I love music more than ice cream. Even more than fudge sauce. And to me, the band Radiohead is like magic. I don’t understand how they make the exquisite and sometimes excruciating sounds that they do. I just know that as long as there are humans on this planet whose organized noise can move me to tears every single time I hear it, there must be hope for us.
So for a few months, I’ve been really looking forward to seeing my first Radiohead show live at the SF Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park. And I was also pleased that this festival was being billed as a green event and planned to visit a section they called Ecolands, where there would be all kinds of “green” organizations and vendors measuring carbon footprints, collecting recycling (including old cell phones), and serving up organic food.
So I wasn’t really worried when I got to the festival entrance on Friday and was asked (after my bag was searched) to empty the water out of my Klean Kanteen. This is standard practice for concerts, right? Organizers don’t want certain illicit substances being brought in in the guise of water. And the staffer assured me I’d be able to fill it up again once inside the festival grounds.
So after staking out a spot near the mainstage where Radiohead would be playing later that evening, I left my friend Laura and set out to find the watering spot to refill our bottles. This is the sign that was projected on the side of the stage:
And this is one of the many waste stations throughout the grounds for recycling, compost, and trash.
I thought I’d start by asking these guys, as they worked for Clean Vibes, a company “dedicated to the responsible waste management of outdoor festivals and events.” But they didn’t know where the water was. “Let us know when you find out,” they said.
So I walked and walked, and finally spotted this!
But a closer look revealed this is what they were selling:
The only water to be found were plastic bottles of Arrowhead water in the new “Eco-shape” bottle which according to Arrowhead’s site, “contains 30% less plastic than the average half liter bottle.” Turns out Arrowhead is one of the festival sponsors!
“Look,” I said, “I don’t want to buy a plastic bottle. I just want to fill my Klean Kanteen. Where can I fill it up?” The staff at the “water” booth didn’t know. So I asked at every booth in “EcoLands” where I could find regular tap water, and nearly every person gave the same answer, “Good question. Let us know when you find out!”
Someone suggested filling up from the hand washing station by the porta potties:
Um. I don’t think so.
And then I saw it. An actual drinking fountain right near an actual restroom!
Seriously, would it have killed the organizers to set up the fence AROUND the water fountain so festival goers could use it? I even tried sticking my Klean Kanteen through the fence, but alas, it would not fit.
After asking an official looking guy in a blue uniform where I could fill up my water bottle, he told me, “We have no intention of providing free water to everyone at this festival. I don’t know why you’d think that.” Um… you charge $85 a ticket and can’t afford to provide SF tap water? And um… if you weren’t going to let us refill our bottles, why’d you make us dump them out and promise we could refill when we got inside?
Someone manning the EcoLands info booth even tried to give me his own bottle of Arrowhead water, thinking maybe I just couldn’t afford to buy my own. You can believe I passed out a ton of Fake Plastic Fish cards during that hour-long water search and had quite a few discussions about the craziness of this whole “eco” scheme. And what we all realized was that when the organizers talked about diversion, they meant recycling plastic bottles. Diversion is not the same as zero waste, is it?
There’s nothing to divert if you don’t create a bunch of waste in the first place!
Okay, so I finally did find free water. Coming out of the bathroom behind the fence was a long hose with a nozzle. It was what the coffee vendors were using to make their beverages. Aha! And this nice guy (whose name I neglected to get) happily filled up both Laura’s and my bottles for us.
It took an hour of wandering around in the chilly Golden Gate Park fog (which, to be honest, was actually kind of fun in a challenging, albeit surreal, sort of way. Almost like playing a game and finally winning!) to get our bottles filled up. But that wasn’t the end of my quest. Oh no! Laura and I wanted wine, too!
So I checked out the much-touted Winehaven wine tasting tent, only to find that 1) a “glass” of wine started around $10 for the cheap-ass stuff and 2) the “glasses” were, of course, plastic. “Oh, but they are fully recyclable!” I was told. Feh. We know about plastic recycling. Not doing it. And thankfully Laura wasn’t into paying that kinda cash for cheap wine.
But on the way back to the main stage, I spotted the tell-tale green label indicating a compostable cup. “Where did you get that?” I asked the woman holding it, probably a bit wild-eyed at this point. I think I freaked her out, but she was nice enough to point me to another tent. Yes! At this point, I didn’t care if I was drinking rotgut. It came in a compostable cup and it cost less than what they were selling in the swanky Winehaven tent. I bought Laura and me a cup each and headed back to our blanket.
Yes, the cup is made from corn, and I should have been more prepared and brought my own reusable cup for wine. Didn’t think of it. And I’m actually not sure I have something that would have been legal. No glass was allowed in the park. But you know what? I saved those compostable cups, and I’ll bring them with me next time!
Just before the show, Laura went off and found us an awesome organic veggie curry dish from Bombay Kitchen (all fully compostable, although as before, I should have brought my own bamboo cutlery) and our tummies were happy.
And then the music started. And for a few hours, I didn’t care about anything else.
First, a set by Steel Pulse:
And then Manu Chao:
And when it finally got dark… RADIOHEAD…
Then, trudging out of the park, the crunch of plastic underfoot…
…it wears me out, it wears me out.
It wears me out, it wears me out.