By Raoul Biron
A community that advocates for a damaged environment may sound grim, but as stress levels and quiet rooms in the library reach capacity, the Student Environmental Action Coalition decided to replace admonitions with celebrations of environmental progress.
On Boulder Field, SEAC welcomed hula hoopers hooping, crowds of painted faces, people selling their wares and some of the Seacoast’s biggest bands to Solarfest. Multiple stages, hundreds of students and dozens of vendors came together to create zero waste. To many University of New Hampshire students, the annual event relying entirely on sustainable forms of energy represented more than the conclusion of the semester.
“I did hand-stands, danced, juggled, rode a unicycle, got my face painted and played laser tag. I did everything a little kid could want in a day,” Torey Brookes, a freshman civil engineering major said. “Good clean fun.”
For a student organization focused on issues of environmental sustainability and divestment from fossil fuels, Solar Fest provides Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) with an opportunity to reach and educate the UNH community from a more positive angle.
“[Solarfest] is about promoting clean energy and celebrating at the same time. Talking about climate change can get a little negative, so it’s important to show people using sustainability to be celebrate,” said Chris Grinley, a SEAC Coordinator and sophomore triple-majoring in political science, German and international affairs.
The event saw a change of venue this year, moving from the Thompson Hall lawn to the larger but more secluded Boulder Field. According to Grinley, Solarfest has traditionally taken place on Boulder Field and returning to this venue provided SEAC staff and volunteers, local vendors, and event goers with more opportunities to focus on sustainability.
“There’s definitely more space. Because it’s on Boulder and it’s a little farther away, you know that everyone who’s here came specifically for Solarfest,” Grinley said.
Students took advantage of the larger and less central space. Attendees roamed between a pit in front of the stages, impromptu juggling and hula hoop clinics, and vendors representing environmentally sustainable local businesses.
“Last year at T-Hall, the vibe was really different. The location definitely affected it. Last time, people were all clustered together and there was no room to expand,” said Karla Cortes, a junior social work major who has attended Solarfest every year since her freshman year.
“It’s a lot of fun this year. People are having fun and getting more educated on the environment and the cause,” Cortes said.
While the event’s message of environmental sustainability and consciousness is clear, Solarfest itself is harder to define. Floating somewhere between a concert, a festival, a local business convention and an environmental summit, the annual event has been a Seacoast fixture for 22 years.
A primary goal of the event is highlighting what can be accomplished using sustainable resources. Emphasizing this message through regional, environmentally active vendors, SEAC worked to simplify this year’s registration process for outside businesses.
“It was so easy. I heard about the event and messaged someone about it three weeks ago and now we’re here,” said Mikey Spirdione, a Portsmouth-based vendor selling crystals and rocks from his portable store-front.
“I’ve heard about it for a long time. I wish they could have shows more frequently. It’s a sick venue. It should happen at least more than once a year,” Spirdione said.
Spirdione tend to travels to festivals and other venues with his partner and former UNH attendee Elyrah Rayne to sell metals, jewelry and other collectibles for their mobile company Free Lunch Rocks. The couple bases themselves out of Epsom, New Hampshire, but typically stays on the road.
On the other side of Boulder Field, three musicians on blankets surrounded by garden gnomes played to a smaller crowd. Even as it began to drizzle and a different band began playing on the much larger and louder main stage, the Portsmouth band People Like You kept straining their portable amps to finish its set. Parked directly behind them, an old multi-colored, hand-painted Chevy bus powered the band’s gear.
“We thought that if we just roll up on a college campus with our cool painted bus, people will see it and we can just play some songs between other people’s sets. That was as good as I could have hoped it could have gone,” said Andrew Polaskow, vocalist and guitar player for the band recently featured on WUNH’s Seacoast Live.
“There aren’t really venues in Durham. I’ve gone here before looking for them and all I found were a few coffee shops here and there,” Polaskow said.
Struggling with limited venues in the area, the band decided to provide their own. Inside the van, it became clear that it wasn’t just the group’s music that was consistent with Solarfest.
“It’s perfect. We’re a bus with solar panels. Everything out there was powered by solar. I realized the coincidence yesterday and decided we should go,” said Polaskow, pointing out the 12-volt solar battery powering the band’s equipment.
“In theory you can pull this bus up anywhere. We can play anywhere. Be your own venue,” said Justin Sheriff, in the midst covering his synthesizer with a rain-proof towel during the set.
“Having it in the field is way better. There’s open space, you don’t see all of the imposing buildings that are just screaming administration. You’re free,” Polaskow said.