Guitarist and songwriter Peter Mulvey spends a lot of time on the road. The Milwaukee folk singer has put out nine albums and figures he logs at least 60,000 miles a year driving around the country to his concerts.
Mulvey's latest riff is something completely different: This month, he's traveling to seven different Wisconsin venues for concerts, and he won't burn a gallon of gasoline to sing at any of them. Instead, he's biking more than 350 miles, pedaling from his home in Milwaukee and back, from gig to gig, with his guitar in tow on a small trailer.
"What tipped me over the edge was that everybody seems to have this growing awareness that the climate is a great big delicate system. We've been sticking a carbon monkey wrench into it for about 250 years - and that's coming due really quick."
Mulvey has driven fuel-efficient cars over the years but says that given the number of miles logged on concert tours around the country, "I can drive small cars all I want and it'll put out more carbon than a dude driving a Hummer."
In preparing for his "Look Ma, No Gasoline!" tour, Mulvey has logged about 2,500 miles, biking regularly across town to his parents' home in Bay View, to Miller Park for Brewers' games and regular three-mile rides to the supermarket.
While in training, Mulvey also has biked to two concerts. Time on his bike has provided him with an up-close lesson on the dominance of the country's car culture.
"I've learned this much: You are swimming upstream when you do this," he said. "Our infrastructure is not built for bicycles, and they don't know what to do with you.
"Most drivers actually still seem to think that bicycles are required to drive on the sidewalk, and they look at you like you're crazy when you ride on the street."
Mulvey, who started his music career performing in Boston subways and has a folk-angst style with lyrics that have been compared to those of Tom Waits, said he wants the tour to boost public awareness about global warming and efforts to tackle it.
But mostly, it's been an education for Mulvey, who is considering buying a credit card that will donate a percentage of what he spends to clean-energy and other technologies. He might replace his Toyota Camry with a hybrid or a car that runs on biodiesel.
"The tour has really made me take a second look at my whole life and realize I've got to change. I'm so proud of this tour, but it's making such a small dent in my own impact. The next question is how do I make a larger dent?"
Mulvey, whose tour started last week and wraps up over the next few days when he rides to performances in Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Cedarburg and Milwaukee, knows he's not alone in making changes.
"My wife works up in Glendale. It's a typical office job, with conservatives and liberals, across the board. They're buying scooters and changing their behavior. Maybe a lot of us are just responding to high gas prices, but whatever it takes. It seems like the national consciousness is tipping, and I'm glad to see it tip."
Another one of Dave's (soon to be famous) slideshows. Here's our friend Peter Mulvey and his friends David Goodrich, Jeffrey Foucault, and Kris Delmhorst at Joe's Pub. Buy their album for heaven's sake!