Rolling in to Richmond this past Saturday was a motley crew of about a dozen musicians, activists and everyone in between, that sought to bring music and performance with a message. The group call themselves the Petrol-Free Gypsy Carnival Tour and Richmond was the 5th leg of a 13 city tour taking the group all over Virginia beginning and ending in Harrisonburg. They call themselves Petrol-Free for a reason: they are doing the entire tour by bike. The musicians carry instruments and all on hand-built bike trailers – one even with a kennel for the pet dog. Amplifiers and other items less feasibly transported by bike are borrowed from friends in-town.
The tour is taking the group through 13 cities in 15 days, with a total biking distance of nearly 500 miles. The group cooks meals together to save money and places to stay the night are organized through a network of friends.
Rachel Sarah Blanton, one of the tour organizers, said that the concept of a tour by bike is a way to use their message and lead by example.
“The inspiration behind the tour was started because Nick's band and many of the other's play a lot of social and environmental justice music and they felt it was really silly to go on tour with environmental music using oil to get from place to place and all this petroleum, so they decided to do a tour by biking,” Blanton said.
They have also made the tour nearly completely sustainable, by use of a bike-powered generator, where the bike wheel runs a sort of car alternator which charges batteries to run the music equipment. Meaning every band was joined by someone pedaling a bike long enough to finish the set.
According to Blanton, the message is simple: By actively showing what can be accomplished without the use of oil and petroleum, others will make small steps that lead to large change and they are using the tour to promote that transition.
The group certainly does garner attention. They arrive in cities in a large, vagrant band of bikes and instruments, set up and play for anyone who will listen. Blanton admits that although Richmond is one of the longest legs of their tour, it was an obvious stop.
“Well, actually if you look on a map Richmond is very much out of the way, but we really like the City of Richmond and it's very known for it's biking crowd, with VCU and we've got a lot of friends here and there are a lot of venues here and it's really just a nice city to go to. We think it has a good potential audience for this kind of scene and these ideas that can help our movement grow,” Blanton said.
The William Byrd Community House in Oregon Hill played host to the event on the lawn in front of the community garden and farmlet, which seeks to provide local produce to the Richmond area. Patty Parks, director of the Grace Arents Library and Education Center, which operates within the William Byrd Community house agreed to the event because of how events and organizations enrich the city.
“Oh I just think it makes it much more vital. I like hearing about it, I like hearing about us in different types of organizations and working and partnering with different groups, because it's not just one type of person that's going to be interested in this,” Parks said.
Parks also mentioned the communal aspect to events such as these.
“So we had people working on the farm, we had the band, and we had community members playing soccer, and then kids on the playground, it was perfect. It was a perfect community day,” Parks said.
Darla Eaton, a musician traveling and playing on the tour was inspired by the activism that goes hand-in-hand with events like the Petrol-Free Carnival Tour and that an environmental music tour by car just doesn't make sense.
“A lot of bands in this generation get their huge trucks and their huge buses and traipse all over the states, just burning a copious amount of fuel and then they have a whole trailer of privileged bass equipment that they have to haul around,” Eaton said.
Organizers feel that the movement towards a less auto-centric society is vital for cities to grow society in a sustainably sound way. Though the group has a support vehicle that follows or meets them at each stop, the bus is powered by vegetable oil or biodiesel when available and it's impact is very low.
Nick Melas, head organizer of the tour says the tour should draw attention to alternatives to our auto-centric culture.
“The tour is supposed to inspire peace, social justice and a healthy environment. It's just to say that, the car culture that we've become so used to in Virginia, northern Virginia, the Richmond suburban area, spreading in to most of the places that we're riding through, really is hurting us emotionally, making us unhealthy physically, hurting our environment, and hurting people around the world,” Melas said.
And if anyone knows the direct effects of sustainability, it's Melas.
“The best, most memorable thing was in Charlottesville, we were playing at Random Row Books and all of the electricity of the venue went out, the mains went out, and we continued playing through the bike powered generators and there was no light, we couldn't see anybody and we were just laughing because it was so great,” Melas said.
The Gypsy Carnival tour continues through May 26th with a final show in Harrisonburg. Check out tour dates and updates at gypsycarnivaltour.org