An Interview with Brian Allenby from Reverb / by Jason

While I've so far struck out in my quest to get artists from Langerado to talk to me about their green actions, I did was lucky enough to spend some time on the phone the other day with Brian Allenby of Reverb, an tour greening consultancy. Founded in 2004 by Adam Gardner of Guster and his Lauren Sullivan, Reverb is a literal marriage of their joint passions for music and the environment. Before starting Reverb, Lauren worked for environmental organizations including the Rainforest Action Network, and Adam, is, well, in Guster, so this was a pretty natural extension of their twin passions. But this is way more than a pet project for a rock star's wife--Reverb has a large client list including luminaries like Dave Matthews and is growing by leaps and bounds.

Brian met Adam and Lauren when he was working for Native Energy, an outfit I profiled in my first interview for GreenBase. Before his work with Native Energy, Brian managed Star Hill, a 500 seat club in Charlottesville, VA and did other concert promotion in the area, so this position is obviously a perfect fit for him. Brian handles day-to-day management of operations for Reverb out of the company's Portland, Maine, offices. The shop has 4-5 people in the office all year, and as many as 6-8 people on the road during the summer season.

Jason Turgeon: What other acts besides Guster are you working with?

Brian Allenby: We're working with artists like John Mayer, the Fray, the Dave Matthew band, and this year, Jose Gonzalez, and Serj Tankian, the lead singer from System of a Down. We're working with a group called Sixth Man. They put out a lot of the rock cruises that go out. They do Rock Boat and Simple Man, which is a Lynard Skynard cruise. They actually book a ship back-to-back, so they end up with six weeks of cruises. The two we worked on were the Mayercraft Carrier, which is John Mayer's cruise, and Ships and Dip 3, which is Bare Naked Ladies and Guster.

JT: I hadn't realized there was such a demand for rock cruises.

BA: Yeah, they're pretty big. The boats we were on hold between 2500 and 2700 people. Cruise ships are tough. Inherently, they're not very environmentally friendly. So we did the carbon offset program, because there's no way to do biodiesel or anything like that. Last year, we were able to offset over 3000 tons of CO2 on the BNL cruise, which is the equivalent of taking over 500 cars off the road for a year. We also worked with the cruise line to do things like corn plastic straws, recycled toilet paper in the cabins, we had stony field organic yoghurt, and green mountain organic fair trade coffee.

JT: Has the cruise line been receptive?

BA: They've been very receptive. They're in a place where they can't continue to go on this way. There aren't going to be wonderful, beautiful places for them to visit if they don't help take care of it. They have an environmental officer on board each cruise and they take this seriously.

JT: So what does someone who works for you on one of the tours do in their day to day that makes the tour greener?

BA: We kind of call them our eco swat team. They're basically integrated right into the artist's crew. One of the first things they do when an artist rolls into the venue is coordinate biodiesel fuelings. They'll actually have a tanker truck come out to the venue and fuel all of the buses and trucks . It actually makes it easier for the band, because they don't have to stop through a truck stop later on when they're driving that night. They'll head on over to the catering area. A lot of the larger artists will actually have a caterer traveling with them. [A caterer we often use] already use[s] a lot of the biodegradable and compostable products like corn starch cups and potato starch bowls, that sort of thing.

JT: When you're using these products, do you actually sort them out so they don't end up back in the landfill?

BA: We try to as much as possible. A lot of venues are starting to compost, which is great. The Tweeter Center near you in Boston was one of the first. They compost everything. We walk outside the catering area and can just throw everything right in the compost. But one of the best things to do is not to use disposable products at all. That's really one thing we try to encourage. The best thing is to use china and silverware, but where we do have to use disposable stuff, we try to compost as much as possible.

[getting back to the job description] So then they'll put out the recycling bins, backstage, at the catering area, in the production offices. Then they'll work with either the promoter or a local recycling company to either drop off the recycling at the end of the show or have them come pick it up. Then during the day, it's setting up the eco-village, which is the fan interaction area. There are a number of tents we send out on the road. We'll have local and national environmental groups come out to promote, do fan carbon offsets. We try to make it as fun for people as we can, we'll have artists sign a guitar and do raffles, that sort of thing.

