Press Citizen: Beenk, Harris promote environment, music on RAGBRAI
July 26, 2012
By Josh O’Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen
Move over, James Brown. After this week, there’s new competition for the the title of “the hardest working man in show business.”
Iowa City musicians Elliott Beenk and Griffen Harris are among the thousands of bicyclists making the week-long, 400-mile trek across the state on RAGBRAI, stopping to perform mostly impromptu shows along the route for their fellow riders.
And as if riding and jamming their way across Iowa wasn’t enough during this oven roaster of a week, the two first-time RAGBRAI riders are hauling hundreds of pounds of music equipment and camping gear on specially built bicycle trailers behind them and collecting sunlight with portable solar panels to power their shows.
The duo, a pair of environmental advocates and a self-described indie-beach-blues band playing under the moniker Chasing Shade — an apt band name given this week’s sweltering heat — say they are using the trip to promote the harmony of cycling, music and the environment.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is promoting the idea of sustainability and solar power, and promoting our music as well, through the whole RAGBRAI mentality of riding bikes, which is quite green in itself,” said Harris, a 22-year-old Dubuque native and recent University of Iowa graduate. “We’re trying to get people to realize that you can do something totally crazy, like pulling 150-pound trailers across the entire state, and still have fun with it.”
Beenk and Harris, who have been performing together for about a year and a half, were inspired by the folk-pop band Blind Pilot, who have made bicycle tours up and down the West Coast. The Iowa City musicians, who are both bicycling enthusiasts, cooked up the idea a couple months ago to do something similar for RAGBRAI, but first had to figure out a way to transport their gear and power their microphones and guitars.
“We just talked about it so much that it got to the point where we had to do it,” said Beenk, a 22-year-old UI senior and DeWitt native. “If we didn’t do it, people would be just like, ‘You guys are just blowing smoke.’”
They enlisted friends to help custom build the trailers, with the initial aim of harnessing pedal power for electricity, but they ultimately decided that a plank of solar panels stretching atop a trailer was the best way to charge batteries. They worked on their rigs up until the last minute — finally finishing late Friday night before heading out the door for western Iowa early Saturday.
“We both really like cycling,” Harris said. “Neither of us have done RAGBRAI before, so this is our first time. And we’ve never done another ride like this; we don’t do 80 miles a day. But I commute to work every day in Iowa City, and Elliott does the same thing to get to school. So we’re big bicyclists, but this is definitely a massive challenge and something we haven’t done.
“Our bodies are taking a hit for sure. But we’re making adjustments, taking breaks and taking it slow, and we’re plugging through, chugging along.”
Beenk and Harris have championed environmental causes throughout their college days. Beenk is an intern at UI’s Office of Sustainability, and Harris was a member of UI’s Environmental Coalition while in school. The two also worked together to establish a recycling and composting program at the annual Camp Euforia music festival near Lone Tree the past two summers.
The bandmates had worked out a few prearranged performances in tents and venues along the route ahead of time, but for the most part, they’ve been setting up in parks, among the vendors and anywhere else they can plug in and play on their stops. Harris, who says their brand of blues music has a West Coast. “feel good” vibe, sings lead and plays drums, while Beenk plays guitar and sings backup.
Out on the road and hauling trailers each loaded with about 150 pounds of equipment, they’re attracting plenty of attention from fellow riders.
“What’s really cool is that our trailers are such a spectacle on RAGBRAI, and everybody can tell they weigh so much, the people that ride by us they’re like, ‘What do you got there?’” Harris said.
They’ve had to deal with flats on the bikes and trailers because of blowouts on the searing pavement, but fellow riders and residents along the route have helped them get back on the road.
“It’s kind of like the best parts of Iowa,” Beenk said. “We haven’t broken down in a spot where people haven’t offered to help us, which is really nice. People have been more than supportive.”
The weather this week has been both a blessing and a curse. While solar energy is needed for their shows, the sunshine is at times taking its toll on the riders. Beenk said both he and Harris, along with a videographer who is joining them for the trip, have at times suffered from symptoms of heat exhaustion.
“With a little help, I think we’re going to be able to do it,” Harris said of completing the ride, which wraps up Saturday when riders dip their tires in the Mississippi at Clinton. “We’re going to roll with the punches and get there.”
SOURCE: Press Citizen. Click here to see the story online.