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Treefort Music Fest, Planet Bluegrass, and Playing for Change: How B Corps Got Musical

This post comes from Andy Fyfe from B Lab's Community Development Team. Follow @BLabAndy on Twitter.

How did the B Corp community meet the music industry? It started with a Michael Franti show in 2011.

Michael Franti is an activist beyond the microphone. He’ll ditch the shoes to take the stage, is never shy to call kids out from the audience to join him in a sing along, and has produced music and film to fight for social justice. 2011, Franti had been gathering tens of thousands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for an annual music festival, Power to the Peaceful. It was his gift to his hometown, a fundraiser for his foundation. After his festival and in Brazil at Rio+20, he raised the question with his team: how do we empower our fans to leave our festival and bring the spirit into their daily lives? His team member asked, “Have you heard of B Corp?” Conveniently passing them by was one of our founding B Corps: Jason Salfi from Comet Skateboards. Jason interjected: “I’m a B Corp. Let me tell you about it.”

For the next few months, Franti’s management worked with B Lab to reseed their vendors, exhibitors, and suppliers to be Certified B Corps. The food ware was to be provided by a B Corp. The posters were to be printed by a local B Corp printer. The T-shirts were to be designed by a local B Corp designer with 70% of each shirt sale going back to the foundation.

Unfortunately the City halted the magic by raising fees to use the park. Instead of offering free admission with all donations going to Franti's foundation, they would have to sell tickets just to cover their costs—so the B Corp project was off.

In subsequent phone calls, we transformed frustrations into optimism. B Lab was inspired to look for influential individuals who believe in using business as a force for good, despite not being business owners. Two years later, we launched the B Corp Ambassadors Program, recognizing Forrest Shearer, Dan Ross, and Chanelle Sladics from the world of outdoor sports.

But the music world wasn't going away. The manager of the inspiring band Rising Appalachia told me, “I hope that in 10 years the B Corporation stamp is all over the music and entertainment industry much like organic is all over the farming industry now.”

Rising Appalachia at a private show for B Corps & Friends in Oakland, CA. The band is exploring B Corp and hoping to be a precedent setter for others.

In 2013, we were gathering the global community of B Corps in Boulder, CO for our 4th annual B Corp Champions Retreat. We have a tradition of taking time as a group to commit to ‘ripples’ that will grow the movement, foster collaboration in the community, and amplify awareness of B Corp. One individual named Decker Rolph took the mic to commit to helping certify a music festival in Boise, ID—the first in the industry to do so.

Just about three years later, Treefort Music Fest out of Boise ID certified as a B Corporation, rooting itself as the first music festival in the world to join the community.

"This process, and its end result, filled our needs, both from a values based perspective and a business perspective," said Treefort producer Lori Shandro Outen. "Further, because of the influential nature of the music industry, we felt that we had an opportunity to shine a light on the responsibility any business has to identify and represent its stakeholders, not just its shareholders."

Treefort Music Fest is the first Certified B Corp music festival.

Rolph worked with the Treefort team through the festival’s certification and admitted: “The founding team was both excited and (understandably) intimidated at first about B Corp certification, but then became impressed and motivated.” B Corp values run deep in the Rolph family. Decker connected with his wife, Jessica Rolph, who is co-founder and COO of Happy Family Brands, an established B Corp that happens to also have operations in Boise, ID. Happy Family shared a few tips and best practices and occasionally sent the inspirational email about the B Corp movement. 

Following Treefort’s act of leadership to be the first, Planet Bluegrass (the organization running Telluride Bluegrass Festival) certified as a B Corp as well. It’s been running for 43 years and is the mecca of bluegrass and picturesque scenery. Steve Szymanski, VP at Planet Bluegrass believes B Corp certification clearly reaffirms their historical commitments and their pursuit of improvement. “It’s been part of our mission to tread lightly and educate our festival community around issues of energy use, waste, water and best camping practices as part of the experience. We’re hopeful having additional resources like the B Corp community will be insightful as we continue to create the best festival experience.” 

Talk to any Certified B Corp, and you'll learn the certification is no easy strum of the strings. It’s rigorous, time-intensive, and as Chanelle Sladics (B Corp Ambassador) puts it: “it does the dental work on the details of your business.” But what was simple was the obvious alignment: Fellow Executive Producer for the festival, John Michael Schert told us: “[Certifying] is indicative of being a leader in a given community. In time I believe it will be the norm. Operating with social good at the fore of all decision-making is really the only way forward for all firms. Exciting that we at Treefort will help to lead this initiative in the music world.”

Now there were two Certified B Corp festivals. What was missing? A music label. Last Triumph has been a Certified B Corp since 2014, based in Minneapolis, MN specializing in original music production, video, and merchandise while locking in responsible operations. Jarod Hadaway, Owner and Producer of Last Triumph, sees the alignment between the musician and the social entrepreneur as well: “A growing musician faces the world. The music is the message that is heard by the listeners. A mission-aligned company has more that just a product, they have a message and depth which defines who they are.”

Last Triumph new vinyl with the Certified B Corp logo.

Why does the music industry see value in the B Corp movement? Anthony Thogmartin, guitarist for the band Papadosio, dissects the challenge. “The music industry needs a complete overhaul," Thogmartin said. "It is a business model that thrives on alcohol sales and hidden ticket fees. Environmentally, it is a fossil fuel burning monster.” In hand with their partners at Endit! Management Papadosio is exploring certifying as a B Corp: “If our business can be turned into a force for good, and B Corp is the way, we would like to explore all that B Corp has to offer” says Thogmartin. Anthony Thogmartin (second from right): “It is the artist's duty to be obtuse, creative, and bring new ideas to the table.”

B Corp certification was created in order to help recognize and preserve the original mission of a company as it grows. Like a budding social entrepreneur, the band hopes to share its production more widely, bless more ears, touch more hearts. It then contemplates a tour, venues start to have ticket providers, and a label starts to express interest. Then on the subsequent albums, the artist begins to put pen to paper and reminisce about why they started playing music in the beginning. How can one preserve intentions, still be nimble and explore new sounds, yet hold on to their original vision?

Now with two music management companies, a production company, a venue, two festivals certified, the melody is beginning to take shape. In March of 2016, Playing for Change stepped up to be the first band to certify. The music community and the global community of Certified B Corporations stretching across 45 countries using business as a force for good are prime to orchestrate in concert.

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