Concerts get shut down for a lot of reasons: noise ordinance violations, bad weather, massive pyrotechnic explosions. But Brendan Hannigan might be the first musician to fall suddenly silent onstage because the kid powering his guitar amp wasn't pedaling hard enough.
"I was up on stage trying to play music I'd never played before with this band, and at the same time I was watching the power meter," he recalls. "And when it got down to red, I was yelling into the mic, like, 'Allen! Allen! Get on the red bike! Go pedal!'"
That's the first thing Hannigan and business partner Allen Beauchamp learned in the Mobile Music Project: "Gotta have someone on the red bike."
That's a Fender Blender Pro, a cherry-cola-colored stationary bicycle whose single wheel powers a piston that generates electrical power. And while the bike actually did come with a blender attachment — "You can blend up smoothies and margaritas just using the bike!" — most of the time, it's hooked up to a utility box that generates both AC and DC currents for speakers, lights, amps and microphones.
Music powered by bicycle: It's a simple idea, but until Aug. 3, no one locally was doing it.
"We were able to power 3½ hours of live music just exclusively with pedal power," Hannigan says of the Project's first event at Marmalade at Smokebrush. "The whole system is scalable, so we can add more bikes as we go along, as we get more funding, and as we tackle more ambitious events."
For now, the Mobile Music Project is four bikes, two guys and one Ingenuity Grant from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, where Hannigan's father Michael is CEO. And while there's a similar outfit out in San Francisco, Beauchamp and the Hannigan were the first to envision alternative energy-powered rock as a jump-start for local music.
Earlier this year, the younger Hannigan had grown frustrated by what he calls the "typical circuit, playing bars, restaurants and coffee shops. With very few exceptions, it's just always seemed to me like there's this fundamental disconnect between the performer and the audience in situations like that."
Leave it to local cycling advocate Beauchamp to find a solution that literally connects the audience to the performer via electric-reassisted motor.
"The idea that comes to mind is the Transformers," Hannigan says with a laugh. "They start as unremarkable, mild-mannered Yuba cargo bikes, and then when we get to the venue, they transform into power generators. When the [rear] wheel is elevated off the ground and there's no more resistance from the street that you're riding on, that wheel actually goes the other way and it harvests the power that is generated by the pedaling. It's the same principle that a windmill uses.
"At the end, [we can] pack everything on the bikes and ride away," he adds. "We haven't done that yet, but that's the part of this whole process I'm really excited about, actually ... It's completely self-contained, and we can put on an event literally miles from an electrical outlet."
Eventually, Hannigan says, they'd like the Mobile Music Project to be a weekly presence at outdoor venues around the city, and even at events in local national parks. At the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Hannigan and friends will take the stage at Acacia Park for a four-hour jam. Show up for the morning demo to get your own turn on the red bike, or join the party starting at 2 p.m.
Just make sure to pedal hard.