The Ripley effect
"Do you hate snakes?" Dan Ripley asks, as his pontoon boot pulls away from the dock, accessed near a parking lot behind McDonald's in Broad Ripple.
A dock? Behind McDonald's?
It's an overlooked fact that a river even exists in Broad Ripple, let alone flows through and far beyond the city of Indianapolis. But that's one mystery Ripley is intent on revealing.
The inaugural WARMfest (White River Arts & Music Festival), coming up Labor Day weekend, at Broad Ripple Park, will feature more than 100 artists performing across five stages over three days, Indie Vintage Arts & Marketplace (temporarily relocated from Glendale Town Center), live theater and other river-related activities, including riverboat rides.
Ripley, former reggae nightclub owner, current antiques dealer and auctioneer with other projects incubating, has coalesced his lifelong passions into this three-day event. In addition to bringing world-class music to Indianapolis audiences, WARMfest realizes a vision for what the White River could do for the community, what it could become - and how it can be ecologically sustained.
This event is presented under the umbrella of the Carl Fisher Society, an organization Ripley founded that works with other institutions (including Friends of the White River, Friends of Broad Ripple Park, Reconnecting to Our Waterways and others) to realize the goals of promoting environmental stewardship specifically related to the White River.
Long after the last notes sound at WARMfest and the stages are hauled away, Ripley envisions increased engagement with the river in and extending beyond the Broad Ripple Park riverbank: pedestrians picnicking along boardwalks, sightseers in kayaks and canoes, families on bicycles, seniors on riverboats, docks, a marina, a visitors center, lots of live music - even drunken revelers on water taxis.
All in the name of a thread of water that has become largely obscured by a thick wall of impenetrable overgrowth (namely, honeysuckle, grapevine and poison ivy), and in some places rendered hazardous by snags, or submerged natural debris, which can pose hazards to river travelers.
Minks and bald eagles
Ripley's WARMfest vision begins here, in a spot along a cleared section of riverbank he has subtly tricked out into a makeshift marina where he docks his pontoon after a 4.15-mile water commute from his home upstream on the Northeastside. With the permission of the DNR, he installed a metal stairway repurposed from an airport terminal, and reappointed a neighbor's dock that he rescued from the top of a tree.
As we pull out from said dock - no snakes to be seen - I quickly assure Ripley that not only do I not hate snakes, I love them. At a distance, of course.
"There's often one sunning over there," he says, gesturing to a low-hanging tangle of branches and tree roots. "What kind?" I ask, recalling the black water snakes I encountered as a teenager, swimming with friends in Sweetwater Lake - a sighting that would often send me dog-paddling hastily to shore.
"Black rat snakes and garter snakes, mostly," Ripley replies, idling the boat for a moment as we both stare at the still shoreline. He's also sighted minks and bald eagles, he says, clearly animated by the telling - and he fishes for bass, which have recovered so well since the fish kill from a chemical spill 14 years ago that the river is now one of the top sport fishing spots in the state.
If you've strolled through Broad Ripple Park over the years, you may have heard shouts, splashes and the thrum of motorboats through the opaque screen of branch and leaf. But you were unlikely to see the activity that generated the sounds: teeming along the waterway that spans 26 unobstructed navigable miles bordered by dams in Broad Ripple and Noblesville. And that's just the Central Indiana portion.
The mighty White River - dubbed the Wapahani by the Native Americans who once lived along its light-dappled banks - is the largest watershed contained solely within the state. The river flows in two forks across most of Central and Southern Indiana, is punctuated by dams, and has suffered the onslaught of raw sewage and, years ago, that chemical spill that decimated flora as well as fauna.
The major harms to the river, Ripley says, continue to be pollution (including dumping), run-off and development that restricts the flow of the river. And yet, reclaiming the river's former glory as a modern-day iteration of what was once called the Coney Island of the Midwest would not be without its challenges.
