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Taos Solar Music Festival Celebrates 'Sustainable Living'

The city of Taos, New Mexico, was known as the "Solar Capitol of the World" long before then-Governor Gary Johnson officially made that declaration in 1997. The high desert altitude of over two kilometers and close to 300 sunshine-filled days each year make Taos the perfect place to "get off the grid" - not be dependent upon electricity - and practice sustainable living. As VOA's Katherine Cole reports, the town is also home to the "Taos Solar Music Festival."

Big Head Todd And The Monsters was the headline act on the first day of this year's festival. Opening day also included a set from The Thrift Store Cowboys.

Taos, New Mexico, has a long history of environmental consciousness, and is a city known for supporting renewable energy sources. "Sustainable lifestyles," or a more simple way of living, is a major topic of conversation in the mountain town. The goal is to live a life that makes less of an impact on our ecology than the usual modern way of living. You might decide to walk to the shops instead of driving, or buy eggs directly from the farm rather than purchase eggs that had traveled 200 kilometers in a truck to a warehouse before another long trip to the store.

Some people take it a step further, and go online to calculate how much pollution they contribute to the world by flying in airplanes, or driving a gas guzzling car, and then have trees planted to offset what is called their "carbon footprint."

There are many ways to learn about sustainable lifestyles. Magazines are published on the topic, and there is information is available on the Internet. There is also the Solar Village at the Taos Solar Music Festival. Open to the public, it features booths and demonstrations about renewable energy sources.

Ben Luce is with the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. He said the Taos Solar Music Festival doesn't just talk about alternative energy sources, they rely on them to make the festival work.

"One of the stages is completely solar-powered, and for the rest of the power, they buy wind power credits," he said. "We're trying to switch over to bio-diesel power for some generators. That will give us an even more local basis. But the power, officially on paper in the accounting system, really is renewable, and some of it is directly renewable right off of solar collectors. And many of the visits here in the village are also solar-powered."

And, this part of the festival, the Solar Village, has changed over nine years.

"It's grown steadily," he said. "We have more exhibitors, and the quality of the exhibitors has improved. We did make some progress in the state [New Mexico government] with solar tax credits and other things, so there is more activity, there are more businesses, and more of them are able to show up here at the festival. And I think that a significant fraction of the public support for this in New Mexico does, in fact, derive from peoples' experiences here at the Taos Solar Music Festival."

Riders In the Sky opened day two, drawing a big crowd that included Elders from the Taos Pueblo, families with small children, and even a real live country music superstar.

Taos resident Lynn Anderson was drawn to the festival.

"I live in Taos. We love to get out and be part of the community, but I absolutely love Riders in the Sky," she said. "I think they are just a hoot. I sing country AND western music, and I wear the cowboy boots and the hat all the time, so I just had to come and lend support to the Riders. I think they're wonderful!"

Also performing at this year's Taos Solar Music Festival were California rockers Los Lobos, 94-year-old Taos resident Jenny Vincent, one of the people responsible for helping to keep the tradition of Spanish-American folk music alive, and San Francisco activist and musician Michael Franti and Spearhead. Their set included "Never Too Late," and Franti explained, he was dedicating the song to a young soldier named "Kyle."