Decarbonizing Live Entertainment, One Stage At A Time: REVERB Working With Artists, Festivals For Greener Tomorrow

THE GOOD FIGHT: REVERB partnered with Luck Reunion and reduced more than 90% of emissions related to fossil fuel power to show that clean energy options are not only a viable but an affordable solution for large events such as Music festivals. (Photo courtesy REVERB)

There are a number of contributing factors and inspirations to a cultural movement, and a prominent one tends to be found in the form of art — music, especially. The composition, words and sounds have a way of sparking something in people, whether it’s an idea, emotion or a sudden urge to dance. It is one of the most influential mediums around, especially in a live setting, and musician/activist Adam Gardner hopes music can be the driving force for change on one issue that affects everyone on this planet.

“It’s hard to read the news about the climate crisis,” Gardner, frontman for the band Guster, tells Pollstar. “… I think music has an opportunity [to inspire change] because there is a willingness now to probably move faster than our government and help in some ways.”

Gardner has been doing his part with REVERB, a nonprofit he and his wife Lauren Sullivan founded in 2004 that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of live entertainment by working with artists, executives and labels. His organization, which has worked with artists such as Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and Maroon 5, had one of its biggest successes last month at Luck Reunion. REVERB got in touch with Matt Bizer, CEO and founder of Luck Presents, and the two parties partnered up to reduce at least 75% of emissions from fossil fuel power for the single-day music festival held in Willie Nelson’s backyard.

“Diesel generators are dirtier than coal power from the grid. That’s a problem if you think about all the festivals that use diesel generators,” Gardner says. “It’s a very immediate and obvious place to start the work, and that’s what we did.”

As part of the environmental nonprofit’s Music Decarbonization Project, REVERB replaced the festival’s diesel-fueled generators widely used to power remote stages with solar-powered intelligent battery systems, and it worked. The battery system not only powered the main stage but also two side stages and food trucks. Luck Reunion managed to eliminate more than 90% of emissions from fossil fuels during the week with generator units backstage taking little space with no noise, exhaust or the dozens of cables seen with a gas-powered generator.

“The big takeaway is that we were able to 100% solar power the main stage all day,” Gardner says. “There hasn’t been a stage of this size 100% powered by solar at a festival. What we hope to show the industry is that this technology is now at the level where you can absolutely power the main stage. It’s technically and logistically viable and financially feasible.”

Neel Vasavada, founder and CEO of Overdrive Energy Solutions, the company responsible for the battery system that powered Luck Reunion, also believes the time is now and says the technology can power even bigger stages.

“What you saw at Luck Reunion was a great demonstration of what could be done,” Vasavada, an engineer by trade who has worked with the music industry for decades. “To do a stage that was twice as big or six times as big isn’t just within the realm of possibility, it’s completely achievable and could be done tomorrow.”

Having such a system would also make it easier on production as crewmembers wouldn’t have to worry about the “pain in the ass” process of fueling the generators, says Vasavada, who added that people have told him the music sounds better with the battery system in place.

There was a lot riding on the project for REVERB and Overdrive, but Vasavada was confident everything would work based on the numbers and that it would be safe for everyone involved.

“Really, I think I was a little bit relieved that the process we had in place worked well,” says Vasavada, who worked in the automotive industry developing hybrid and electric vehicles. “It’s exciting because we talked about this for a long time, and the capability clearly exists because we did it.”

The biggest impediment to the use of batteries in a live setting is conventionalism and misconception. The Overdrive exec says the life of one of the systems is 10-20 years worth of live events and that the only maintenance they require is having to “wipe them off every once in a while.”

Though he admits that the price of these solar-powered generators is initially high, the cost levels out after a few years when compared to a diesel generator because the buyer would no longer pay for maintenance and gas. Vasavada applauds Coldplay’s effort in 2022 to make their “Music of the Spheres” world tour eco-friendly but laments the media coverage behind it because “it might have, in some people’s minds, bolstered the narrative that this stuff is expensive.”

“In reality, if done right and for a lot of applications in our industry, the cost differential isn’t what people think it is,” Vasavada assures. “The thing I want people to take away is that this can be done now across a lot of uses in our industry and the time is now to ask about it and look into it.”

Coldplay has been supportive of REVERB and even connected Billie Eilish with the nonprofit. As a vegan and environmentalist, she has sought help from the organization when planning her tour.

“They’re just an answer to a prayer,” says Eilish’s mother, Maggie Baird. “One of the things I like about REVERB is that they have created a way for even newer artists to add [eco-friendly options] without it costing any more than other services. I hope [efforts to reduce carbon footprint] will spread. … It’s really about keeping the planet in mind with every decision you make.”

And that’s all Gardner wants those in the live industry to consider when going out on the road. REVERB and Overdrive produced alternative options to diesel generators, and Gardner has set his sights on other parts of the industry that affect the environment, such as merchandise and catering.

“We just want to get us to a point where we’re not creating the mess that we are creating,” Gardner says. “That’s humanity’s goal. We all have to do this. This isn’t just music’s thing. It’s everyone.”