Ripley sees his role as "cultivating stewardship" through education and awareness, as well as action - not just when it comes to the river, but in all he does. That includes being a business owner in the village of Broad Ripple.
"I see Broad Ripple Village struggling with its identity," Ripley says. "But to envision Broad Ripple as those few blocks on either side of the canal completely neglects the scale of Broad Ripple. It's much more inclusive of its surroundings than it gets credit for.
"This," he says, gesturing to the river, "is specifically where it was named, and this is specifically where it belongs. It's the reason Broad Ripple's here, and it's the reason Broad Ripple has its name."
Enlivening the White River
The river has been seen variously as a natural resource and, like so many waterways that go through natural flooding cycles, a nuisance; and yet it is beloved by the many who have - and do - live along its shores, water-ski and fish its lengths, or otherwise enjoy its recreational and aesthetic bounty. Ripley has, as a resident along the river, for the past seven years.
Ripley grew up in Morgan County, attended Monrovia High School and spent summers on Lake Tippecanoe. "That's how I developed a passion for being on the water and the outdoors," he says.
All that has been missing when it comes to making Central Indiana a water-lover's paradise is a lack of imagination, and the will to energize the myriad of institutions and agencies that might support that vision. WARMfest began as a means of bringing music to Broad Ripple Park, as part of its concert series; but it also connected the dots for Ripley, who had already been thinking about ways to enliven the White River along Broad Ripple.
"The village doesn't really have access to the river," Ripley clarifies.
Shoreline clearings of invasive species and other debris along the riverbank would not only offer access to pedestrians and bicyclists, but would also afford a view of the river from Broad Ripple itself.
Ignorance of the river's existence, or at least its potential, is typical, Ripley believes, of most people he talks to, even those who have lived here for as long as I have (upwards of 30 years). I've always been aware of the White River, rafting on it in the '80s (turning my white bikini a permanent brown), canoeing on it in the late '90s - but I hadn't thought of it as more than that: a place you enjoyed on rare occasion. And with great caution. (What was that brown stuff, anyway?)
The river is so much more than a source of drinking water, and a site for controlled sewage overflows downriver, where, Ripley assures me, the water is not sourced for drinking.
More than a 100 years ago, in the portion of the river called the Broad Ripple Pool, which is bordered by the Broad Ripple Dam, Carl Fisher and like-minded individuals envisioned a recreational paradise: swimming beaches, an in-ground swimming pool fed from the river, where Broad Ripple Park is now. And while it took years for the vision to become a reality, it did, eventually, until a fire took out the amusement park.
Ripley, well aware of this history, would like to repeat it - with modifications, and sans fire - and return Broad Ripple and the White River to its former splendor as a place where nature lovers, families and revelers of all kinds go to enjoy what the river has to offer.
"Being able to take your boat and go out to dinner or entertainment is significant to my purpose here in Broad Ripple," Ripley says, as the boat pulls back into the dock.
But there's far more to it than that. By envisioning the river as a place to be enjoyed and appreciated, and as a place to be lovingly sustained from an ecological standpoint, the ripple effect could be enormous. As Ripley puts it, "I can cultivate stewardship for the environment as well."
-Julianna Thibodeaux [page]
Five WARMfest performers chat eco issues
by Katherine Coplen
"There's something for everyone at WARMfest," Jack Shepler, WARMfest festival director, says. The diverse music lineup, includes headliners Mayer Hawthorne, Big Head Todd and The Monsters and Michael Franti. Happily, there's a huge amount of locals on the bill as well. That's in part due to Shepler's other position as organizer of Broad Ripple Music Fest, which was folded into WARMfest this year.
"This past winter I looked into the option of involving Broad Ripple Park with BRMF when I heard that Dan Ripley was wanting to start a big festival with a cause," Shepler says. "I heard about his vision for improvements to the White River in Broad Ripple, and I knew I wanted to help make that vision a reality. We decided that BRMF and the Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace would make a great foundation for this new festival."
