The Sound of Sunshine

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Tompkins Weekly 7-29-13
by Joey Diana Gates

For years you have known him as Rainbow Crow, jeweler at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.  But also in his list of talents is that of singing, song writing and playing music.  Most recently Crow Weaver has taken his love of music and the Earth and combined them to develop a mobile solar powered sound system that can, as Weaver says, “Rock the mountaintops.”  The solar stage concept in theory and practice demonstrates a shift in mindset as people create ways to reduce their carbon and ecological footprints.  The innovative system allows us to get away from the fossil fueled festival.Crow, native to the Potomac and Shenandoah Valley area, has been playing music and living at various levels of off-the-grid since he was a teenager.  At the age of 14, he bought his first guitar, which immediately broke. Being persistent he got another one and hasn’t looked back.  After years on the road, he settled in Spencer where he eventually met Arthur Weaver of the then newly formed Renovus Energy.  At the time Crow was living in his converted 1951 Ford school bus upon which the original solar energy system was installed in the summer of 2002. The system was one of Renovus’ first installations and it powered interior lights, a stereo, a television, a blender, power tools and Crow’s rechargeable amplifier.  The idea for the solar sound system was born in the fall of 2006 in a brainstorming session for the coming spring Earth Day celebration.

Delayed by late, heavy snows, the solar stage was not ready for an April debut. Eventually, however, Crow was able to move the bus’ solar energy system to a 5×8 enclosed travel trailer. The system is now comprised of three solar panels, sealed gel batteries, a charge controller and two inverters. Designed by a sound technician friend, the specially configured DC amplifiers allow for running the system efficiently using energy directly from the solar panels during the day.  The speakers are folded horns, which is a structural design that boosts the musical sound waves, sending them out at a higher level, using less electricity. After sunset they system draws power from the battery bank in the trailer.

“Playing in such a way allows us to go anywhere,” says Crow.  “We have shifted from being consumers of grid electricity to producers of our own power.”  The potential for the solar stage idea is enormous.  Often festival stages are run on diesel powered generators which are expensive to buy/rent and operate, not to mention heavily polluting.  With a solar energy system, the only cost is that of the initial system set-up.  Once in place, the fuel falls for free from the sky, and produces energy without harmful greenhouse gas emissions.   Modern sound equipment does not draw a large amount of electrical current.  On the demand side, the amps, mixing board, PA and electronic equipment are all configured to maximize efficiency and can produce 2000 watts of good, clean sound, loud enough for a big festival.  Even on an overcast day, diffuse sunlight is enough to charge the system’s battery as the band is playing.

Crow, and his wife and business partner Joey, take the solar sound system to Earth Day in April and go through First People’s Fest (this year on Saturday, October 5th) back here in Ithaca.  Other shows include the Take Me to the River in Hastings on Hudson and events on the Cayuga, Mohawk and Akwesasne nations. Travelling as far north as the Canadian border, on down to New York City and Pennsylvania, they have been honored to provide sound support to acts such as The Gun Runners, Ayurveda, Bear Fox, Native American actor and musician Gary Farmer, Evil City String Band, Rubblebucket and more.  As word of the solar sound system’s capability spreads, people get excited about the possibilities of fossil fuel free festivals. If you are interested in learning more, go to, email or call (607) 387-7799.

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