One of the other responsibiliites is training volunteers. On a larger tour we'll have 8-15 volunteers come out to a show, so we have to educate the volunteers.

JT: It sounds like these venues are pretty big places, like Tweeter. Do you do smaller clubs?

BA: We do some, like Jose Gonzalez this summer will be playing a lot of smaller venues. In those cases, it's hard for us to set up as much stuff just because there's not as much space, so we can't do an eco-village. We'll try to integrate our presence with their existing merchandise tables. But even though it's scaled back a bit, we're still there working on the same stuff.

JT: Do you find that venues are receptive?

BA: They're all very receptive. You'll find that venues, as we hit them two, three, four times over the course of a summer, they've started doing some of these things themselves. Live Nation's bulk paper purchases, their office paper, it's all 100% post-consumer recycled now. As they see how easy it is, they start making it part of their day-to-day operations, making it business as usual. We really haven't found anybody who is resistant to it at all.

JT: Do you find anyone that is so good that your work is done for you?

BA: We haven't found any places where there is no work to be done, but it's certainly become a lot easier. With the composting, we'll still have to provide the biodegradable products, but now there will at least be a compost bin for us to put them in. Everybody's taking steps. There's always a lot of work to do, and every time we clear one of those hurdles, we look forward and say, well what's the next thing? One thing we're really focusing on this summer is how do we encouraging carpooling and ride-sharing to a lot of these shows. Most of the shows are 20 to 30 miles outside of the population center, and there's very rarely any public transportation to these events. People don't want to have to drive 45 minutes home. It's a pain. Maybe there's an average of 2 people in a car, but that's still 10,000 cars. So we're really trying to figure out a way where we can work with the artist, with the venues, with some of the ride sharing groups. Looking at the environmental footprint of a show, probably 80% of the CO2 that's released is from fan transportation. You're looking at 10,000 cars traveling 60 miles roundtrip, that's 600,000 miles of driving. For one show.

JT: So are the fans receptive to this? Are they driving the bands to this? Or are the bands saying to the fans, "we want to be greener and so should you?"

BA: I think it's a combination of both. There are some artists who really, altruistically, feel that this is what they want to do. It's important to them, so they make that commitment to the environment, working with groups like us. It certainly doesn't hurt when there is a warm response from the fans. I think that most of the bands we work with, there is an artist, someone in the band, who goes to their management and says "we've got to do something about how we're touring." We are seeing great reactions from the fans. Just one artist on stage saying, "we're trying to take some steps to reduce our footprint on tour, go check out the eco-village," will drive huge traffic through the tents. We try to tie it in and incentivize the fans to do it as well, whether it's signed merch or some sort of thing like that to help further that connection between the artist and the fan. In the environmental action, everybody needs to be doing this together.

JT: Do you worry that people will feel like they're being preached to?

BA: We make a real effort to not preach at all. We have two sayings here. Thou shalt not be a buzzkill and thou shalt not preach. It's all about enhancing the experience, making it more fun for people. The last thing we want is an artist getting on stage and casting doom and gloom. People are there for a concert, first and foremost.

JT: What's the one challenge you keep running into over and over again?

BA: The carpooling. So many of these tours are based in these amphitheaters. What do you do about the traffic? That and keeping enough staff on board--we have so many artists coming to us, especially smaller artists, that we need to be better at educating people through our website. We're past the point now where we have to convince people to do this. Bands are coming to us now saying that they want to do this.

JT: That's a good problem to have.

BA: Exactly!

JT: How would you qualify success? What's the perfectly green tour look like to you?

BA: I want to see as many fans as I can walking away, taking at least one action in their daily lives. That's success for us. The real end goal is to educate the fans, using the artists and the media pull they have. Someone like Dave Matthews reaches three quarters of a million people on tour. Even if all of those people just change one light bulb or switch to reusable water bottles, that's a big difference. And we want to have a friendly competition between John Mayer and Dave Matthews, to see which tour can be greener.

JT: So what's in heavy rotation on your ipod?

BA: Let me tell you exactly, in itunes, I'll see what my play count is. Number one is a song "Start Anew," the artist is Watercolor off an album called Beautiful Mistakes. The artist, Joe, is in Guster as well.