Ditty Bops take green ethic to the next stage
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
From cars to clothes, kitchen cleaners to ketchup, nearly every product imaginable is wet with greenwash, and the next natural, organic step would be to wrap the message of sustainable food within the fat folds of indie rock.
The unique and excellent music of L.A. duo the Ditty Bops is certainly not the first to flower an environmental message from the stem of popular music. But partners and real-life couple Amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald – who last year raised an environmental flag by doing their entire coast-to-coast tour via bicycle – are bringing together an unusual recipe for marrying the flavors of environmentalism, sustainable agriculture, local farm support and green eating.
Two decades after Willie Nelson brought guitars to the heartland with Farm Aid, the duet is starting a six-week tour packed with farm visits, farmers' markets and herbs growing in the tour van. Whether they will succeed in changing the mind of a single Big Mac eater or if they're just preaching to the choir remains to be seen.
What's really important is their ear-alluring sound: the Andrews Sisters meets Sleeter Kinney – a piquant and vibrant combination of Western Swing, early jazz and Led Zeppelin
The pair got the idea for the Farm Tour while on their 4,700-mile bike odyssey last year. "It occurred to me that our slow movement and the Slow Food movement are kind of similar. We couldn't believe how many acres of farm land that were just corn and soy beans along the way," says Barrett.
The next leg of the tour begins Wednesday on Windrose Farms in Paso Robles. This outdoor show, the first of their hay bale-side performances on the 31-stop tour, will include farm fresh produce for nibbling and a tour of the farm's sheep, lilacs and antique apples included in the ticket price. And the entire show's proceeds will benefit this independent, 50-acre farm.
The next day, the show spreads its roots to a free performance at Concord's Todos Santos Plaza, with a farmers' market in front. Friday, the Ditty Bops play Berkeley's Freight & Salvage Coffee House, with a handful of local co-op Arizmendi pizzas to feed the crowd, gratis. Saturday, a Santa Cruz performance will feature another farmers' market, and the UC Santa Cruz on-campus sustainable gardening sciences leg, Life Lab, may be cooking what its members have grown.
But wait, there's more: There's the 2007 Vegetable Bikini calendar, which features the musicians in creative bikini-wear made from cabbage, lotus and carrots in artful, pinup quality collage. The tour van will be equipped with an EarthBox – a 29-inch, water-saving terrarium that will be sprouting lettuce greens and herbs – nestled in with five musicians, their gear and two bicycles. One EarthBox will be raffled off at each show, with all proceeds to support the Growing Connection, an organization promoting EarthBoxes as a way to grow inexpensive produce in the United States, Ghana, Mexico and Nicaragua. The herbs and lettuces will be incorporated into the band's hotel-room salads.
Still hungry for more? There will be the tour blog covering food facts. They will be collecting donations for Farm Aid. And then there are the meetings with local farmers, chefs and food folks along the way. Locally, the biodynamic duo plans a visit to Strauss organic dairy and a performance at Sebastopol's Redwood Hill Farm – strictly for the goats.
"We're expanding our demographics to interspecies," quips Barrett. "It will be some interesting acoustics out there, and a nice break from our regular audience, who usually talks back. I want to see how the goats will react." No tickets will be sold for this event.
Why the focus on farming? "I hope people are turned on to the variety of foods available directly from a farm." Barrett says. "And we hope to learn more about the farming process along the way – about how animals are treated, and about renewable energy use."
And doing so in a tongue-in-cheek manner, as exhibited by tools like the calendar, which features images of DeWald as a carrot being picked by bunny Barrett, or an all-goat show, is the medium and their message.
Simplifying agriculture and simplifying diet ( both women are vegetarian) are themes that will permeate the tour. Whereas last year's performance saw multiple costume changes, elaborate painted sets, a skeleton, pagoda and other hefty stage props, Barrett reports this summer's performances will be slim and trim, with the duo playing instruments – Barrett on mandolin, dulcimer and vocals, and DeWald on guitar and vocals. They will sport their signature plastic outfits, an homage to the band's nonprofit organization, You and I Save the World, whose flagship cause is the abolition of plastic bags.
While waving the flag of environmental awareness may attract attention to some real issues of the day, Barrett confesses the whole (grain) inspiration for the interest in farming. "This will probably be the best food we've ever eaten on tour."
For tickets and show information, visit www.dittybops.com .
This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle