The Banana Slug String Band celebrates 30 years with shows and a video for ‘Too Hot’
Years before Sting declared himself the first eco-rock star, a coterie of young, ecologically aware hippies in Santa Cruz chose to become musical stewards of the Earth. They adopted monikers that shaped their stage personas: Larry Graff evaporated into “Airy Larry,” Doug Greenfield grew roots and became “Doug Dirt,” Steve Van Zandt ignited into “Solar Steve,” and Mark Nolan submerged to become “Marine Mark.”
Now, the Banana Slug String Band is celebrating 30 years of music with some shows at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, with special guest and Jerry Garcia sideman Joe Craven. These four elemental men have endured, thrived and survived without ever losing sight of the goal of educating and entertaining the youth of Santa Cruz and the world beyond.
“The message is more important than ever,” says Greenfield. “It’s always been about the mission.” That mission, he says, is “teaching ecological and Earth-loving concepts to families, children, teachers, and all sorts. It’s empowering to give people an awareness about the planet that we live on. Kids love this world. And we show them that they can take action to keep the planet healthy and gorgeous.”
“Nowadays everyone is talking about the climate and the environment,” says Graff. “It wasn’t like that when we got together in 1985. We were all teaching environmental education in science schools in Santa Cruz. Then we would get together and talk about different ways to educate young people that were engaging. So all our songs had that thrust. Love the planet. It never changed along the way.”
The band has played 43 of the 50 states, for millions of people. Red state or blue, the quartet from Santa Cruz never dilutes their message.
“Truth be told,” says Greenfield, “as we travel through some of the most conservative areas, like the middle of Ohio, we find that people all want the same things. A safe place for their children to grow up, a healthy environment where they can drink the water and breathe the air, and soil that provides food that is healthy and nourishing. That’s not a conservative or liberal issue. That’s a human issue.”
The Banana Slug String Band has always had the support of numerous kindred spirits that share their passion for a sustainable planet; the Only One Ocean album, for instance, was funded by 30 different ocean conservation organizations. It has a swinging tune about climate change called “Too Hot,” for which the band released a video on Nov. 1,, in celebration of their 30th anniversary. It was funded by the Rex Foundation, the giving arm of the Grateful Dead. They also had the help of a local video production company, Compass Rose Media, which pitched in with the tedious process of animation. Along with guest cameos from Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, the Samba Stilt Circus and cartoon whales and plankton, the band is hoping for some viral success.
The “Too Hot” video opens up with our four eco-friendly freaks decked out in brilliant tie-dye, dancing in front of the Surf Museum and lighthouse at Steamer Lane. Children are singing and life looks amazingly vibrant. The animated polar bears that have to leave their icebergs are juxtaposed with grown men looking like they just walked out of a Grateful Dead parking lot, singing “Too Hot!” Watching it, it’s easy to imagine the Banana Slug String Band having their own Saturday morning show for children—a technicolor feast with an environmental message smartly wrapped in costumes, sketches and singing marine animals.
In person, Greenfield strips it down without the flash: “While the situation is dire and stressed out, our message for kids and adults remains a positive one. It’s about paying attention and enjoying the beauty that is all around us.” And, the entire band agrees that there’s hope for our future as a species.
“The good news is kids’ minds are open,” Greenfield chimes. “And if you feed them things that are real and have meaningful content to them, they will embrace it with a fervor. They are the real warriors.”
The Banana Slug String Band plays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14. Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Center St., Santa Cruz. $10/kids, $15/adults. Watch ‘Too Hot’ at bananaslugstringband.com.
WIND WALKERS The Banana Slug String Band play two shows at Kuumbwa on Saturday, Nov. 14.