Earthwell pint program. Last year, attendees took advantage of Earthwell pint reusable container options, purchasing 6,744 reusable steel cups.

Cali Roots Music And Arts Festival Josue Rivas Painting

Photo by: Josue Rivas

The fest encourages attendees to carpool to the event or, even better, any mode of transportation that doesn't use fossil fuels. Cali Roots always has a free bicycle and skateboard valet, so attendees can cruise to the fest and know their rides are safe.

Of course, there's still more work to be done. In terms of future goals Sheehan dreams of reaching, there are many.

"I would love to get our catering to a point where we are sourcing from local organic farmers," he muses. "Printing all our marketing materials on recycled material. We have looked into this but currently, the cost is very high for that. Also creating an eco ticket where a portion of that ticket goes back into a greening project, such as recharging stations [and] permanent water stations."

Cali Roots Music And Arts Festival Josue Rivas Stage Audience.Jpg 3

Photo by: Josue Rivas

When it comes to building an event that's as eco-friendly as possible, no festival is perfect – especially if it's successful and growing. But mindfulness along the path to doing better still serves as inspiration to those following in your footsteps. Plenty of festivals across the world can learn from what Cali Roots has done and learned, and Sheehan has wisdom to impart on those willing to put in the work.

"Understand that greening an event can be a hefty line item on the budget but its so worth it in the long run," he says. "With that said if you are going to start the greening process at a festival I would start slow and build it out every year. Also, educate the fan base. That's really where it starts."

Festivals would be nothing without their festie fans, and festies would be nothing without the glorious worlds festivals create for us to live out our wildest dreams. There's something magical about knowing that such a synergy can create a greener world.

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California Roots Music and Art Festival

May 2017 (exact date TBD)
Monterey Fairgrounds, Monterey, California, United States