The Newport Folk Festival, known for creating electrifying musical moments – the most famous being Bob Dylan’s decision to plug in his guitar in 1965 – this weekend has a small outdoor stage that’s powered in part by festival-goers on stationary bikes .
The Bike Stage is the brainchild of the band Illiterate Light, an environmentally conscious indie rock duo from Virginia, who teamed up with a company called Rock the Bike to create a pedal sound system, which they already used at small club shows. .
Frontman Jeff Gorman said the “Bike Stage” at the event in Rhode Island was the first time the system had been tried at a festival. A dozen artists are programmed to perform mostly acoustic sets on stage.
Around 1,300 of the festival’s 10,000 fans cycled to Newport on Friday. Gorman said that upon seeing this sea of bikes during the band’s Newport appearance in 2019, he and partner Jake Cochran approached festival director Jay Sweet to set up the stage.
“It’s a way for them to do something different and for us to start the conversation about energy use, to think differently, and to try new ways to create electricity,” Gorman said. .
The stage is equipped with solar panels which will supply most of the power to the equipment, with the bikes supplying the rest.
When the show starts, fans jump on five bikes adjacent to the tent. Pedaling generates electricity, which is routed through wires to an electrical box on the stage. With temperatures in the upper 80s, fans take turns pedaling for about five minutes during the 20-minute sets. In exchange, they receive a few drops of water from a vaporizer, a free can of iced tea, and an unobstructed view of the performance.
Sarah Gaines, 44, from Wakefield, Rhode Island, pedaled to a song during a Friday concert by singer Madi Diaz and got off the bike with a huge smile on her face.
“I love cycling, we cycled here today,” she said. “I also feel it’s time for us to be more proactive and come up with (energy) solutions that don’t rely on traditional energy sources, so I was really pleased they were doing that. “
Gorman said Illiterate Light was among the first in a group of bands that tried to find ways to make their shows more environmentally friendly. Coldplay, for example, harnesses the energy of a kinetic dance floor during its shows and also uses stationary bikes to store energy.
“We don’t want people to spend their fun weekend sweating it out,” Gorman said. “But we think it’s fun to be able to jump for five minutes and have that body experience of making that music happen.”