A table of environmental activism pamphlets sits next to the stage of the Camel at 1621 W. Broad St. On stage, the guitarist spews diatribes against fracking between songs, a feedback hum underscoring his voice. This is Frack Off Fest.
On March 13-18, Richmond bands hosted the anti-fracking festival, as a “pre-game” for a larger festival called FRACK-tose Intolerant that took place April 3-4 in West Virginia, at Pinky’s Farm. Frack Off Fest was held at local clubs like Strange Matter, Sound Of Music Recording Studio, the Gene Pool Collective, the Camel and a Richmond house show venue called Our House. Money raised from Frack Off Fest was donated to help organize the larger FRACK-tose Intolerant festival.
A process of unearthing natural gas and oil deep in the earth, fracking involves drilling into the ground, then blasting downwards with a combination of water and chemicals.
The FRACK-tose Intolerant music festival is spreading awareness against two proposed natural gas pipelines, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, that span across multiple states, including North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The Sierra Club, an environmentalist group, reports that not only does fracking destroy the natural environment where drilling occurs, it also contaminates the water supply.
For several years, FRACK-tose Intolerant organizer Jessica Abramson has used her connections at her job as a touring performance artist to hold a festival called Pink Moon every year at Pinky’s Farm, her family’s homestead in West Virginia. Last year, Pink Moon featured four straight nights of live music from more than 80 bands. Abramson decided to use that network from Pink Moon to hold FRACK-tose Intolerant on her family’s farm.
“When we heard that the pipelines were gonna come through Monroe County, we really wanted to put that network behind something and everybody just jumped on board and it worked out,” Abramson said.
Tommy Crisafulli, guitarist and vocalist for local Richmond band Imaginary Sons, was one of the first organizers of Frack Off Fest. Abramson contacted Crisafulli to play at FRACK-tose Intolerant and after agreeing, Crisafulli decided to go one step further and organize a festival in Richmond to raise money for FRACK-tose Intolerant.
“When Tommy brought up FRACK-tose Intolerant and what they were trying to do, it really opened my eyes to what opportunities are out there, to tell the government, to tell the corporations, to tell the important people that make decisions, to make decisions that are healthy for the environment,” said Jake Lawrence, an organizer that booked bands for Frack Off Fest.
Lawrence already had two shows booked at the Camel and Strange Matter for March 17-18. Once Tommy approached him, he contacted the bands and those unrelated shows became a part of Frack Off Fest. Greyson Goodenow, vocalist and keyboardist for Suneater, helped book the other dates.
As a band, Imaginary Sons’ message is not so much political, but more about not getting anxious about the trivial aspects of life. When Crisafulli heard the pipeline was going to be near his home county of King George, he decided to do something about it. Crisafulli’s concern was that the fracking could harm his family’s drinking water.
Organizing a week-long festival in Richmond against fracking proved to be simple. Once they announced the idea, bands leapt at the chance. Myles Shifflett, an organizer and member of the one-man band Six Track Amateur, wasn’t even given the chance to book bands because spots were filled so fast.
“Everyone put in their feedback and the people that were part of the Facebook group message agreed to have it as soon as possible, it ended up being put together in a few weeks,” Shifflett said. “I didn’t have a chance to book any bands really.”
Toxic Moxie, another Richmond band, provided assistance in organizing the festival across Richmond. Unlike Imaginary Suns, Toxic Moxie does play songs revolving around issues like the environment and gender equality. As other bands focus on partying, Mitch Kordella, bassist, vocalist and keyboardist of Toxic Moxie, said they make music that’s more than just “partying and smoking.”
“I’m not an activist, I’m not a politically charged person, I’m just a musician trying to help people,” Crisafulli said. “If my music can help a single person in any way I’ll do it, and if I can raise awareness to an issue I’ll do it … Music can be a weapon and if used properly it can bring serious change to the world.”
In the aftermath of FRACK-tose Intolerant, Abramson is planning to continue organizing future events to educate people about the dangers of fracking.