Live music, sunshine, and bike riding are at the top of my list of things that make me happy. Put those three together, and you have one helluva good time. Welcome to the Bicycle Music Festival, which I had the pleasure to be a part of this past Saturday.
It’s been going on annually for six years now, and is a complete DIY affair, right down to the energy that is needed to power the stages. You need to work for your music by pedaling one of the many bikes that are hooked up to a giant, homemade battery pack. It is assumed that everyone will at some point during the festival contribute some sweat and calories to powering the event. An energy meter, which looks like a giant red and green thermometer, tracks the juice level of the battery. If it dips into the red, one of the many organizers holds up a sign saying “Pedal” to encourage pedalers to ride faster. (Pedalers are awarded with a spoke card that they can proudly display in the bike tires.)
The festival starts around noon in Golden Gate Park, with surprisingly great and energetic bands taking the stage. By 5pm the stage is being dismantled for transport. But the festival is not over; the fun is just beginning. A smaller stage holding two musicians and a sound system is set up on a wagon behind one bike. It leads an entourage of festival goers, bikers hooked up with wireless speakers, and bikers towing carts of stage pieces out of the park and into the streets of San Francisco.
This festival is on the move, playing music in the streets (stopping traffic along the way) as it crawls to its second venue on the other side of the city. I say crawl because, well, the poor biker towing the stage can only go so fast. And it is hard to ride a bike slowly, especially when surrounded by other bikers on all sides. But it does allow one to dance a bit while in the saddle. The head organizer is singing catchy, original tunes into his mic, accompanied by a ukulele player, while wearing a blue helmet. Safety first, boys and girls.
I wonder what the unfortunate drivers are thinking, as they have no choice but to stop and let our parade of bikes pass. Most seem amused, smiling and honking rhythmically to indicate enthusiasm. Others sit stoically in their seats, not so amused. And of course there are a few strong honks of annoyance and near-misses with bikes as they try to take advantage of gaps within the crowd.
Parading through the streets was by far my favorite part of the festival, and definitely one of the most amusing things I’ve done in this city to date. It was a pure expression of fun and joy – what can be more pure than dancing and singing outside in the streets? – with no alcohol or other substances needed. Just a bike.
In fact, the whole festival is inspiring to me since it is a complete DIY event that brings people together to share in simple celebration. No cause or greater purpose. No sponsors. No cost even (other than some cardio burn). It is an example of what wonderful things are possible when people come together around a common idea, founded simply on the desire to enjoy life. I even made some new friends. Look how happy everyone is!!
After our 5 mile trek, the stage was set-up once again in an abandoned parking lot in Potrero Hill, where several great bands played until midnight. My favorite was one with Tunisian musicians that fused an Arabic style with funk (MC RAI they are called). Each band expressed their gratitude to be part of such a unique event, and one musician even said it was the coolest event he had ever played at. Indeed.
It reminds me that not everything we do has to be done for reaching a goal or meeting an objective. How about doing something simply because it is fun and makes you smile. How much different would your life be if this alone became your purpose?