How to tour Virginia without using any energy

Guest post by Anna Caritj.

Last Wednesday at Random Row books, a drummer beat on a microphoned bicycle helmet, which reverberated through the speakers. But the energy it took to power the show won’t show up on the bookstore’s next Dominion bill.

Rather, the entire sound system—including the amps, microphones and anything else electric—was powered by a tandem bicycle, jerry-rigged beside the stage by members of the Petrol-Free Gypsy Carnival Band, a bicycle-powered tour throughout the Commonwealth with stops in Staunton, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Northern Virginia, and Charlottesville.

The tandem bike that powered the show.

At Random Row, audience members bopped their heads to the music and made small talk with their neighbors as they waited in line to pedal, thus powering the show. As singer Nick Melas told the audience, “No bike, no music. You’ve all got to help.”

The bike troop, fluctuating between 10 to 20 riders from Harrisonburg and other parts of Virginia, is in their second week of a month-long tour. Although they stop every other night to perform a mix of gospel, chant and folk-inspired protest music, not all members of the Gypsy Tour are in the band.

Melas, one of the creators of the Petrol-Free tour, described the trek as half fueled by music and half fueled by social change. “Our songs are about justice and the pain that goes into this petrol fueled culture,” Melas says. “We thought it was crazy to be singing about social and environmental justice and still be driving our cars around. This is a way to speak to the community and teach by example.”

Melas accurately sums up their protest in a song entitled, “Turkey Truck.” He chronicles his own experience of being passed by a rattling truck, feathers flying in its wake, as a turning point of realization: “If the things that we’re doing are creating stench and noise, crying and tears, then something’s not right.”

A powerful, chanting chorus of voices beats against the walls of the bookstore: “Will I speak for peace? Will I speak for peace? This is laziness—I won’t stand for this.” The lyrics speak of a common push for justice, the power of an entire community epitomized by the five voices harmonizing together with one collective goal.

But while it’s easy to stand up and shout with a whole room of supporters behind you, the song ends with one lone voice—“I won’t stand for this."

A short documentary about last year’s tour.


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