Musician Ben Sollee on cycling and sustainability in Madison
By Steve Horn | Fri, 06/08/2012 - 2:00am
Ben Sollee is a cellist from Lexington, Kentucky with a unique sound that draws from folk, jazz, blues and bluegrass. In addition to this genre-bending style, Sollee is known for his socially conscious lyrics and political activism.
Sollee is passionate about the environment and spreads his message about sustainability on tour through movements like his "Ditch the Van Tour" where he and his crew traveled around the country on bicycles, carrying all their equipment with them.
Sollee played at the Majestic in Madison last month, and we caught up with him to find out more about his passion for music, community, and the environment.
MC: Tell us a little bit about why you're so passionate about cycling, sustainability, and green energy.
BS: It comes fairly naturally to me, this passion for community. Maybe it's because I'm extroverted or that, as a father, I want to hand off something better than was handed to me. Eitherhow, my concern for the environment is deeply personal, as is my music. So, it sort of naturally imprints in my lyrics and activities. I do work very hard on the bike tours and the community engagement because I think that, in this day and age, the audience can be and most certainly is, interested in more than than the music. They want to know about how I tour, who I tour with, where I go, and how it affects their community.
MC: Why bike tours? Isn't being a touring musician stressful enough?
BS: Truthfully, though the bike tours are physically demanding, they are not nearly as stressful as what has come to be "traditional" touring in planes, buses and vans. The pace of the bicycle, especially with all the equipment, is by limitation slower, which forces us to take time in each community and take care of ourselves. And the results, as we are coming to see, are that the communities we ride bikes through are left with the lasting impression that we give a damn. Which is true, and exactly why we do them.
MC: As an outsider but also someone who is passionate about these things and seen it all over the US, what are your thoughts about Madison's and Wisconsin's efforts to promote a thriving and sustainable cycling and energy community?
BS: I love seeing all the work that Madison is doing to engage pedestrians and cyclists. It's terribly important to champion these folks that get out on their feet and simple machines to get themselves around. It makes for healthy people, more vibrant communities, deeper local business, and a ton more fun.
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