Back up the truck
Set to house everyone from Nader to Rage, Bands for Lands’ homespun mobile venue is becoming the DNC’s activist pulpit
by Elliott Johnston
AN imposing visage and an art-rock obsession do not an environmental activist stereotype make. But Colorado-native Jeremy Gregory already knew that.
“It blows people’s minds,” Gregory says, referring to the slack-jawed reactions he receives when dropping his progressive credos on folks expecting their messenger to have Jesus-like shaving habits and string-beans for arms. “They look at me, and they think I’m probably this guy that is all about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. And if not that, it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re talking about gender equality.’ And then, to have them see that I am preaching that stuff, it’s like, ‘Wow, I come off like an Edward Norton, American History X look-alike.’ So people are like, ‘What the hell?’”
Gregory is the cofounder of the Boulder-based nonprofit Bands for Lands and a member of the prog-rock group The Construct. He started Bands for Lands in 1996 with friend Doug Bohm, and through its 12-year existence, the small organization has worked to spread a populist curriculum of “self-sustainability, conservation and social awareness issues” to the concert-going masses. Thus far, their presence has primarily involved either tabling at the area shows of biggies such as Radiohead, Ani Difranco, Blues Traveler and Fugazi or putting on their own local-centric events and fundraisers.
This spring, however, marked a procedural shift for Bands for Lands. Gregory and his crew unveiled a 24-foot box truck they’ve converted to a veggie-oil-powered moveable venue. The box-truck, dubbed the Mobile Edutainment Collaboratory, is white with barn-like doors that open for performances and act as visual screens on either side of the stage.
The MEC’s purposes are simultaneously self-serving and altruistic. On one hand, it lends portability to Bands for Lands’ message — a mix of education that, in Gregory’s words, touts “obtainable ways to go green without having to live miserably” and practice-what-you-preach entertainment, powered by alternative fuels. On the other hand, The Construct is comprised of two avant-garde weirdos who don’t jibe with regular venues.
“We had this idea a while ago,” Gregory says. “And my band and I were always talking about, ‘This is how we’ve got to play our shows.’ Mark [Risius] and I are in this experimental project where it’s just the two of us, but we perform like it’s a five-piece band. And the technology that we have to use, it’s just never fit in a venue. And we are just so different anyway. This truck just exemplifies what we are all about.”Bands on the run
As the DNC draws closer, the Bands for Lands’ shiny new box-truck is proving to represent not only gathering steam for the organization, but also a last-minute godsend for penny-pinching activist groups with booked acts and no stage on which to put them. Acts like, say, Rage Against the Machine.
Jordan Hill is the coordinator of The Resurrection City Free University, a part of The Alliance for Real Democracy’s Tent State at the DNC, a temporary activist camp-out geared at pushing Democrats to end the war and at inspiring youth to political engagement. Tent State, to be held at Cuernavaca Park Aug. 24-28, has already been made notorious on Denver’s television news. Spooked or smirking newscasters have taken the Kent State reference and ran with it, insinuating a forgone violent conclusion. And, well, you can’t really blame them; that’s what they do with carrots like that.
Hill emphasizes that, contrary to media portrayals, Tent State is not an organization, but a model for The Alliance for Real Democracy’s activities.
“Tent State is what the ARD decided to call their encampment,” Hill says. “It’s kind of misleading, because Tent State has been other things in other places. It’s a thing that’s going on around the country. It’s just a way of organizing.”
The ARD is comprised of local and national political organizations such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, CODEPINK and United for Peace and Justice. Hill’s Resurrection City Free University — named after Martin Luther King Jr.’s protest encampment during his ’68’s Poor People’s Campaign — is being billed as an “alternative university” with “professors” like Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney giving free classes on progressive subjects and activist know-how. Classes are to be held during the day; concerts, featuring lefty icons like Jello Biafra and Wayne Kramer of MC5 are to be held at night.
On Wednesday morning, Aug. 27, Rage Against the Machine is scheduled to headline the Tent State Music Festival to End the War at the Denver Coliseum, along with acts such as The Flobots, The Coup and State Radio. The only way to get tickets to the Rage show, Hill reports, is to participate at Cuernavaca Park, by attending a course or touring a display. To accommodate the expected numbers at the Coliseum, the plan is for each act to play a few songs outside as well as in the building itself.
Staring down the barrel of a logistical nightmare — the need for a stage to house concerts, classes and speakers at Cuernavaca Park and the program outside the Coliseum — Hill found out about Bands For Lands’ portable venue a mere week before the DNC, and jumped at the opportunity to utilize it.
“The versatility of what Jeremy offers is priceless,” Hill says. “I think that it’s really something that, once more people find out about [it], could work in a lot of different situations. Especially for activist organizations and events. Rarely are these events happening at major venues. Usually they are happening in the streets, they are happening on the road. And what Bands for Lands offers with a mobile stage caters directly to what activists and organizers are looking for.”Keep on truckin’
Gregory is an admitted perfectionist. His voice resembles Henry Rollins’ both in inflection and intensity. No matter what Gregory is talking about, be it our fevered planet or our social failings, it doesn’t seem like his tone would change in the least if he were talking about push-ups.
One could grant a local environmental nonprofit the right to be seduced by the DNC’s narcotic. The week not only looks to be Denver’s most politically electric event in recorded history, but a rare flash of mass attention on organizations that aren’t accustomed to mass attention. And, while Gregory is excited about the visibility Bands for Lands’ new box-truck is set to receive, like any true perfectionist, he’s not soothed by satisfaction. He’s got ambitious and difficult-sounding plans for the MEC that include spreading their word both nationally and internationally.
“Well, you know, we love to be there,” he says about the DNC. “But if it weren’t for the fact that a few of us in Bands for Lands had bands and we were touring and I was in the Peace Corps for a while, I think Bands for Lands would be a lot further along. We want to be a big part of things. We want to help to send a message on a grander scale, by all means. But I think that we should have been there by now, quite honestly.”
On the Bill
For more information about Bands for Lands, go to orwellianmathproject.com. and to see a full schedule of Tent State events at the DNC, go to www.tentstate.org.
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