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2008-12-25 - 10:30 a.m.

Here Comes the Sun By Paula Carino Rock band Solar Punch combines environmental education with good rocking, raising awareness of the many applications of solar energy There are plenty of bands in the pop world who play sunny music, but the Hudson Valley-based group Solar Punch take the concept to a whole new level, using solar energy technology to power their instruments and, on a more subtle level, inspire their music. With rootsy, tuneful songs as an appealing calling card, Solar Punch demonstrates how easy and practical it is to incorporate solar power into everyday experiences. James Dean Conklin (vocals, guitar) and Alan Bigelow (guitar, vocals), both residents of Dobbs Ferry, New York, have partnered with renewable energy advocate Scott Gibson of New Sun Productions/Ecopioneer, who provides the band with flexible solar panels (thick vinyl mats with embedded solar cels) to generate electricity via the photovoltaic conversion of sunlight into energy. Gibson has been developing solar stages, tents, and wagons for mobile events and off-the-grid living. "Now that we're with Scott and Ecopioneer," says Conklin, "we have access to more surface area via bigger panels," as well as a device that regulates how much energy from those panels goes into an integrated rechargeable battery. The rechargeable battery comes in handy when the weather doesn’t rock, as even a passing cloud can brown the power down. The duo (who play with a rotating cast of backing musicians) were inspired to pursue this line of musical activism by Conklin’s previous band, Circus Guy, who had made a successful solar-powered tour of Egypt in 200?. And long-time friend Bigelow—who holds a PhD in physics—attended a solar-powered school as a sixth-grader in [country], a fact that prepared him for the realities of harnessing the sun’s energy. The band formed in September 2007, and quickly graduated from playing local farmer’s market gigs to playing environmental awareness festivals. It was the SOLAR2008 fest in San Diego that the group met greentrepreneurs Caroline Howe, Alexis Ringwald, and Kartikeya Singh and joined them on their Climate Solutions Road Tour of India in January ’09, helping to spread the word about climate action. During the xx-city tour, the band helped educate people about renewable energy sources, and played a fun mix of Bollywood numbers and an ever-expanding repertoire of originals. Bigelow has discovered that as a solar-powered band, there is a wealth of material and inspiration for songs. “As we started writing our original compositions,” he says, “we quickly discovered that we were focusing at the heart of a global movement for renewable energy and sustainable living.” The band recorded their debut EP Coeur du Soleil at their friend Fred Gillen Jr.’s sun-powered recording studio, Woody’s House, and in keeping with their mission, have packaged the CD in "green sleeves" made of recycled material. Solar Punch’s music is available for free (or donation) and the songs can also be heard on their website. As intuitive as the concept is, it seems that Solar Puch are currently the only band who make renewable enrgy the focus of their work, but the band predicts—and hopes—that their approach will soon be de riguer. So is this art or activism? Education or preaching to the choir? Conklin enthuses, “Audience response is always fun --especially little kids. When they make the connection and see how simply it all works—well, that’s a big reason why we're doing it. The audience may or not already be part of the choir but when that one individual of forty or fifty approaches and asks to see how it works, touches the guitars, looks at the panels--it really is satisfying.”

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