Earth Day Celebration Fills Washington's Mall With Music and Speeches

Locals, national speakers, and bands, including The Flaming Lips, converge in front of the Capitol to celebrate Earth Day in Washington, D.C. Video by Anna Uhls/
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day on the Mall slogan: Climate change we can believe in!

They staged another environmental-themed party on the Mall -- and this time Mother Earth proved to be a much more agreeable host.

A year after an electrical storm forced organizers to end the event early, the free concert-for-a-cause mostly went off as forecast, save for a few raindrops during a wild closing set by psychedelic rockers the Flaming Lips.

The words, however, were relentless, pouring down throughout the day as save-the-Earth and go-green speechifying by roughly two dozen activists, entertainers and politicians turned the stage into a giant soapbox.

"There are no emergency rooms for planets," warned Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

"I hope you will make a personal commitment to living a greener life," said actor Boris Kodjoe ("Madea's Family Reunion").

Sometimes, art was even mashed-up with message: In the midst of a late-afternoon set of sorta funky space-rock by his band, moe., guitarist-singer Al Schnier urged everybody within earshot to go green with energy-saving light bulbs. The group also performed a Hurricane Katrina protest, though mostly its 35-minute set was about grooves and guitar noodling -- long the unofficial soundtrack to the environmental movement.

"I want y'all to put your fist up for the Earth!" DJ Spooky exhorted at the outset of a sampler-based performance that melded recorded hip-hop instrumentals with Jimi Hendrix's iconic version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from Woodstock and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

A drum line from Howard University got into the green spirit by playing a percussive piece -- on recycled plastic water bottles.

Several blocks from the stage were information booths for environmentally friendly products and services -- along with green-themed giveaways, including water filtration bottles and wildflower seeds.

In the crowd, which numbered in the tens of thousands, women hula-hooped and a man carried a sign promoting veganism. "Weapons of Mass Destruction," it said alongside a drawing of fork and knife.

There was an abundance of tie-dye, including a T-shirt announcing: "Kiss Me -- I Voted for Obama." The medical tent was dubbed "Green Cross." The giveaway Frisbees were green, too.

Green, green everywhere, with just about every speaker talking up the "green generation." Some members of said generation celebrated by smoking the green stuff: The pungent odor of marijuana wafted across the Mall at several points during the Earth Day Network's flagship event.

President Obama's name was invoked early and often, by everybody from emcee Chevy Chase to one of Obama's own hires: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who talked (and talked, and talked) about creating "green-collar jobs" in a speech that seemed to last about as long as one of those meandering moe. guitar solos.

Los Lobos sang about peace in the neighborhood and, in Spanish, about cumbia music. But the East Los Angeles group's set was mostly filled with roadhouse rockers and ringing, rootsy grooves, which sent an electric charge through the air after so much soporific speechifying.

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne sent himself into the audience, beginning his band's thoroughly entertaining headlining set by walking atop the crowd in an inflated plastic ball.

Coyne's other antics included bringing someone in a giant caterpillar costume onstage, covering Madonna's "Borderline," playfully harassing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson with a pair of cartoonishly oversize hands -- and apparently defying Earth Day organizers by shooting paper confetti into the crowd.

But, he said from the stage: "If this crowd is environmentally conscious, they'll clean it up." They were, and they did -- though they probably cringed when the Lips fired off a bunch of smoke bombs during the set. Mother Earth's gonna get you for that.

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