BMF Interview – SF Events Examiner

“If you’ve ever imagined what a post peak-oil San Francisco Ecotopia sun festival might look like and feel like, the Bicycle Music Festival is pretty much that.” ~Gabe Dominguez

Here’s a great article/interview with BMF founders Gabe Dominguez and Paul Freedman about the upcoming Bicycle Music Festival SF 2010!
Thanks to Sona Avakian of SF Events Examiner!

Pedal-Powered Music Coming Your Way
July 31

By Sona Avakian, SF Events Examiner
Read full online article

If you’ve ever wanted to ride your bike through the city listening to live music (and who hasn’t?) July 31 is your next chance. This is the fourth year of the Bicycle Musical Festival, an outgrowth of Rock the Bike and it’s doubled in size each year. The festival is a roving, roaming troupe of merry musicians and all their music is powered by bicycle. Nothing is plugged in, no money goes to PG&E and no pollution is created. This year’s festival begins at noon at Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park with (among others) Diana Gameros, a puppet show and Sean Hayes. Then a LiveOnBike bicycle parade across the city will bring the festivities to Showplace Triangle at Sixteenth and Wisconsin Streets where The Derailleurs, Manicato and many more bands will play. Check here for the full schedule.

I met Paul Freedman aka Fossil Fool, Rock the Bike’s founder and the Bike Festival’s co-founder/director at a mutual friend’s barbecue this past Fourth of July. I quickly hit him and co-founder/director Gabe Dominguez up for interviews.

Avakian: Exactly how does pedal powered machinery work?

Freedman: Normally on a bicycle the wheels are on the road, and when you pedal, the energy goes into propelling you through town. At our events, the rear wheel is lifted in the air with sturdy kickstands, so that we can tap the energy and convert it to electrical using generators. We then feed the energy into a pedal power utility box, which smoothes out the jerky nature of pedal power and makes it useful to our audio gear.

S.A. What can one expect to hear and see at the Bicycle Music Fest?

G.D. If you’ve ever imagined what a post peak-oil San Francisco Ecotopia sun festival might look like and feel like, the Bicycle Music Festival is pretty much that. It’s the festival that rolls you right up to the windy edge of America’s cultural grand canyon, the scenic overlook of a new sustainable world; it’s the festival you dreamed of growing up in Utah, or Wisconsin, or New Jersey when you squinted into the sunny West and wondered if another world was getting built out there in San Francisco; it’s the festival of the society you’ve always imagined: a rolling sea of beautiful sun-tanned faces, sun-tanned legs, and sun-tanned music from all over the world: Cajun, Latin American, Jazz, String Metal, marching bands, and more; it’s the festival where, as you pedal next to your friend on the pedal-power bikes making electricity in real-time to power Sean Hayes’ performance happening 10 feet from you, as you realize that no one has charged you admission to come to this event, as you taste the organic strawberries in a bike-blended smoothie that the smoking hot sweetie over there blended with their own leg-power just for you, you exclaim to yourself with wonder-filled joy: “We’re doing it! We’re doing it ourselves! We’re creating it right now, we’re making it right now, we’re doing it! I’m home! I love you people!”

P.F. [The] festival begins in the morning when we load up hundreds of pounds of music gear and pedal power gear on our cargo bikes and trailers. We ride out to Golden Gate Park, and set up the Pedal Powered Stage, converting some of the same bikes we rode to pedal power sources. Our Pedal Powered Stage features pro-audio speakers that have been hacked to consume less power, so 6 people can easily get hundreds dancing. Our sound guy runs a recording studio, and is experienced working with pedal power, so he knows that when the pedal power is healthy, he can turn up the bass. This ups the dance energy and stokes the pedalers and the band—a positive feedback loop.

We feature a range of talented local bands. We’re stoked to have Sean Hayes again at this year’s festival. We dispatch roadies on cargo bikes to pick up bandmembers and their gear, so that we can expose them to the joy of biking to gigs.

After the last band performs at Golden Gate Park, our roadies will leap into action, packing up our festival and moving it by bike to our night venue, while our LiveOnBike performers will sing and play to the rolling audience. The LiveOnBike ride gives us a chance to share a taste of our music with thousands of onlookers along our route.

