A Joyful Musical Eco-Adventure
It’s around midnight in the Tyrolean countryside when I fully grasp the idea and beauty of Manu Delago’s 16-date pedal-powered RecyclingTour.
I’m riding in a convoy of cargo bikes pedalled by the musicians and crew. The red tail-lights of the trailers glowing on an undulating road that rolls somewhere where the Zillertal flows into the Inntal. The lights of little villages twinkle on the dark mountainsides, the air is warm with the juicy smell of early summer and everyone is in high-spirits after a day of riding bikes and a night of playing music.
This is a joyous adventure!
Making Up New Rules
The team have a 16-hour day behind them. It is an incredibly intense experience but it feels refreshing rather than exhausting; they are not such much breaking the rules of touring than inventing fun new rules that fit an era of climate crisis while also reminding you of the joy of childhood friendship and adventure.
“This is more than a music tour. It is an adventure and it’s a challenge,” Manu tells me the next day on the banks of Attersee.
He and his gang have just dived into the cold water after pulling 50 kilograms of equipment up 400 metres of altitude on a sun-blasted mountain road. There are gasps and shrieks as over-heated bodies meet cold Alpine water. “Each big effort but also each naked swim binds us together."
You can sense the joy that Manu feels at the communion with nature. He’s a climber who has also played concerts from mountaintops. “I’ve always been close to nature,” he tells me, “I grew up in the Alpine countryside and as I grew up I realized that we humans are destroying so much of the nature I love.”
As a travelling artist, he realized his peripatetic industry also played a role in degrading nature. “The intense travels by air and bus made me think how I, as a musician, can contribute to climate protection. I wanted to do something on a personal level, but also as an artist in the public eye, I felt I had a responsibility to share my beliefs. So I started to work on projects that are good examples.”
An Inspirational Ecological Statement
So the original ReCycling Tour, which, after years of planning, was finally launched in 2021, was conceived as an inspirational ecological statement.
Bringing music to fans has traditionally meant diesel-belching tour buses or even airplanes, Manu wanted to show a different sort of touring was possible, and rather than being about giving things up, it would be about adding to the experience in a way that you could even feel on stage.
But when you decouple touring from a massive carbon footprint and it is not just good for the environment; it is good for the soul. It gives the musicians a welcome sense of freedom and fun.
Solar Panels and Vegetarian Food
The ecological strategy goes beyond the cycling; solar panels on the cargo bike trailers produce the electricity needed to power the amplifiers and light show at night. The band and crew eat only vegetarian food, usually donated by fans and carried in reusable containers to reduce waste.
It seemed like a crazy, exhausting Don Quixote endeavour when the band set off in 2021, but, despite the chaos of ever changing COVID-rules and a rainy month, they survived and proved it could be done.
“We had a great time on the ReCycling Tour 2021 and immediately the day after it finished we said we have to do something like this again,” Manu told me. The band and crew had decided that a month was a manageable period and so they started to look at interesting routes that were possible within 4 weeks. In the end they came up with an international tour that would end in Amsterdam, an iconic city for cycling.
An Added Voice, An Added Pair Of Legs
Whereas last time the ReCycling Tour was an all-male affair, this year the vocalist, pianist and violin player Isa Kurz is riding, playing and singing with the crew.
She had wanted to take part last time but had other commitments, but this time she was determined to part of the musical peloton. “I kept hearing these stories of how the last adventure had brought the band close together,” she told me. “Even those bad days, when it rains or there are mechanical issues, help. You have to stick together. What an adventure!”
Indeed, when you are riding together during the day you need to be supportive, social and tolerant. On the second day of the tour the destination was Buch in Tirol, for a charming local festival called Kultur am Land organized by local music fans. There was no time to withdraw into their own private space, as you might in a tour dominated by buses and hotels. As soon as the musicians arrived, hot and caked in sunscreen, they had to pitch in setting up the equipment and doing the sound-check.
No Time or Room For Egos
At the venue in Buch, band member Alois Eberl has found a quiet corner to warm up on his trombone. “It’s a nice symbiosis,” he laughed. “I train my lungs on the bike and use them at night.” Before they even have time for a shower, it was time for the concert. A spare T-shirt is pulled out of the trailer and off they go. And the day doesn’t end with the encore. After dismantling all the equipment and packing back in the trailers, they are off again: 5 kilometres through the night to the hotel. In situations like that you have to leave your ego at the door; no-one is a star, everything pitches in.
“For us as a group, it is a really intense experience,” Manu told me. “There’s a lot of team bonding and I think you see that plays out on stage.”
Multitasking For Music
A small team means everyone has multiple roles. Alois, for example, organizes the vegetarian lunch boxes as well as riding and playing multiple instruments, Simon Rainer takes photographs and then fills in rather magnificently on the drums.
But no-one can match Lukas Froschauer when it comes to multi-tasking. A qualified medical doctor as well as a sound engineer; he is responsible for the mix, but also the aches and pains, while also planning the route and navigating and jumping in for a crowd-pleasing cameo on every school child’s favourite instrument, the recorder. He has crammed in extra shifts at the hospital to free up enough leave to take part. It makes me exhausted even thinking about that.
It Just Makes Sense
Most of the stages are of manageable length; and Manu, who suffered issues with a prolapsed disc in his back last time, says the chief lesson he learned from 2023 was to build breaks into the schedule. It should be an invigorating challenge not a soul-sapping slog. This time there are slightly fewer concerts than the 2021 ReCycling Tour so the band and crew can keep their strength uo.
That said, it is a long way to Amsterdam and that means a few mammoth days of 100 kilometres of riding are still in the plan. And although the tour has been blessed by a sunny start, surely days of rain. There will be punctures and technical frustrations. But singer Isa is relishing the challenge: “I ride my bike whenever I can,” she says. “It is a great way of getting around; and to combine it with a music tour just makes such sense.”
Publiziert am 04.06.2023