MANCHESTER — New England's longest running solar-powered music festival and sustainability celebration returns after a taking a year off.
SolarFest obtained a provisional permit in January to host the two day festival at Southern Vermont Arts Center. It's a platform for a variety of renewable energy advocates, vendors and musicians. On July 15 and 16, folks from all over the Northeast will gather to witness over 20 musical acts on two stages powered by solar panels and over 50 presenters surrounding the grounds.
"There's a celebratory aspect of what we're doing and that's reflected. It's been 22 years now of SolarFest," said Mike Bailey, a member of the SolarFest Board of Trustees. "It's not forcing education, it's enjoying the people and the thoughts and the ideas that are shared at a beautiful event that demonstrates that this works fine. It's a wonderful, beautiful life. It makes for a better planet, it makes for reduced costs, it makes for greater sharing, and all of the things that people want in their world."
The event was formerly held at Forget-Me-Not Farm in Middletown Springs. In 2015, the organization took time to research a new venue and "refine and reflect on what's important," Bailey said.
Workshops and presentations will run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on July 15 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 16 and include practitioners, academia professionals, political leaders, and other experts. Conferences are divided into five different subjects; renewable energy, conservation and green building, sustainable living and food, and music and arts. The latter is new to the workshops. Eight different presentations will run simultaneously, Bailey said. Advanced aerodynamic concepts, biophilia and biophilic design, energy storage and technology, policy and opportunities, graywater heat exchanger, off-grid solar design, reassessing passive solar design, regenerative farm approach to energy, carbon and soil and the technology of small wind turbines are among the topics to be discussed.
"I think that there are just people who, if they're given a choice between listening to a band or sitting in a studio and gallery listening to a presentation, a lot of people are always going to go for the music," said Naomi Bindman, president of the SolarFest Board of Trustees. "And now there are workshops that are catered to those people as well."
About 50 percent of current ticket sales are represented by Vermont, which Bailey said is good, adding that remaining buyers reside in surrounding New England states.
"As a nonprofit organization, the mission 20 years ago was very different than what's going on in the market. It was an oddity that people were doing in labs and living off grids somewhere," Bailey said. "Today, it's certainly mainstream and there are a number of organizations helping people understand their options. There's a much bigger audience than there was years ago of people who are interested and looking for honest, unbiased, simple information. There's no better source of it than people who are doing it themselves. We're hoping we'll see a large turnout from a wide geographic area."
Last week the solar panels were installed at the venue.
Singer and songwriter Dar Williams will return for her sixth year at the festival while Donna and the Buffalo will make their only stop in Vermont to perform "distinctive, groove-heavy, and danceable" music, according to the band's website. Others include blues singer Marcia Ball from New Orleans, Grammy nominated singer, DJ, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur and humanitarian Sister Carol from Kingston, Jamaica, and rock band The House Jacks from San Francisco.
"It's unique among music festivals in that it's both a top notch music festival with world class performers, as well as equally world class leaders in various fields of renewable energy and sustainability," Bindman said. "A music festival and a renewable energy, technology fair with workshops and speakers. But there's a slow back and forth. Some go to the workshops, but others go to the music and others take advantage of both."
Southern Vermont Arts Center president of the board of trustees, Robert McCafferty said the process of bringing the festival to the new venue followed through without any issues.
"We're very excited about it. There's no question. This is a substantial move for them from a working farm to a venue like our own. We explained to the village that we're hoping, efforts on both of our parts, that the event comes off as smoothly and professionally as possible and they've been doing everything in their power to make that happen so far."
A two-day pass ticket costs $60 with a $30 tent camping option. Friday (July 15) passes cost $25 and Saturday costs $40. Children under 12 years old are free with a ticketed adult. Students and seniors save 20 percent. Visit solarfest.org for further information on tickets, lodging options, musical guests, vendors and presenters.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.