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Slipping Green into Rock

Last year in Milwaukee, more than 7,000 people showed up for a new one-day music festival at Veterans Park in the midst of heavy rain and wind.  Organizers would like to think people were drawn to its mission - to create as little waste as possible during a concert.

Music festivals are nothing new to Milwaukee.

Saturday, six national bands and five local ones will collide in Veterans Park.

Organizers are not in it for the money – their goal is to celebrate and share earth-friendly practices.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence headed down to the lakefront during set-up, to meet the person and vision behind Rock the Green.

Even at eight in the morning – and a particularly blustery one – Lindsay Stevens Gardner radiates energy.

It appears to be her perpetual state.

"Fencing came in first, some of the larger 40 by 40 tents. And today we've got the Port-O-Potties coming and they eco-friendly bluing agent in them," Gardner says.

For this Milwaukee native, the festival weaves the threads of who she is into one garment - nearly two decades of producing events all over the country, a passion for music and for the environment.

Her thoughts began crystallizing a few years ago.

"There was an annual festival I used to produce in Golden Gate Park. It was a fun one-day in the park – great line-up, awesome music, but at the end of the day we'd be hauling out several 20 yard dumpsters," Gardner says.

Gardner wanted all of that, WITHOUT the garbage.

She moved back to Milwaukee in 2003 with an idea in the back of her head.

Finally, last year, Gardner organized her first, "Rock the Green".

It turned out to be a brutally stormy day, yet 7300 people showed up.

"Even though we were up against the hurricane, and the Green Bay Packers, cause it was on a Sunday last year," Gardner says.

The festival team recycled or composted 92 percent of the waste that day.

"As per EPA standards we should have generated 3.5 tons of waste and we only generated 440 pounds," Gardner says.

It filled a mere ten trash cans.

Buoyed with success, Gardner figured - why not raise the bar.

"We're going paperless with our tickets," Gardner says.

Also this year, energy efficient lights will illuminate the main stage.

And the power for both the lights and sound will be generated by humans.

Gardner points to a lonely white tent in the distance.

"So can you envision there's going to be a band over there and we have five different cycling teams throughout the day providing power to the bands that are going to be performing over there solely on pedal power," Gardner says.

The Rock the Green team even factored in the energy people use to GET to the event.

"If you drive your car here, you get a really nice discount if you have four or more people in your car thanks to the Parks Department, they're going to be running parking. We have a free bike valet on site; so ride your bike down, because when your bike is checked for free, you're going to get a free bike tune up," Gardner says.

Gardner says blending music and conservation is a soft way of demonstrating steps people could consider to live more sustainably – without shoving the message down throats.

She describes the approach as "celebrating all shades of green"

"From light to dark, meaning, you can be at home composting and being the greenest person in the world or maybe you don't know anything about that. Come on down, you're invited – it's very inclusive; it's for everybody," Gardner says.

Local nonprofits will be on hand to display their specialties.

Gardner is eager to see what kind of reviews another new twist will receive. Along with munching on local food and drinking in live music, people can peak behind the scenes.

"Because I thought, people want to know what makes this thing green. So there are going to be five tours throughout the day – kind of like a docent tour – so we're going to go around, here's where the power is coming from, where's the food going; here we're at beverage station, would you like a beer in a compostable cup. People will say, hey, I was part of that," Gardner says.

I leave her checking emails at her makeshift desk.

It's one of those wooden foldable TV trays – a repurposed remnant from Gardner's college days.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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