Gabe Dominguez's Quest for Sustainable Rock & Roll

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I walked up to the corner house on Florida St. and Ceser Chavez in San Francisco’s Mission District, opened the wooden gate as instructed, and yelled “Hello, Gabe Dominguez” as loudly as I could toward the blue tent on the house’s roof.

“Hey Josh, Come on up”, he yelled back.

I had met Gabe on the phone earlier that day. He returned my call after inquiring about his project, the Bicycle Music Festival. He said he’d love to talk and that I should meet him at his home, which happened to be a big blue tent on the roof of a Latino Music Cooperative called the Pink Palace.

I walked into the house and up the stairs. “Come through the bathroom,” Gabe yelled as he opened the bathroom window, and invited me onto the roof. Shocked, I climbed through the bathroom window and into his big blue tent, which was fully furnished with a bed, clothing chest, and a desk. He offered me a seat and we started to talk.

Sustainable rock & roll is Gabe’s passion. For a long time he pursued sustainability and rock separately, running a 3/4 acre organic farm with his girlfriend in downtown Salt Lake City, and touring by bicycle with his music project, SHAKE YOUR PEACE.

In 2006, Gabe moved to San Francisco determined to marry his two passions, rock & roll and sustainability. He bought an Xtracycle, which is a bike accessory that adds carrying capacity to his frame, and used the extra space to carry a homemade battery-power P/A system, built using a motorcycle battery, car audio parts, plywood, and a woofer with a hemp cone. Gabe even bought wind credits to offset his 12-volt battery charges. He continued to pedal to his shows, but at this point he was plugged in and fully mobile.

As Gabe refined his battery-powered system, he met the Berkely based inventors Paul Freedman and Nate Byerley, co-founders of Rock The Bike. Paul was hard at work on his own bike music act as the bike rapper Fossil Fool, and putting a lot of time into a nonprofit project called Worldbike. Nate had pioneered a successful pedal-powered juice blender and had a strong grasp on how to mix a bicycle with the right combination of capacitors, diodes, and the voltage regulators needed to produce clean usable electricity. Gabe, Paul, and Nate put their heads together to build the first lightweight, portable, bike powered P/A system loud enough for a rock show, and a more sustainable rock & roll was born.

With Rock The Bike’s sponsorship, Gabe soon became a proud guinea pig in the first ever bike-powered rock tour. Earlier this spring, Shake Your Peace (which is Gabe and anyone playing with him at the time) set off on a 600 mile pedal-powered trip from Logan to St. George, Utah, playing 25 shows along way. He biked from show to show and enlisted volunteers to power his P/A system during sets.

The system itself combines a burly kickstand with a big enough frame to carry speakers and all the musician’s gear (Gabe added space to his mountain bike frame using an Xtracycle, and used a kickstand designed by Nate for his juice blenders). Once the bike is set on the kickstand, a nob is placed against the back tire. As the pedals turn and the tire rubs against the nob, energy moves through Nate’s combination of capacitors, diodes, and voltage regulators, eventually feeding enough juice into a modified 12-volt car amp to power a small show.

When Gabe returned from his Shake Your Peace tour, Paul recruited him to organize a bike-powered music festival in San Francisco’s Mission District. Ten musical acts heeded the call, and the Bicycle Music Festival was born. Cyclists and band members alike, met up on August 11th at Alemany Farmer’s Market. Two bands played pedal-powered sets at the market and the group hopped on their bikes to ride to their next stop, the Alemany Farm. Two more bands played, and as the crowd gathered and grew, the bike caravan proceeded to Precita Park (two bands) then Dolores Park (three more bands), went on a cruiser ride through the Mission, and finished the day with a set by Fossil Fool at the bike friendly bar, Gestalt Haus.

I was at Dolores Park when the caravan pedaled up, and was completely surprised to find out that it was a human powered music festival on wheels. Little did I know that two weeks later, my curiosity would lead me to the big blue tent on the roof of the big pink house that Gabe Dominguez calls home.

Sitting there under the cool canvas-filtered light, Gabe spun his words into a beautiful vision of the Bicycle Music Festival’s future. He hopes to eventually build a huge, modular, pedal-powered system and to lead a massive bike caravan from city to city, spreading the sounds of rock and roll and the message of sustainability. While he’s not there yet, he is holding regular bike-powered concerts in San Francisco this fall. In late October he plans to join fellow bike band The Ginger Ninjas for a pedal powered tour from North San Juan, California all the way to Chiapas Mexico. We can only hope that Gabe Dominguez’ sustainability-rock courtship is a marriage that lasts.

You can watch a video of Nate, Paul and Gabe building the building the pedal powered P/A, here. You can also view photos from the Bicycle Music Festival on Flickr.

Article photo by Dustinj via flickr.

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