Life in the Van Lane

Greenvans Offers Biodiesel Option for Touring Musicians

  • Montreal band Gulfer on tour in a Greenvan Photo courtesy David Mitchell

Touring life ain’t easy. It’s a major part of being a successful (or simply significant) band, and it’s expensive as hell. Besides food, essentials, gear repairs, gas, parking tickets and a litany of other tiny expenses along the way, the major concern for any band on tour is always the same: where to find a reliable, affordable goddamn van.

It’s not easy. Vans are a huge necessity, so plenty of companies exist to nickel-and-dime bands on everything like mileage and gas—just finding a van you can rely on to not break down 200 kilometres from the next show is often a lot to ask for. Still, bands have to tour—in fact, if you’re a musician of any note, it quickly engulfs the better part of your year.

So, a large market of people in need of affordable, reliable passenger vans exists. Up until recently, a touring musician was essentially shit out of luck for a trustworthy, easily attained van if they couldn’t purchase one wholesale—enter Greenvans.

Established in 2008 by Andrew Reitz, Greenvans was birthed with the express intent of providing affordable, biodiesel powered vans for touring musicians. Their fleet contains vehicles which run on standard gasoline, diesel and biodiesel or have been converted to run on waste vegetable oil.
“We wanted to offer a service that so many bands needed, but didn’t have access to because so few companies understood or cared about the needs of a touring band,” Reitz explained in an interview with Decibel Magazine.

“There aren’t a lot of other independent companies that do what we do…honestly because it’s difficult, it’s expensive and it’s risky, but regardless, we love what we do,” Reitz said. “I think I’m constantly toeing the line between being a small business owner trying to make a living, and a dude that used to be in a struggling band that wants to help other dudes in struggling bands.”

Greenvans set themselves apart. Besides offering affordable rental opportunities, they lack the callousness and disconnect of big rental companies. This is sustainability in action; rather than acting as a faceless, unaccountable rental corporation, bands are offered personable accountability necessary for dire situations on tour. David Mitchell, a Montreal musician who used the service to tour with his band Gulfer, describes as much.

“We broke down in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I was initially super upset because we had to miss our Atlanta show and we were virtually stranded,” Mitchell recalls. “Andy [Reitz] was extremely hands on, though, and ended up driving a new van to us overnight [from Boston], waiting in Charlotte for our first van to get fixed, then driving that van back to us in Louisville.”

Historically, touring is maybe the least sustainable part of being a musician. You can make instruments from freely traded, non-conflict materials; you can donate everything you make in merchandise sales, album downloads and door money to any number of worthy causes. You can produce all your merchandise domestically, in good working conditions with great wages, but when it comes down to it, it’s nearly impossible to drive thousands of miles across various countries in a big fat 12-passenger van, eating fast food and spending thousands on gas in a green fashion. Most of the time, bands are too desperately dilapidated to even think of it.

But this isn’t the future. The most important, least efficient aspect of being a working musician doesn’t have to stay that way, and it doesn’t have to stay so goddamn unaffordable. Innovations in the industry like Greenvans are creating new standards in the field, and furthering progress away from the expensive, exclusive and outdated difficulties of touring.

It also doesn’t hurt to care about the people you work with.

“It’s cool to support a company rooted in punk and DIY [do-it-yourself] with kind, genuine, hardworking people pushing it forward,” Mitchell concludes. “No other van rental service would go out of their way like that.”

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