This bicycle music tour thing is catching on!
Read Ben Sollee's blog here
SEPTEMBER 15, 2010
Musicians on Bicycles
Our Ditch the Van tour showcases an alternative mode of music touring but we are by no means pioneers, we are part of a growing movement. Even in the past 5 years, this country has been criss-crossed by pedal-happy musicians who are concerned about the environment, community, and good music.
The Portland, Oregon-based band Blind Pilot made a big splash in 2008 and 2009 with their west coast bike tours. As a developing band and lovers of bicycles they figured the best way to beat the expense of the road was to simply ride, with all their equipment, on their bikes. They’ve been featured on NPR and their 2009 tour from Portland to San Diego was documented on video and is currently in production. Keep an eye out for the feature length film We Are the Tide.
The Ditty Bops (aka Amanda Barrett and Abby Dewald) used the power of the bicycle and their music to make a call-to-action for the environment and more sustainable energy practices. Their 2006 tour teamed up with the Adventure Cycling Association and saw them riding over 4500 miles from LA to New York City. That means that they rode further and, quite frankly, looked way better doing it, than I ever will. But not every bicycle-infatuated musician hauls all their gear on their bikes.
David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries is a personal repository for culture and his view of cities around the world from the saddle. Long before I had even dreamt of touring by bicycle Mr. Byrne was out cruising around on his folding bike that easily traveled with him. He wasn’t trying to prove anything about the bicycle and be “green.” The bicycle was just the best way for him to get around while on the road.
Now, what would a bicycle movement be without a revolution. Good news is this one is a Pleasant Revolution. A collective of musicians, artists, philosophers, and bike lovers have joined forces to promote the joy of community and the bicycle. Bike touring, beat-boxing cellist Cello Joe (aka Joey Chang), The Ginger Ninjas (who completed a 5,000 miles journey from San Juan, CA in to Mexico), Fossil Fool (aka Paul Freedman) with Rock the Bike, and a few other musicians are out riding through Europe as I write this. Their epic tour is pedal-powered in every way: getting to and from shows, generating power for sound and lights, and putting on rolling shows for an audience of cyclists. Super visionary stuff and a real inspiration. This same crew is often very involved with the ever growing Bicycle Music Festival.
Freshly on his bike, jazz trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum is performing throughout the northeast. Based out of New Haven, CT, Taylor has been recognized internationally as one of the great young players and he’s out riding his bicycle. I feel like he’s really stepping outside to do this… I don’t see a lot of jazzers out there.
Fellow Appalachian’s Trent Wagler and Jay Lapp are The Steel Wheel Duo and they have begun to incorporate self-supported bicycle touring into their growing tour schedule. They began last year with a tour through Virginia, which is not easy riding, and followed up this year with a tour up through Michigan. Their music has a lot of bluegrass drive which, I think, goes well with pedaling bicycles down the road.
Also in Appalachia, a growing clan of young, environmentally conscious young folks are building petrol-free carnival that travels by bikes. It’s true, the Gypsy Carnival Tour is a pedal powered extravaganze with music, dance, visual arts, and games that aims to perform “off the grid.” They also focus on traveling to alternative communities that are choosing to grow in more sustainable ways.
Lastly, Australian cellist, composer, and looping artist Kristin Rule applies her thoughtful aesthetic to touring on her Yuba Mundo. Her CD release tour, The Slow Ride, will see her performing throughout her motherland powered only by her creativity and body. It seems as if she might even be generating her own stage power with a tow along, solar generator. Amazing!
Now, this article is by no means comprehensive of everyone who’s ever toured by bicycle, but it does serve as measure to show that touring by bicycle is a growing trend. Our Ditch the Van tour is tame in comparison to the foresight and ingenuity that goes in to many of the artists’ tours mentioned above, but it serves our needs. However, it’s important to remember that we’re not just young folks playing around on our bicycles. We’re experimenting with business models that encourage livability and may some day influence larger businesses.