Most live music fans have no doubt had the experience: you’re enjoying a concert or festival, only to get that guilty feeling at the end as trash is sprawled everywhere.
“It doesn’t need to be that way,” says Ben Kogan, a Woodstock musician and founder of Reusable Solutions, an outreach organization focused on eradicating single-use plastic and combating climate change.
“We’re trying to eliminate that feeling,” he said.
Kogan and fellow Woodstock resident Cliff Johnson, who met a year and a half ago while working in the same office building in Woodstock, became fast friends while discovering a mutual passion for both music and eco-friendly initiatives.
It didn’t take long for them to hatch the idea for the Imagine Zero Music Festival, which makes its debut May 13 at the SolarFest Main Stage in Brandon.
Billed as “an aspiring zero waste and zero carbon emissions music festival,” Imagine Zero aims to be entirely powered by renewable energy and have no trash.
“We know it’s unlikely to get all the way there for now,” states the festival website, “but we think it’s worth a shot to try and see how close we get.”
The festival also features lauded Los Angeles rock band Dawes as the headline act, in addition to a noteworthy cast of Vermont and regional artists. The lineup includes Burlington roots trio Kat Wright, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Myra Flynn and Boston-based roots group Billy Wylder, among others.
Dawes will be playing one of its final shows with bassist Wylie Gelber, one of three original members of the band along with frontman/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith and drummer Griffin Goldsmith.
Flynn, a West Brookfield native who splits her time between L.A. and Vermont, performs in advance of a new EP that she’ll celebrate with a Burlington Discover Jazz Festival headline show June 11 on The Flynn main stage.
Billy Wylder, which is led by UVM grad Avi Salloway, delivers a spellbinding, dance-inducing sound that melds hypnotic desert blues with rich folk and rock textures.
Kogan, 38, who moved to Vermont’s Upper Valley in 2021 with his wife and son, is also performing at the festival with his band.
‘Learning at every step’
Imagine Zero will include a completely solar-powered stage, while all the beer — provided by Essex Junction-based Black Flannel Brewing & Distilling Company — and wine will be in kegs and served in reusable cups.
The cups, which also will be used for the plethora of water stations that will be available, will be reused by a reusable cup provider. And most if not all the food items from a variety of vendors will be served on reusable plates.
“We’re just really passionate about seeing this as a great opportunity to show people a different way of doing a festival,” said Johnson last week in a phone interview.
A lawyer by training who has “moved into entrepreneurship,” Johnson, 41, moved to Woodstock two years ago to raise his young family after a 10-year stint in Portland, Oregon.
“I always try to introduce sustainable practices to everything I’m doing, so it’s just in my core,” he said. “But neither of us had done a show of this scale.”
Johnson and Kogan have been working with the organizers of SolarFest — an annual event that blends music, art and renewable energy — which they said has been invaluable as Imagine Zero will be using the same solar-powered stage as SolarFest (July 15-16).
While SolarFest focuses on education in addition to music, Johnson said “we’re trying to lead from the music, so we’re getting people who aren’t just coming for the environmental cause but hopefully will absorb the benefit of it and understand it.”
Especially challenging in a mostly rural state like Vermont is audience travel, which Johnson and Kogan said accounts for one-third of the carbon footprint for a tour or concert. To that end, they’re encouraging attendees to carpool — ideally in an electric vehicle — if possible.
Johnson is quick to admit that he and Kogan don’t have all the answers. “We’re not perfect,” he said. “We’re learning at every step why certain things aren’t standard.”
“We’re doing it for the love and not for the money,” he added. “Our hope is to break even or close to it, so that we can just keep doing more of them.”
“It’s just kind of taking it to the next level and hopefully the ideas catch on and other people do it.”