OUT OF THE BLACK, INTO THE GREEN: Biodiesel for Bands

Biodiesel

A diligently-focused non-profit aims to help keep the touring milieu’s carbon footprint small.

 BY ROBIN COOK

  Biodiesel for Bands is a new non-profit organization based in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Spearheaded by president Eric Skjerseth and executive director John Long, its goal is to help aspiring bands keep their carbon footprints small when they tour. Most recently, Biodiesel for Bands partnered with SpokesBUZZ, an organization that promotes the Fort Collins music scene. Using a biodiesel-powered bus, they brought Fort Collins artists to South by Southwest for the SpokesBUZZ music showcase. I interviewed John Long about the goals and history of the organization.

 

BLURT: Could you tell me a little bit about Biodiesel for Bands? 

JOHN LONG: The idea is that musicians join with our annual membership fee and in return they get benefits that include access to biodiesel fuel all over the country.  Also discounts on fuel and discounts on vehicles, rental vehicles that they would tour in.  Of course many bands may already have their own vehicles, so they would basically be looking more for the fuel.  But we want to do other things with the bands in terms of promotion and marketing through the Web site. 

Could you tell me a little bit about how the organization got started? 

Well, I had been involved in nonprofits in the past and also started businesses in the past.  One in particular is a biodiesel company called Blue Sun.  I started that company about twelve years ago, and now it has grown into a pretty large business that produces 40 million gallons of biodiesel a year.  We have a production facility in the Midwest and also some diesel and biodiesel terminals out in the Midwest region.  So that is one of the key partners in this play in terms of getting access to fuel and so forth.  But really, we’re going to need to rely on the hundreds of biodiesel retail outlets that are already established all over the country, you know, work through them, and the national Biodiesel Board, there’s quite a bit of biodiesel infrastructure already set up.  And we plan to use them as a valuable partnership to help our members, which are the musicians, get fuel while out on the road.

        A lot of times these aren’t necessarily just regular gas stations, they’re locked up and they have special hours and things like that, so we’ll basically be kind of most like a fueling managing arm for these touring bands so they can get the fuel and get it at a discount so they can save money and put more money in their pocket and make more money while on the road, ’cause it’s as you know very difficult for bands to make money when they’re just starting out.

What interested you in moving into touring or using biodiesel fuels for touring?  Were you always a music fan as well as involved in green movements?

Yeah, I was always a music fan.  The big thing with Blue Sun in the early days was starting a biodiesel company.  We worked not so much on operating a plant, which is what we do now, but we worked on getting the fuel out to the market through distributors and retail outlets.  So that was my job.  I was originally the president of the company and then we hired a CEO and I started working more on the sales and marketing side.  Basically, we had a lot of opportunities, a lot people contacting us, trying to get biodiesel. 

        Ten years ago, biodiesel wasn’t nearly as readily available as it is now.  When we started getting phone calls, some of them included big bands like Willie Nelson and Neil Young and some of those touring artists that are always looking for biodiesel when they’re out on the road.  And we were able to provide that for them, even as far back as seven years we started providing fuel for them when they would come and play at Red Rocks or whatever venue. We would arrange for our distributor to meet them and their bus drivers at the venue or at a venue or alongside the road, wherever it had to be.   We would just coordinate fuel laps for them so they didn’t have to go out of the way and use up valuable time to do that.  We were able to come to them with trucks. 

        And that gave the idea and the understanding that musicians are musicians and they’re on the road and they need fuel just like anyone else, but they don’t have a lot of time to go out of the way and look for it. . . .And now this [Biodiesel for Bands] is kind of an evolution of that where the nonprofit would actually represent these bands as they join our membership association and then as a benefit we help them get fuel on the road.

And these are all relatively new bands.  It’s for bands that are just starting out who need also to tour economically of course. 

Right.  Those are the kind of bands that we can help the most because they are just starting out.  But we also still have those connections with Willie Nelson and Widespread Panic and some of these really large bands so we’re hoping that we’ll get some of those bands to also join as members.  But they don’t really need the same kind of benefit structure as these startup bands so they would join at a different level and basically the money that they’re putting in would mainly go back to helping these younger bands that are just starting out, ’cause they’re the ones that need that help the most.

As far as bands, do you find that a lot of them are really eager to look into biodiesel as a more green-friendly way of touring?  I mean not just the top ones like Neil Young or Willie Nelson but lesser-known, new bands?

Yeah!  Pretty much all of them.  All musicians tend to have the time and interest in reducing their carbon footprint….They’re always on the road and they see the gas meter…tick tick tick.  And they’re using a lot of fuel every day; they’re at a gas station filling up with more petroleum products.  Anything they can do to reduce that impact is pretty attractive to them.  They just don’t know how.  They don’t have the time or the wherewithal to find biodiesel and deal with that ’cause they’re struggling to survive, just out on the road and got so much else going on.  It’s hard for them to take any concrete steps toward reducing their carbon footprint.  So our main goal is to help them do that easily without having to think about it to much.

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