How sustainability and social accountability became a driving force at the annual Ohana Festival.
Perhaps it was just a simple twist of fate that put Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam on a trajectory to stardom. Perhaps it was nothing more than a brief confluence of the tide, swell, and wind that opened the door for everything that was to come.
Living, working odd jobs, and surfing in San Diego while trying to get a music career off the ground, one day in 1990, Vedder received a tape in the mail from Stone Gossard up in Seattle. On it was a demo recording of an instrumental arrangement called "Dollar Short."
With the tune in his head, Vedder paddled out to catch a few waves and found himself inspired. The lyrics for the song "Alive" sprung forth. Vedder quickly recorded a demo of the lyrics over the music and sent it back to Seattle.
By January of 1991, the members of what was to become Pearl Jam got in the studio and recorded the song. It became the anchor to their debut album, "Ten," which was released in July of 1991. But more importantly, it announced their arrival as bonafide rock 'n roll animals.
"It was the first song we ever wrote as a group," Vedder would later reflect.
Thirty years down the tracks, Vedder, Gossard, and Pearl Jam still have the volume cranked up and are doing everything they can to make the world a better place through their music and influence.
In 2016, Vedder hosted the first Ohana Festival at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California. With a bill that included big-time names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes, and Vedder's surfing buddy, Jack Johnson, the three-day music festival was an immediate hit.
Even better, Vedder created the Ohana Festival with a conscience. Proceeds from the 2016 event benefited the Doheny State Beach Foundation and the San Onofre Park Foundation. Since then, the event has only become more focused on the environment and sustainability.
Part music festival, part beach party, part gathering of the tribes, the Ohana Festival isn't your typical weekend of music. Like the baritone voice of its founder, the Ohana Festival resonates much deeper.
The Ohana Festival has featured some of the biggest acts in music, as well as some of the biggest names in the world of environmental justice and sustainability. The diverse list of headliners have included Vedder himself, Stevie Nicks, Jack White, Pink, and Billy Strings. In total, over 30 acts jam their tunes over the three-day weekend.
Meanwhile, the Storytellers Stage has hosted some of brightest minds and action-oriented environmental warriors. Among the names that have shared their stories and insights were Parley For The Oceans' Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Paul Watson, and shark advocate and photographer Mike Coots.
All of this goodness goes down at Doheny State Beach, one of the most popular surfing beaches in all of California. Situated in the shadow of Dana Point, the location isn't without its own environmental lessons. The construction of the Dana Point harbor in the late 1960s and early '70s effectively killed the surf spot known as Killer Dana. A consistent, powerful right-hander, it was at Killer Dana that luminaries like Phil Edwards and Hobie Alter first carved out a name for themselves. And while the waves don't break at Killer Dana anymore, on any given day at Doheny, you'll find a multitude of generations and talent levels in the water together, all sharing waves and embracing the spirit of aloha.
Like every industry these days, there's an onus on the music industry to be more sustainable and environmentally responsible. It's not one of those things that gets a lot of attention as live music merely drifts off into the airwaves, but how we listen, where we listen, and what we use to listen are all vitally important topics to discuss.
Did you know that today's trendy vinyl records have a carbon footprint of about 1 pound of CO2-equivalent emissions (CO2e)? Basically, that means that for every 10 records produced, it's equivalent to burning a full propane tank. And while they may scratch, vinyl records can take hundreds of years to decompose, plus they may leach solvents into the ground.
Airpods and headphones are another product that's problematic. There were over 90 million pairs of Apple's AirPods sold during the holiday quarter of 2021. That's a lot of plastic that simply can't be recycled, even if you don't lose one of them in the first month.
Those are just two examples. Things get pretty radical pretty fast when one starts adding things like live events and all that go along with them—transportation, power, food, waste, the list goes on and on.
A lot of people and organizations talk the talk when it comes to sustainability and environmental initiatives, but that's now Vedder and his friends' role. They're core. Committed. Dedicated to making the world a better place.
"We are conscious of our footprint and incorporated sustainable practices into the vision of Ohana since day one," Vedder says.
The Ohana Festival was created with sustainability as a paramount pillar of its mission, and they make sure it reaches every aspect of the event.
