By Lissa Schneckenburger
I am a full time professional fiddler and singer, as well as a mom, and resident of Brattleboro Vermont. In my twenties I regularly toured over 200 days a year, and had the privilege of traveling to many corners of the globe to perform. To this day I adore traveling, seeing new places, and meeting new people through music. I have always been self conscious about the carbon footprint of that touring lifestyle, but uncertain about how to make changes that will be sustainable both for my career and the environment. This July, in an effort to try out one possible solution, my family and I embarked on a weekend tour of shows where we traveled to each gig on bicycles.
I always enjoy playing duo shows with my husband, double bassist and tenor guitar player Corey DiMario (of Crooked Still). We not only share a common musical aesthetic, but the same moral values and concerns for climate change, and we were inspired by a vibrant group of activists in our home community (including 350Vermont and Mother Up!). We decided we wanted to shift environmental conversations from that of fear and denial, to empowerment and creativity, in order to inspire others with ideas of how to move forward as a healthy society. In the words of Vermont state representative Mollie Burke, ”We have a climate emergency and we need ways to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Bicycling is a wonderful transportation alternative. We need investments in better infrastructure, road design, and purchase incentives in order to make bicycling a safe and accessible option.” To limit our fossil fuel use (at least for one weekend!) and raise awareness for alternative transportation we decided that we would book a tour where we traveled to each show on cargo bikes with electric assists, bringing our son, merchandise, and instruments with us. We did a big press campaign in advance of the tour, and audience members that arrived at each concert via pedal power were sold discounted tickets, and encouraged to contact their legislators to voice concerns about climate change.
Here are some of the takeaways from our experience:
ROUTE: We biked in a big loop from Brattleboro VT to Greenfield MA, Peterborough NH, Dunbarton NH, Nelson NH, and then home again. Here is a more detailed look at our route.
GEAR: One bright yellow Yuba cargo bike with an electric assist that I pedaled, which carried our 9 year old, the merch case, snacks, fiddle, and tenor guitar. Corey rode a Trek 2014 Allant with a Dillinger front Hub electric assist, and carried all of our clothes between his front basket and an Ortleib pannier. We got inspiration, advice, bike tune ups, and a super fast battery charger from our friends at VBike. We bought a plastic Sol Survival Blanket for $6.99 and taped it around our instruments with the silver side out to protect them from heat and moisture. A sound system and upright bass was provided at each venue.
- On the first day we had a gorgeous 22 mile ride from Brattleboro VT down to Greenfield MA. We reveled in the beautiful views, as well as having a fun entourage of friends and family to keep us company along the way. With lots of fun conversations, and a slight vertical descent into Massachusetts, the miles just flew by.
- My dad rode along with us for the first two days of the trip, and it was really special to get to spend so much time with him.
- Getting to play music with Corey again, and working in some new repertoire that we hadn’t performed before
- My son sat behind me on the cargo bike and kept my spirits up by giving me massages, cheering for us on the steep inclines, and singing us songs. His repertoire included “King of the Road”, “Faith”, “Sir Duke”, “Moves Like Jagger”, “Robin Hood and Little John”, excerpts from “The Sound of Music”, and improvised originals (along the lines of “oh my mama is so strong, she can pedal all day long….”)
- Over half of the audience in Greenfield MA rode their bikes to the show!
- The incredibly generous pastor at the Richmond Community Church, who opened up the church doors for us at lunch time and offered us cold water, fresh fruit, cookies, a real bathroom, and lots of encouragement.
- The Richmond Public Library was closed when we rode through, but the librarian very kindly left us a note and let us charge up our bike batteries outside anyway
- We inadvertently rode into the middle of a “Lights for Liberty: Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps” rally in Peterborough NH, and joined right in, “No hate, no fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”
- Sitting outside of Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough NH with my family, having a delicious glass of wine after our longest biking day (60 miles!)
