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Touring band powers van on used vegetable oil

October 2, 2009
By MIRIAM MOELLER Journal Staff Writer and The Associated Press

MARQUETTE - The Ragbirds not only play music, they're also promoting an environmentally friendly way of life by touring in a bus that runs on vegetable oil.

The Ann Arbor-based band began its 27-day tour this week in Marquette when they played at Upfront & Co. Tuesday and Wednesday night.

"We're raising awareness about sustainable travel," said Randall Moore, the band's drummer and manager.

Article Photos

Ragbirds drummer and manager Randall Moore shows off the vegetable oil fuel system in the band’s tour van during a visit to Marquette recently. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)

The Ragbirds have played at the Hiawatha Music Festival twice and perform in Marquette about three times a year. Since 2008, the band has been traveling in its Ford diesel van that was converted to run on grease collected at restaurants along their way.

"We do it because it allows us to travel carbon neutral, because the amount of carbon output is actually less carbon than a plant absorbs," Moore said. "It's renewable fuel and good for the environment. There are thousands of people around the country who are doing it."

The musicians, known for their mix of world music influenced folk rock, have already traveled 35,000 miles on grease and hope to complete their 6,000-mile tour out West on about a half of tank of diesel. Moore said the diesel is needed to start and warm up the van. Once the van has warmed up, Moore flips a switch and then cruises on the old veggie grease.

"I think we filled up last at Taco Bell," Moore said about getting grease from restaurants.

He added that Asian and Sushi restaurants are especially good places to get good-quality grease. The band often uses a GPS unit to find a restaurant to fuel up.

"We have an accustomed system in the van that lets us heat and filter the oil while driving," Moore said. "You're basically removing yourself from the petroleum cycle ... I don't know how many wars have been fought over oil."

Besides driving on biofuels, the band also shares its mission with audiences and anybody who inquires when they pump vegetable oil from a restaurant's reservoir into their van. Literature about being green is offered at the band's gigs and its CD is made out of recycled bottles and paper.

"Every CD saves six pop bottles from the landfill," said Erin Zindle, Ragbirds singer and songwriter.

In addition, band members attempt to make their own food on the road, use reusable dishes and recycle.

"We're trying to keep our footprint small," Zindle said.

The Ragbirds hope to come through Marquette again in January.

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