ALTON — For its 10th anniversary, the Mississippi Earthtones Festival is “turning things up a notch.”
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the festival returns to the Riverbend in a free, family-friendly, daylong celebration of art, music and sustainability.
“The event has a strong recycling education component this year,” says Virginia Woulfe-Beile, Three Rivers Project coordinator for Alton’s Sierra Club. “Nate Keener, the sustainability director at Lewis and Clark, will also provide information and demonstrations on food composting in that spirit.”
This year marks a special anniversary for the festival, to the excitement of Woulfe-Beile and fellow Three Rivers Project coordinator Christine Favilla.
“We’re turning things up a notch for our 10th year,” Woulfe-Beile says. “We’re expanding the actual size of the festival two more blocks up to Henry Street, and the By Design School of Fashion will present a Recycled Fashion Show with recycled and repurposed materials.”
Earthtones traces its history back to the early 2000s, when then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn launched the It’s Our River Day initiative. Woulfe-Beile, Favilla and Sara McGibany of Alton Main Street have been involved with the festival since its inception.
“The initiative required events to focus on either conservation, education or recreation,” Woulfe-Beile says. “Earthtones combined all three.”
“Alton Main Street focuses on the art and small business components, while the Sierra Club is concerned with the conservation and education components,” Favilla says.
“The Earthtones name itself works to combine both sides of the festival,” she says. “There’s a combination of the ‘tones’ in the art and musical performances and the natural element in the focus on the Mississippi River.”
"This partnership between our two organizations is ideal, because at the core of both of our missions is cultivating a deep appreciation of the Mississippi River," McGibany says. "Being good stewards of Alton's prized natural resource is a big part of the culture of being a river town."
Spanning three locations in its 10-year history — from Riverfront Park to the Liberty Bank Amphitheater to its current location along Broadway — one aspect has remained constant as a kickoff to the festival.
“We’ve always had our river cleanup on Saturday morning at 9 a.m.,” Woulfe-Beile says. “Our goal this year is to reach a complete 25 tons of waste from our decade of collecting.”
According to a press release, boats will ferry volunteers to clean up river banks and islands from the Alton Public Boat Access under the Clark Bridge as well as from Piasa Harbor on the River Road, with pre-registration required for seat reservation.
“The river cleanups themselves have also evolved over the years,” Favilla says. “We even have an art component growing out of the cleanups, with a welder that repurposes found objects into art pieces.”
“We really want to focus on proper use of recycling everything possible this year,” she says. “We’ll have cigarette butt collectors and use ‘Terracycle’ to convert old material into plant pots.”
Woulfe-Beile says vendors are required to follow green rules: products should either be biodegradable, organic, locally made and all-natural; result in significant energy savings; handcrafted from recycled, upcycled or reclaimed components; and help reduce environmental impact through minimized printed materials. No styrofoam containers or No. 6 plastic containers will be allowed.
Products include alpaca wool items, upcycled jewelry and goat milk soaps, to name a few.
“Earthtones will run on two stages: the main stage is at the intersection of Broadway and Langdon — where headlining band Jake’s Leg will perform from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. — and the second stage will run in the Eco Village, with crafts, eco-friendly vendors and the Heartland Conservancy and Sierra Club are providing a nice ‘relaxation station’ with sand boxes, huge umbrellas and brightly colored air couches for the family to relax,” Woulfe-Beile says.
“Morning snacks will be provided for volunteers, and custom T-shirts will be made available for those that help out,” Favilla says. The custom volunteer T-shirts, which will not be for sale, will feature a distinctive logo designed by the owner of Grand Piasa Body Art.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker will kick things off on the main stage at noon. Walker will present a proclamation that the third Saturday in September will be known as “Mississippi Earthtones Festival Day” in Alton, followed by an address by Karen Hagerty of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on details of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Project.
At 4 p.m., the annual Confluence Conservation Leadership Award also will be presented at this year’s festivities.
“The award is given to recognize three people in the community who work toward improving air quality, water quality and other important environmental issues,” Woulfe-Beile says. “In past years, we’ve recognized politicians and volunteers that have dedicated a lot of time to conservation in the area, such as former Lieutenant Governor Simon.”
With a serious goal to go green, the festival will incorporate a solar-powered phone-charging station provided by EFS Energy and use wind power.
“The festival will purchase wind offset credits through native energy,” Favilla says.
Special features include the Clay Village at Mississippi Mud Pottery open to local potters, a Natural Force exhibit at Jacoby Arts Center, an interactive ArtHeads exhibit hosted by Dark Horse Artworks at Old Bakery Beer Company, hula-hooping workshops, mandala street art and “Celia’s Sing-Along Dance Party” for children.
“There will also be a small parade before the headlining band performs and a drum circle using the kids' own percussive instruments that they make at the Sierra Club booth,” Favilla says.
Attendees will find no shortage of educational material as they explore the Eco Village, with sustainable produce provided by the Community Supported Garden at La Vista, information on energy efficiency presented by the Better Building Institute, information on archaeology in the Illinois River Valley provided by the McCully Heritage Project & Center for American Archeology and more.
A shuttle bus will be available every 10 minutes from three stops to transport attendees to a nearby open house educational event hosted by the Illinois Natural History Survey-Great Rivers Field Station in the Hunterstown neighborhood of Alton, with an on-site fish-fry hosted by Lovett’s Restaurant.
Woulfe-Beile says Sierra Club is grateful for the support of local sponsors, current volunteers and the partnering Alton Main Street, which help make the festival a fun-filled and meaningful reality.
“Our ambition is continuity,” Favilla says. “The festival has evolved and persevered over the decade and we want to continue on the path with enough community support and positive feedback.”
“We also want for homeowners and residents to learn something about environmental responsibility and sustainability that they can put in place in their own life,” Woulfe-Beile says.
Favilla expands the notion by highlighting the importance of long-term range monitoring of the Mississippi River.
“Continued monitoring is a strong necessity for river systems,” she says.
From music to art to a wealth of essential information on sustaining the Riverbend for generations to come, “there will be constant activity from noon to night,” Woulfe-Beile says. “You can’t get bored at this year’s festival.”
Organizers ask festival-goers to park in the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market parking lot at 501 Landmarks Blvd. and walk across the pedestrian bridge to the event. For information, to volunteer by Sept. 15 and to see a list of green rules, visit DowntownAlton.com. For information on the local Sierra Club, visit sierraclub.org/illinois/piasa-palisades. To learn more about Alton Main Street, visit DowntownAlton.com.