The music industry has a dirty little secret. A filthy, fetid one, in fact,  that has nothing to do with the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll that’s typically associated with the musically inclined. This dirty little secret? It’s waste. 

In 2016, the SJC Cultural Events Division committed to cleaning up its act by forming the Green Hands Initiative. Green Hands volunteers and staff are led by coordinator Shelby Dixon, working diligently to reduce any unnecessary waste or adverse environmental impacts caused by the division’s two venues: the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall and The Amp. 

“Entertainment, whether it be music or film or art, it’s the thing that gives our lives meaning,” Dixon explains. “Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is one of the most wasteful.”

Following the inception of Green Hands, the staff at the Amp set out to reduce the venue’s dependence on single-use plastics. Step one? Weeding out the use of plastic water bottles by patrons. The Amp initiated it’s One Less Plastic Bottle Program, which included installing refill stations with cold, filtered water available to concert goers. 

For the current concert season, the Amp partnered with r. Cup, a program that provides guests with rentable, reusable cups during a show in exchange for a small deposit. At the end of the night, the cup can either be returned for the deposit or it can be taken home to be used time and time again. 

“It’s the first reusable cup residency in the United States,” Dixon said. “When the opportunity was presented, we knew it was going to be a learning curve but we were willing to take that risk because it’s such an important move.”

The Amp partnered with r. Cup, a program that provides guests with rentable, reusable cups during a show in exchange for a small deposit. // Photo: Darby Moore

The Green Hands Initiative’s mission to reduce single-use plastic waste extends well beyond the walls of The Amp. Proceeds donated from a benefit concert put on by singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves have afforded Dixon and her team the opportunity to install water refill stations in St. Johns County public schools. Starting with the county’s elementary schools, these stations introduce environmentally friendly habits to some of the region’s youngest residents. 

The music industry has a dirty little secret.

The education of the community is one of the core objectives of the initiative, both in and out of the classroom. This year, Green Hands is partnering with St. John’s County to create a seed library for anyone interested in beginning or growing their own gardens. Here, a platform will be provided for members of the community to share their expertise in different sustainability arenas. 

“I think having the knowledge of what grows, when it grows and how to cook it leads to living a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle,” Dixon said. “Also it helps people spend more time outside. The more time you spend outside, the more appreciation you have for nature.”

Nestled just outside of Anastasia State Park, The Amp is surrounded by some of the region’s most pristine lands. To help protect this cherished resource, Green Hands works tirelessly behind the scenes to minimize the negative environmental impacts created by live events. Staff members sort through trash and recycling bins by hand to ensure that all materials that should be recycled end up in the correct bin. Production members replaced traditional lighting located throughout the venue with energy-efficient LED lighting. 

The Amp even operates its own staff garden which utilizes composted material created from vegan food waste produced by the venue. Featuring local flowers and herbs used by catering and hospitality services, this plot will be revamped as a native pollinator garden in the spring, providing a habitat for local bees and butterflies.

“Using compost is sort of like eating a whole food diet and exercising regularly,” says Dixon. // Photo: Darby Moore

“Using compost is sort of like eating a whole food diet and exercising regularly,” Dixon explains as she leads me toward The Amp’s garden. “Versus using a chemical fertilizer which is like eating at McDonald’s and then taking a multivitamin.”

A smile spreads across Dixon’s face, reminding me of another one of the main goals of the Green Hands Initiative. Sustainability may not be as sexy as rock n’ roll, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. 

“We really have been a pioneer in this and the goal is to be able to share that knowledge and see it spread,” Dixon explains. “We don’t want to be the only venue in the country that’s doing these things.”

This feature originally appeared in the Nov. 2019 issue of Void Magazine (Vol. 10, Iss. 7) “Do Good” under the headline “Throw Your Hands in the Air Like you Care.”