S.A. Can you give a brief history of Rock the Bike and the Bike Music Festival?

P.F. The Rock The Bike crew make up most of the Roadie corps, the Pedal Powered Stage crew and the Bike Blended Smoothie team at Bicycle Music Festival. In addition Rock The Bike is a sponsor. We raised $1000 for BMF this year through events, mostly the Feb 5 fundraiser we had at Cell Space. If people are jazzed about the Bicycle Music Festival and want to come out to events like it throughout the year, they should definitely get on our events list by fanning us on Facebook and joining the SF Cruisers email list.

S.A. Would you explain what the beer (or soda can) pipe contraption is and how it works?

P.F. The Pedalometer is Rock The Bike’s product for visually conveying the health of the Pedal Power system at events to pedalers, performers, the sound guy, and the fans. Since we can only use as much energy as we produce, it’s helpful if everyone can see whether the Pedal Power is looking good or about to run out. A 24 Volt DC fan blows air into a clear tube, lifting a carefully weighted beer can to different heights corresponding to up and down a tube drilled with holes of varying sizes. As the system voltage climbs, the fan blows harder, moving it past the holes in the tube and into different color zones.

S.A. How do you go about recruiting people who can pedal fast enough to power things?

P.F. Even a twelve-year-old kid can get 50 people dancing on our Pedal Powered Stage. One of our main reasons for doing this is to reach kids and everyday people in a positive way. Of course we have a few ringers on our crew, cyclists who climb Mount Tam for fun on the weekends, but the goal is to get our audiences to pedal power awesome local bands, regardless of their fitness level.

S.A. Really? A 12 year old can pedal fast and hard enough to create a good sound that will make people want to move?

P.F. Yes, I’ve street performed with this exact situation and people were not dancing out of pity. The beat this kid was able to put out was truly impressive.

S.A. Learning to ride a bike is such a rite of passage in childhood. Who taught you/How did you learn?

G.D. My dad took my sister and me down the street in El Cerrito to the local public school’s blacktop, and ran behind us holding the back of our bike seat to keep us from tipping over. He ran with us out there for hours—hanging on to the back of that bike seat. I’ll never forget the moment when I looked behind me expecting to see my dad running behind—only to see that he’d let go of me without my knowing it about 20 feet back, and there he stood, beaming! He also taught my cousin Yasi how to ride a bike that way.

The years of family bike trips that followed, culminated for me in an epic ride I did when I was 10 years old. My dad and I biked from our new home in Provo, Utah, 45 miles to Salt Lake City. I felt pride in myself that I’d made it all that way, but I think I burned my little cycling engine out. It just felt too grueling an activity: the gruel/fun ratio was too far off for me. I started avoided bicycling whenever possible after that, becoming a dedicated rollerblader, and skating anywhere I wanted to go.

When I was 23 my bike-phobia was still so great, that when my girlfriend-at-the-time and I were plotting to go to several WWOOF farms in Northern CA, I insisted that I travel on rollerblades. She (thankfully) pointed out that if I hit a rock going 20 mph on Hwy 1, with a heavy backpack on, I would become a human fly swatter and my face would never forgive me. After that first farm tour (on bike) I became a dedicated bike-touring dude, and the rest, as they say, is obscure underground history.

S.A. On family bike trips, there’s no chance of the kids fighting the backseat. Also, no carsickness.

G.D. Yes, my whole family would get on our bikes for an entire Saturday and ride out into the farmlands of Utah. I remember seeing tiny new foals and kids wobbling behind their giant moms in springtime, the sharp farm smells of alfalfa and pasture pies that make your nose pucker, and the sound of the magpies crazy songs and us singing back and forth with them—us belting it from our bikes and them from the barbed wire. We’d see a lot of wide valley, and feel a lot of hot sun. We’d bring our bikes with us on all of our car vacations too. I remember pedaling around the San Juan Islands in Washington on a coaster brake BMX bike–like 8 or 9 years old—for miles and miles with my family. Telling this story makes me realize how much I just assumed that this was just part of normal life as a kid—to toil over your slow bike, to feel free, and strong, and different from those car people, and to feel tired. Benefits and drawbacks: I’m grateful to my family for many things, but in this moment, I’m glad that they helped my sister and me learn to not be wusses.) Except for a couple years there in junior high when we were at war, we have always been good comrades and co-adventurers.