Shepler's joined by Ripley, Josh Baker and Doug Weitkamp as main organizers for the event, along with 15-20 others.
In addition to the soul, rock and reggae-pop headliners (Hawthorne, Todd, Franti, respectively), unique to this fest is the robust group of locals.
"I'm always up to see Party Lines, Pravada and Max Allen Band," Shepler says. "Plus DJs like Rusty Redenbacher, Action Jackson, Steady B and Kyle Long."
I chatted with five performers set to play WARMfest, all with a connection to eco activism or the White River.
The full lineup is accessible
Homegrown duo Lily and Madeleine talk Broad Ripple roots
At first, I have trouble telling Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz's voices apart when I call them before their festival debut. But when I listen - really listen - it becomes so obvious I can't believe I was ever confused. Madeleine's voice is slightly higher; her laugh is melodious. It's one of the only times the description "twinkling" has ever really felt fitting. Lily's is slightly huskier, a bit lower and darker. And on the phone, like in the few tracks that have made them famous, they speak in harmony. They finish each other sentences, and agree on most every question I ask. It's uncanny, a bit like listening to their music.
"Madeleine and I know each other as well as you can know somebody," Lily says. "We know exactly where each other is going to go, with harmonies and [everything else]. We can read each other's body language; we know if a song is going well."
This delicate combination and the resulting sweet harmonies brought them viral fame in January. A well-placed link to their track "In The Middle" posted by a neighbor on Reddit garnered more than 300,000 YouTube views, and all of a sudden the girls, then a sophomore and senior in high school, were on their way.
A few carefully chosen shows (Indy, Chicago, Philly), a debut EP (The Weight of the Globe), label signing (Asthmatic Kitty) and high school graduation (Madeleine's) later, Lily and Madeleine are on the edge of something big - really big. Their first single, "The Devil You Know," off the self-titled debut LP due out in October, premiered on All Songs Considered a few weeks ago. They've been written up in the New York Times and The Guardian, sent off for a show in New York City and blogged about all over.
The sisters agree their music was shaped by their Broad Ripple upbringing, when they spent time wandering around little shops and seeing small music shows.
"I remember when I was in middle school and I first heard about Margot and the Nuclear So and So's song 'Broad Ripple Is Burning,' Madeleine says. "It was such a novelty, this really cool song that was about my town! They kind of introduced me to alternative music."
Those aren't the only prominent locals Lily and Mad are musically connected to. Zero Boys' Paul Mahern is their manager and producer, and Gentleman Caller's Kenny Childers assists in writing and performs on a variety of tracks. And local label Asthmatic Kitty will release their October LP.
"We've been fans of Sufjan Stevens for a long time, so to be on his label and be connected with him through our music is so cool. We're really grateful, and just really lucky. We haven't met him yet, but we're hoping to at some point!" Madeleine says.
Monday marks the first week of Madeleine's freshman year at Indiana University, and the first significant separation for the sisters. But I'm fairly sure the physical distance won't shake the musical connection between the two.
"Mad, sometimes you'll write something and I'll be surprised that I'm feeling the same way," Lily says to her sister over the phone, about their songwriting.
"We're separated now, but we're going to keep working. We're dedicated to our studies ... but with our music, we've just got to keep going," Madeleine says.
Musically, Lily and Madeline's songs are characterized by gently strummed guitar (Lily) and easy, lulling piano (Madeleine) cruising under those impeccable harmonies. Lyrically, their songs touch on love and loss through their interactions with the natural world. They write about hidden tree lines, high mountains, endless seas, a fading sun. And, as I bring up in our phone conversation, rivers.
Is the river on their track "Back to the River" the White River? Madeleine says they didn't have a specific river in mind for that song - "just the idea of a river," she says - but there's another song in their small but mighty repertoire about the river Ripley's looking to change.