- My bike that I ride around on at home is a bit of a clunker that I got for free from the dump, so it was lovely to ride a practically new Yuba with a bright shiny coat of paint, with all the gears working perfectly.
- Our friends Rachel and Dave at VBike were not only a fun entourage, but also a huge help in terms of practical advice, gear loans, and encouragement
- Audience members who sang along with many of our songs each night and clearly knew all the words
- We didn’t spend a single penny on gas! And because we were passing fewer gas stations in general (the unofficial junk food dispensers of our universe) my son was tempted to whine for candy a lot less frequently
- Gorgeous scenery, New England is so beautiful!
- That all of our rain gear worked, and our instruments were kept cool and dry all weekend
- Having a few rain showers to cool us off on our ride from time to time
- When folks would give us a friendly honk as they passed us on the road
- Showing off our electric assist bikes and gear to all the interested audience members at intermission each night
- Discovering the Ashuelot Rail Trail, which we picked up in Keene NH and rode west on our way home on the last day. It was gorgeous, secluded, quiet, 12 miles long, and totally flat the whole way – I will definitely be going back to enjoy that again!
- Being outside all day made me feel so happy and vibrant!
- Our mode of travel inspired so many interesting conversations, and it was fun to see the looks on people’s faces as they imagined doing something similar themselves
- Riding up Bliss Hill on the way to Richmond NH. It was NOT blissful!! We were so tired and hungry when we saw it coming that I actually swore in front of my son. A LOT.
- Getting lost at one point and having to back track, UP hill
- My son wasn’t able to pedal himself (he sat on the back of my bike and rode along) which meant that he didn’t get any exercise and ended up being pretty bored and grumpy, especially at the end of a long day.
- I was surprised to find that I got a bit hoarse at the end of the weekend, from yelling back and forth as we biked along, which isn’t ideal for someone planning to sing a full show later that evening…. We could chat a bit on the quiet back roads, but even then you had to raise your voice to be heard. Of course on the busier roads with lots of cars passing we couldn’t do much chatting at all, which was lonelier.
- Playing a different loaner bass each evening was a big challenge for Corey, and he definitely ended up pining away for his own instrument. In the future it would be great to find a way to be able to bring a bass with us.
- Google maps is far from perfect! We got our hopes up for several “rail trails” in southern NH, only to discover when we got there that they were a single rutted mud track through the woods (inaccessible to our cargo bikes) or in one case completely non existent.
- Doing an all day bike ride AND then playing a show was definitely challenging. I can imagine doing it again with some modifications, but it would be much easier for a vacation trip instead.
- Booking shows that were close enough to each other to bike to, but far enough away that they wouldn’t affect audience size was very challenging. It meant that we ended up having one night off, which was great for relaxation and moral, but not as good for the tour finances. The key was finding venues that were on board with our mission, and didn’t mind that they were close to each other.
- The slimy feeling you get when excessive sunscreen, rain, and sweat are all mixed together
- The survival blankets we used for keeping the instruments cool and dry were very affordable and effective, but they didn’t hold up after a few days and it felt bad that we were just going to have to throw them away at the end of the tour. Next time we’ll definitely invest in more permanent water proof instrument cases that will last.
- Luckily we were able borrow a lot of the gear that made our trip possible, but if we were to plan a similar tour in the future we would have to save up and invest in some essential items. A worthwhile long term investment for sure, but it would make breaking even on a weekend series of shows much more challenging.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Try it out! consider biking to work, school, the store, or even your next gig! The more bikers we have on the roads the safer, healthier and happier we will all be.
- Contact your legislators to voice concerns about climate change, and ask for better infrastructure for alternative transportation, tax incentives for families who want to purchase electric assist bicycles, and an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure and subsidies.
- Check out some of these amazing organizations that support cycling:
For more information visit Lissa’s website at www.lissafiddle.com, follow her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lissafiddle/, and look up #musicalbikeadventure for more photos and videos from the tour.