S.A. Paul, Your mom rode from San Francisco to San Mateo to the Maker Faire this spring. Was biking a family pastime when you were growing up?

P.F. Yes, biking was a big bonding experience between my dad and me. Actually, my mom’s participation is a relatively new thing. I like it when we convince her to bike further and stay out later than she expected.

S.A. How did you two meet?

G.D. In 2006, I’d just moved to San Francisco and was beginning to research how to build a battery-powered PA system for my bicycle-touring band SHAKE YOUR PEACE! The world of bike audio was about a tenth of the size it is now, so only a dozen or so resources came up in my Google searches. Paul’s company Rock The Bike (then called Fossil Fool) and his custom-built SoulCycles were one of the most exciting resources.

I called and emailed, and harassed Paul and everyone else I found on Google and basically just picked their brains for advice and tips, and I think Paul thought I was trying to waste his time (perhaps I was), and I thought Paul had a bit of an attitude (perhaps he did), so we didn’t really hit it off then.

Even so, when I’d completed a parts list and schematic for my PA design, I came by his workshop and he was willing to review the schematic and offer tips (primarily aesthetic), and I think things started warming up a bit.

Relations were looking a little better around the time I bought my Xtracycle from Paul in October 2006. Then one day in November 2006 I was busking out in front of the Green Festival with my completed battery-powered PA, and Paul came walking out and saw me performing—my Xtracycle as my back drop—and I think he basically said to himself: “Hey, this kid isn’t just full of sh*t after all! He’s a real deal bike music nerd just like me!” I think it was then or shortly after that Paul invited me to come by the Rock the Bike workshop to meet Rock the Bike co-founder Nate Byerley (founder of Byerley Bicycle Blenders, now president of Xtracycle) for a pedal-power experiment. The two of them were just starting to experiment with lightweight and portable human-power generators for Xtracycles.

I brought my PA over to the workshop and linked it to Rock the Bike’s pedal-generators, plugged in my guitar, and Paul and Nate grabbed the mic and started freestyling, was nothing short of a “Eureka!” moment for the three of us. This moment is actually well documented on YouTube—just search “rock the bike human powered research.”

P.F. What Gabe said, plus. . . . it was the sound check at Rock The Bike that really sparked my interest. We were freestyling, pedaling, sweating, checking voltage with a voltmeter. Gabe was improvising on his guitar and singing opera, we had a little audience from our workshop community. It was positively electric. Now we’re living the dream we expressed that day, which is developing and providing pedal powered sound at a truly respectable performance level for events and musicians.

S.A. Describe the appeal of biking.

G.D. Though l love the health, environmental, city-infrastructural, and social benefits of a bike-based society, and I love how my bike ever-so-simply moves me down the road, to me, as a cycling American in 2010, I feel most moved by my bike on a political-spiritual plane. I look at the spinning wheels of my community’s bicycles in the way that Gandhi viewed the spinning wheels of British-ruled Indians’ charkhas – as revolutionary tools of radical self-reliance. To me, the simple and elegant self-reliance embodied in the bicycle, makes it not only a literal tool of transporting ourselves from point A to point B under our own human-scale power, but a symbolic tool—politically and culturally transporting ourselves under our own community power from point A (corporate rule, environmental catastrophe) to point B (Ecotopia, environmental sustainability and stewardship). Like the Indians who, at the beginning of their campaign for independence, rejected British fabric and chose to spin their own, many of us cultural refugees who have rejected the social fabric of American culture and fled to San Francisco, are choosing, at the beginning of our campaign for interdependence to spin our own social fabric. Our bikes are our literal and symbolic tool (among others) for doing this.

Grab your bike. Grab your helmet. See you at Speedway Meadows on Saturday.

Category: BMF 2010, Press
• Saturday, July 24th, 2010

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