"In the song 'In the Middle,' that river is the White River," Madeleine says. In fact, the reference is explicit. The song's opening stanza reads,"The river is white / It's tangled and dry /But I still remember you here / Swimming in the middle."
"When I was in fifth grade, around 11 or 12, I used to go on bike rides all the time," Lily says. "We lived right in the middle of Broad Ripple and my mom would say, 'You can go anywhere - just not to the White River because I don't want you to get hurt.' But my friends and I would always go anyway, to the river, and put messages in bottles."
And if they could spend one perfect day in Indianapolis, doing exactly what they want to do? They'd go back to the river.
"We would eat at the 3 Sisters and ride on the Monon Trail all through the city," Madeleine says. "And then we would go see Gentleman Caller or Margot and the Nuclear So and So's in Broad Ripple Park, like at the [Musical Family Tree Listen Local concert in June]."
So a perfect day with Lily and Madeleine would be seeing local music in Broad Ripple Park. Why not join them this weekend and have a perfect day together?
Sunday, Sept. 1,
12:45 p.m., River Stage
Michael Franti and Spearhead go green
Michael Franti has seen the sort of transformation in his own neighborhood Dan Ripley hopes for the White River.
"I live in Hunters Point [in San Francisco], which is a former naval base," Franti says on the phone. "Due to the activism of people in our community, it's been turned into a green space, instead of being a, literally, toxic dump with tons of radioactive material. I've seen with my own eyes how a place that's just known as 'the hood' and an industrial area can become something really beautiful."
But Franti doesn't spend a lot of time at home; he and his reggae/hip-hop/pop band Spearhead play more than 200 dates a year. They're currently touring new LP All People, released in late July. Spearhead is just the most recent incarnation, albeit one that's almost two decades old, of Franti's music-making, which previously took form as The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and The Beatnigs. The through line in all of his music is the message - explicit discussions of peace and social justice issues.
"The artist's responsibility is to make great art; but, intrinsic in making any great art is that you have to find some great truth," Franti says. "It can be a spiritual truth, a truth about love, a truth about things happening in the world. For me, it's always been part of what I do. [Although] I don't feel like every artist has to be a mouthpiece for social change, but every artist has to make the best art that they can make and put their truth into it.
Along with lyrical messages of peace, change and love, Franti and his band are leaders in the industry effort to be more green. His tour bus runs on biodiesel and he uses biodiesel generators onstage whenever possible. Franti's own festival, Power to the Peaceful, held yearly in San Francisco, has an eco-village and variety of green vendors. He works hard to be conscientious, in major ways. But for Franti, one of the most simple changes has made the most difference.
"We used to use two cases of water a night, which is like 48 bottles of plastic. We're averaging 200 shows a year, and when we worked it out, it was something like 19,000 bottles of water," Franti says. "Some crazy number, being consumed just by our band. So we switched over to refillable bottles ... and we see the difference."
Monday, Sept. 2,
8:30 p.m., River Stage
RJD2 gets apocalyptic
If you've ever watched the opening credits to Mad Men, you've heard producer RJD2's work. Of course, his discography runs much deeper than the minute-long Don Draper opener "A Beautiful Mine." RJD2, real name Ramble John Krohn, reinvents himself musically constantly.
After 2002's smash hit Deadringer, a collection of instrumental hip-hop, Krohn released a series of divergent LPs, including the poorly reviewed The Third Hand (Pitchfork called it a "lyrical trainwreck and one man-band overreach") which featured Krohn's singing and live instrumentation. Then came 2010's The Colossus, the first release on his own label. More Is Than Isn't, his fifth LP, is due out in October, and, perhaps a bit burned by reactions to his previous musical evolutions, Krohn is declining to describe the upcoming release at all, instead imploring his listeners to come to the LP with "fresh ears."
Krohn knows what he wants - and he does it, critics be damned. And he knows what he thinks - and he says it, controversy be damned. He gets political on Twitter and Facebook often, and, during our phone conversation, wasted no time telling me exactly what he thinks about ongoing eco efforts, in the music industry and otherwise.
