By Sami Ascha & Coral Yang
An intersection of altruism and good vibes, the Know Tomorrow Music and Climate Festival aimed to promote awareness of climate change through music Primarily organized and promoted by Tufts senior Ben Silver, the festival featured headliners such as rapper Outsaight, pop/rock artist Will Dailey, and the frontwoman of the indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, Sadie Dupuis. In addition to many acclaimed indie artists, the festival featured a number of speakers, including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, Harvard Professor James Engell, and Tufts student Shana Gallagher (A&S ’17), who helped organized the event.
It was a rainy Friday afternoon at the Ritz-Carlton, an unlikely venue that was settled upon after changing the event’s location three times. As we stumbled into the lobby wearing sweatshirts and jeans – proudly displaying our loyalty to typical college attire – we took note of the hotel’s many formally dressed guests. Confounded by the lack of music and college students, we learned shortly after entering the Ritz’s lavish lobby that the side door on Tremont Street was the actual entrance to the event and that the man in the Giorgio Armani suit wasn’t actually visiting the Ritz for an indie rock music festival.
The ballroom was set up with minimal decor and the scale of audience was, to our surprise, rather small, despite the nearly 800 people that had RSVP’d to the event via Facebook. At the event’s peak, there were approximately 40 people scattered around the venue, almost all of whom were college students.
Shana Gallagher explained that this less-than-stellar turnout could have been attributed to a number of things – the event’s location difficulties, the rather hasty production that these difficulties necessitated, and the untimely stormy weather. Nonetheless, she commended the Ritz’s openness to holding the event – noting the hotel’s recognition of climate change as an important issue, they were more than happy to host the event despite being approached only a few days before the actual festival.
As we entered, Natalie Joly was opening the show. The Mass-based pop rock artist partnered up with her drummer to present an acoustic performance. With classic numbers like “Earth Song” and “All You Need Is Love,” the two tied the theme of the festival into their music. One thing worth noticing is that Joly also presented her newest released song, “Thunder”, for the first time live, which was also her first original song released in about 2 years. These acoustic favorites brought about a special intimacy around the room; accompanying the purple stage lighting and the cloudy weather, the vibe was much more private than a festival.
Soon after, Senator Ed Markey gave his remarks as the crowd was gathering. The Senator’s presence was indeed a special yet interesting flavor in such a youthful festival – not too much a dull preach, yet useful enough to raise awareness from those who didn’t have it before. In addition to Markey’s remarks were comments by James Engell, a professor of English at Harvard and an advocate of environmental policy reform. In an impassioned address, Engell asserted that those who oppose efforts to combat climate change are thereby opposing human rights.
The first headliner – Outasight – was met with a relative lack of enthusiasm. The New-York-based hip-hop/pop artist tried to drop some dancing spirit on the floor – his performance was indeed energetic, with upbeat electronic element and rap, but much of the audience seemed apathetic. Meanwhile, the line for free Ben & Jerry’s was nearly out the door. Despite this, his performance was worth observing, especially given his recent spike in popularity. His newest album, Big Trouble, came out on October 23rd.
As the second headliner – Will Dailey – was getting ready to come upon stage, we noticed that the schedule had been pushed back by about an hour, a development that event coordinators acknowledged. The night was falling, which complemented Dailey’s gentle, folksy style. We sat on the floor like everyone else, nice and relaxed. Unfortunately, after the first number, the microphone suddenly stopped working – Dailey’s response, however, was simply to abandon the stage and engage the audience sans equipment. He played several songs with an accompanying a capella, then took out his banjo; “this is probably the only song that I could play on banjo,” he proclaimed as he performed his single “Higher Education” from his latest album. The stage had been turned into a cozy mini-live. Dailey finished with “Dear Grace”, a quiet yet affectionate song that brought him extended applause. An intimate performance indeed – due in part to the audience’s lacking size – Dailey was able to engage the audience a cappella without equipment, and pulled this off rather impressively.
During the intermission, we spoke with Speedy Ortiz’s frontwoman, Sadie Dupuis. Currently in between tours, Dupuis said that two members of the band had other plans and could not make it to Boston, but that she was fortunate to have fellow guitarist Devin McKnight to experiment with as an “acoustic duo”, an arrangement that she had never tried before. As she took the stage, she introduced the duo as “half of Speedy Ortiz.”
The following performance was no turnoff – though going completely acoustic, Sadie and Devin collaborated smoothly and complemented each other very well. Devin’s guitar work was uniquely complex; the composition and chord progression by Sadie was unconventional and creative. Their musical ability was, in a way, more clearly presented in the acoustic performance. The duo alternated melodies, as verses and choruses changed, presenting each member’s guitar playing wholly.
It would be unfair, of course, to say that this event deviated much from the nature of a festival, since the music was supplemented with a number of attractions geared toward raising environmental awareness. Right past the hallway and adjacent to the stage was the “Climate Expo”, which included kiosks of several organizations and enterprises that offer opportunities to be involved in combatting climate change.
Emma Phillips (A&S ’19), who helped run the event, explained that the impetus behind using a music festival as a means of promoting climate change awareness stems simply from the trendiness behind it, noting the rise of festivals such as Coachella or Governor’s Ball and their popularity among the younger generation. Between free food and music, college students were bound to make an appearance.
On the music, Emma explained that many of the artists that were chosen have a personal connection to climate change, noting that Outasight went so far as to create a promotional video for the event. Indeed, the festival’s commendable humanitarian virtues matched even those of the artists involved.
Will Dailey spoke of his veganism as well as his experiences eating crickets and ant larvae in South America. When asked about her thoughts on climate change, Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis spoke of the band’s many philanthropic efforts, including volunteering with a number of Baltimore food banks, the Ferguson Library, Planned Parenthood, and Girls Rock Camp. On stage, Dupuis also spoke of her experiences being a vegan as well as her efforts to support local farms. She urged the many college students in the room to use what they learn to better help the world around them.
On raising awareness about global warming, Dupuis had a lot to say: “It’s terrifying to me that so many politicians actively deny climate change. By reaching these college aged kids – who are still figuring out what they want to do – we can generate interest in this cause. Let’s say you have a student thinking about engineering – by inspiring them to work toward combatting climate change, they can use their education to work in the nonprofit sector, such as engineering ways to reduce emissions in cars.” Eloquently spoken, it is worth noting that Dupuis attended MIT and, later, Barnard College, where she pursued dual degrees in math and music. She later taught at UMass Amherst, where she earned a Masters of Fine Arts. Dupuis’ remarks about climate change were not without academic backing; a tremendously intelligent woman, Dupuis is more than simply a musician.
We often attend concerts and view artists only as musicians – it isn’t often that we think of the artists that we listen to and enjoy as opinionated and passionate human beings. Know Tomorrow allowed for these two aspects to converge; indeed, the music was influenced and performed in reference to a pressing global crisis. While the festival, ultimately, did not produce a favorable turnout, the aura of good vibes and desire for a better world was very much still there.