Partnerships are a big part of the Ohana Festival's sustainability strategy. The Rob Machado Foundation, founded by San Diego pro surfer Rob Machado, was brought on board to promote a BYOB—Bring Your Own Bottle—a campaign that encourages attendees to use their own reusable bottles at the numerous refill stations that are located on-site. And in 2022, Yeti provided water refill stations, all with the goal of minimizing the event's environmental footprint on the coastline and planet as a whole.
Other partners over the years have included Surfrider Orange County, Life Rolls On, Waves 4 Water, Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center, Wyland Foundation, Music Preserves, and California State Parks.
Another part of the Ohana Festival's sustainability strategy is to divert waste before it even hits landfills. All cups, plates, and water bottles that are sold at the festival are made of compostable material, and several recycling/compost bins are placed throughout the site to increase the amount of material that is recycled/composted.
The numbers don't lie; here's a breakdown of just how much the Ohana Festival operation has averted from going into landfills:
939 lbs. of aluminum cans
504 lbs. of glass bottles
657 lbs. of paper
201 lbs. of cardboard
1187 lbs. of aluminum cans
657 lbs. of glass bottles
812 lbs. of paper
442 lbs. of cardboard
One of the most important parts of the Ohana Festival—besides the music, of course—is the Storytellers Stage. Over the years, the stage has enjoyed a wide and diverse array of guests from all walks of life. Sharing similar messages of environmental stewardship and the need to embrace all facets of sustainable living, the Storytellers Stage was created to educate Ohana guests through a series of panels with renowned conservationists, environmentalists, researchers, and leading figures from these a host of non-profit organizations.
"Ohana strives to present diverse perspectives on sustainability in hopes of inspiring change," reads a statement from the organizers.
Continuing to push the conversation forward, the 2022 Storytellers Stage featured an all-star lineup of some really bright, well-educated, insightful people.
With a jaw-dropping resume, Dr. Sylvia Earle entered the chat. Parley For The Oceans' Chief Science Officer, an Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, founder of Mission Blue and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER), and former Chief Scientist of NOAA—the first woman to serve in that role—she reckons she's spent nearly half of her life underwater. An early pioneer of SCUBA technology, she's logged more than 7,000 hours beneath the surface.
"I've had the privilege of living underwater on ten different occasions. It has enabled me to get to know individual moray eels, individual groupers, even individual lobsters," Earle explained in a 2021 interview with Time. "They all have faces; they have attitudes. They have sensory systems much like our own. And yet we somehow harden ourselves to think they don't feel pain. We pride ourselves on being 'humane' but it doesn't translate to the way we treat animals in the sea."
An equally legendary figure that continues to step onto the Storytellers Stage is Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In 2022, he was joined by Academy Award director and environmental filmmaker Louie Psihoyos to discuss the future of our planet and what we can do now to protect it.
"I am a conservative. You can't get more conservative than being a conservationist," jokes Watson. "Our entire raison d'etre is to conserve and protect."
And speaking of preserving and protecting, photographer, surfer, and shark advocate Mike Coots has shared his unique relationship with the ocean and its creatures. Coots lost his leg to a tiger shark when he was younger, but rather than invoking a hatred or fear of these apex predators, he was fascinated by them. He's since spent a good portion of his life diving with sharks and capturing stunning images of them.
"Prior to my injury, honestly, I had no involvement in oceanic conservation," Coots told Men's Journal in 2015. "I was a bit clueless about it all. All I knew was that the ocean was important to us in Hawaii—it's everything we have here—and that I loved being in it."
"The more I learned the more I wanted to keep helping. And then I started diving with sharks, which just turned into a full-blown addiction, and I realized I needed to do all I could to help," Coots continued.
Another familiar face on hand was Mission Blue's international ocean policy expert Max Bello and South African filmmaker Faine Loubser, who's been working on the "Sea Change" project, which endeavors to connect people with the ocean through a story.
And rounding out the Storytellers lineup in 2022 was a panel discussion titled "The Ecology of Food." It featured Evan Marks from The Ecology Center, sharing his insights and perspectives on creative solutions with food for thriving on Planet Earth.
When Vedder launched the Ohana Festival, he had a vision that the music world and the environmental world could collide together in a beautiful, fruitful explosion of creativity, passion, and a shared mission to pave a better way forward. From forks to food vendors, water bottles to wailing on stage, rocking the free world and environmental activism certainly don't have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, this whole experiment works best when everybody's jamming together in the same key…the key to sustainability.
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