On climate change deniers and personal green movements
I recycle, I don't drive whenever I don't need to - that said, I am a citizen in America that is part of the system. I am a contributing economic cog in a system that is barreling forward. So, part of what I'm saying is that there's causes that I feel are common sense, that we all can contribute to. But at the same time, when, politically, we still have a large number of politicians that deny climate change ... I'll give you an example. I'm on Reddit last night, reading 'Senator Ron Paul think climate change is a hoax.' It's 2013. This is our elected official. Am I really going to put my recycling bin out on Monday morning and think I'm saving the world? No."
On the ruining of Earth for human life
"At risk of sounding like a contrarian, I think there's a fairly plausible outcome where the future of human life on Planet Earth is ruined. But I am a fairly avid reader, and when you look at the monumental changes that have happened geographically, and environmentally throughout the history of the Earth, you realize life found a way to sustain itself throughout that. I don't think we're ruining the Earth. We're ruining our potential to live on Earth. But life will find a way. [laughs] There was a time when 80 percent of Earth was covered in ice a mile thick, and life lived through that epoch."
On greening music festivals
"Every music festival on Earth could find some magical way to go zero net emissions and it's still not going to make a fucking difference at the end of the day. My instincts would be to say that people would be better off throwing their glass bottles in the garbage, then going home and spending the next year being politically active, or active in some way. The bottom line is that that's where we're going to make differences that will actually make a dent."
Saturday, Aug. 31,
8:30 p.m., Eagle Dance Tent
Vancouverites Said the Whale go south with new LP 'hawaiii'
"We're not a political band, ever," Tyler Bancroft, lead singer of Said the Whale, says on the phone. "On a principle level, we all care for the environment a very great deal. Being from Vancouver, which claims to be the greenest city in North America, it's a part of our lives every day. When we first started touring and going to other cities, I would ask, 'Hey, where do I put this bottle?' and someone would answer, 'Oh, the garbage.' I would think, 'What the fuck!'"
Bancroft and his band Said the Whale are releasing hawaiii in September, another upbeat collection of sunny pop. Credit some of that to the band's Vancouver roots - beautiful music produced in a beautiful place.
"It's something that's been engrained in our culture, environmental consciousness," Bancroft says. "Vancouver is surrounded by nature, and I always try to do my best to resist change [to our natural resources]."
Bancroft stepped in to co-produce hawaiii during a series of sessions in Washington state last year. Out of those sessions came the single "I Love You," the biggest radio hit Said the Whale's had to date.
Monday, Sept. 2,
5:45 p.m., Heron Stage
Beyond the Music
There's a multitude of ways to enjoy this riverside festival. A few of our favorite picks are listed below. Find the full list of activities online at warmfest.org. All events listed will take place in Broad Ripple Park.
Wapahani Boat Cruises
Pick up your ticket for a private cruise on the White River paddleboat Perseverance II. (We won't ask what happened to Perseverance I). It's only $5 per person to tour the river - but certain cruises have festival performers and intimate sets (and a corresponding higher price point).
Every day, Prices vary
Yoga Moves in the Park
Bring your mat on Monday morning for a centering session of Labor Day yoga accompanied by live music. Karen Fox of The Yoga Studio will lead the adults; Meg Faber will instruct children 6 and up.
Monday, FREE with festival pass
Ripple Effect 4-Mile Run/Walk
Lace up your shoes and get ready to race through Broad Ripple Village on Labor Day. All funds raised will go to the Broad Ripple Village Association, which works to enrich the community.
Monday, $20 advance, $25 day of
Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace
The September iteration of the Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace will take place on the banks of the White River. New, vintage and antique pieces are available.
Every day, FREE with festival pass
Local rowing, water skiing and kayaking groups will take over a piece of the riverfront, exhibiting their activities for those looking to get involved with something wet'n'wild.
Every day, FREE with festival pass