Music: Powered By Veggie Oil

From Ashland: The Oxygen Collective’s biodiesel bus.  Photo from

Staying out of debt on tour is about the choices and sacrifices a band makes.  Everyone chooses to take time away from day jobs and significant others in search of uncertain rewards.  They sleep on the bus instead of a hotel.  They eat whatever they can, often for a cut rate at the bars they perform in.  Fuel is a huge chunk of the tour budget, but more musicians are beginning to choose alternatives to fossil fuels as the price of oil soars.

Most tour buses and RVs run on large doses of diesel, which can bleed the tour fund dry over long hauls. For example, if the band plays in San Francisco one night, Portland the next, and Seattle on the third, that’s eight hundred miles to cover.  Assuming the band makes a hundred bucks a night—a generous sum for an unknown act—at least half of their three day total will go strait into the fuel tank. That’s not much left over for four guys working three nights in a row.

Many musicians are solving this problem by converting their diesel tour buses to run on straight vegetable oil (SVO), a conversion that generally costs five hundred to one thousand dollars. Don’t confuse SVO with biodiesel, which is derived from the very same vegetable oil or animal fats, combusts easier, and is much less viscous. The new breed of tour buses runs on recycled cooking oil, often acquired directly from restaurants with fryers. Restaurants must pay to have their barrels of used oil carted away each month; many are perfectly willing to give the stuff away to save a few bucks.

Popular artists such as Neil Young and Willie Nelson converted their rigs years ago and began spreading the word about eco- and wallet-friendly vegetable oil. The trend is catching on. In recent months, the Rogue Valley was a destination for many of these cooking oil machines, including Oakland’s Vermillion Lies and LA’s Woven.

I interviewed Woven’s lead singer, Ory Hodis, just before their January appearance at The Mobius in Ashland. Regarding their touring rig, he said:

“The two things I’m really opposed to are the meat and oil industries. It’s a lot of energy in, and pollution out. When we drive from LA to New York, that’s a lot of gasoline. Plus, we’re all broke.  So it’s a win-win situation.”

The phenomenon isn’t limited to musicians or big rigs, either. Any diesel engine can be converted to burn veggie oil, from a brand new Ford pickup truck, to an aging Mercedes Benz D-class passenger car.Â

Check out The Oxygen Collective in Ashland.  They’re not a band, but they have a forty foot biodiesel bus:Â

The State of Oregon has taken note of the trend:

In Phoenix, OR: ÂÂ

In Corvalis, OR:Â

Still want more veggie oil?  Check out:Â

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I am a musician, a journalist, and a music fan. Life is awesome. I play music, write about music, photograph music, listen to music, and ride my big bad motorcycle. I also cook and wash dishes for rent money.

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