When the nonprofit Amazon Watch decided to co-host a fundraiser with Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, they read the bumper sticker. By thinking global, acting local, and sharing resources, two small nonprofits were able to complement each other’s work and reach out to mutually sympathetic donors. By encouraging Willie Nelson to attend as the recipient of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance 2011 Visionary Award, they were able to attract attention to the rainforest and climate change, and show how their approaches addressed both issues. Which then enabled them to attract a lineup of enthusiastic performers to pay tribute, and assured the Bently Reserve would be filled with like-minded souls committed to the planet. The case for aligning was inspired, and simple: Amazon Watch is working to ensure the planet’s health by preserving the “lungs of the planet” and the indigenous peoples who live there, people who “understand the operating manual for the earth.” Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance is working to convert local cooking oil, seed oil or industrial grease into local biofuel, keeping oil production in the neighborhood and being “part of the solution to the wars we fight, global warming, and local economic revival.” And when you think about it, both arguments really do hold rainwater.
Snippets of conversation presented fascinating juxtapositions as “crankshaft replacement” met “shaman medicine” met “organic brewery hops,” lubricated by like-minded product placement of Frey biodynamic wines, Sorado Estate Wines, Eel River Brewing Company beer, and the delectable Veev Acai Berry Spirits, which tasted like vodka but is way better for you. People in these parallel universes are deeply focused on what they do, ready to explain why you should have certified biodiesel home-delivered, or working to preserve the seven football fields’ worth of rainforest disappearing every minute. Even the fringiest ones, speaking about making biofuel for jet engines or discussing the minutiae of the Peruvian legal system’s protections, made credible cases for sustainability and living lighter on our overtaxed planet. And while the evening stretched on with no Willie in sight, beyond the Melons organic catering, beyond the Michael Jang rocker photos and signed Bob Weir guitar in the auction, beyond the smooth introductions and transitions by “Tao of Willie” author Turk Pipkin, beyond the extended but excellent performances by the earnest Sara Wasserman, the soulful Glide Memorial Church Choir Trio, the engaging Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, the bluesy Tommy Castro, there was a Nelson. First biofuel spokeswoman Annie Nelson, who took the stage, Thelma-and-Louise style with Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance Director/Founder Kelly King to share her impassioned message of decentralized, local energy with to the equally impassioned audience. And then, finally, the man she referred to as “Our little biofuel Yoda,” her husband Willie. Surprisingly small, utterly recognizable, and shockingly intense and happy to begin playing his famously beat-up guitar named Trigger at eleven o’clock at night, he had the crowd at hello. By then, everyone was on their feet and up front, a sustainable mosh pit of planetary passion that needed a little musical respite from the intensity. Launching into crowd favorites “You Were Always on My Mind,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “On the Road Again,” the music made whatever challenges the planet or people were facing drift into melodious, sing-along oblivion. With his shoulder-length gray braids fastened with “Sustainable Biofuel” buttons, his red-white-and-blue macramé guitar strap, and his brown suede sneakers, he looked and sounded thirty years younger than his 78 eventful years variously spent touring in his biofuel bus, advocating for the downtrodden, defending his enterprises and habits, and singing with that distinctive twang and phrasing. All of which made Willie the most welcome red-headed stranger that would ever venture into the former Federal Reserve of San Francisco.
Making the case and their mark: Amazon Watch’s articulate, passionate Executive Director Atossa Soltani, Sustainable Biodiesel’s Executive Director Jeff Plowan, Diane Christensen of the Christensen Fund, Mark Silvestri, event organizer Jenny O’Connor, the kilt-sporting Luke Morton with the charmingly named Kashmiri Hutchenson, “”My twin sister is named Darjeeling, but we grew up on a commune in Wyoming,” Humboldt County brewer Ted Vivatson who boasted “We’ve been doing this fringey organic stuff for twenty years,” Wesley Caddel, fresh from his meeting with Oracle’s America’s Cup team who will be going bio for trucks and tenders on Pier 80, Sarah Dvorah, Carol Sturman, Justin Roberts, Jeff Leifer, Jeff Mendelsohn, Numi Tea’sAhmed Rahim, “Eco Amazons” author Dorka Keehn, Marion Hunt, Marianne Manilov, Andrew McUsic, Alex Major, and a whole host of people who turn bumperstickers into beatitudes.