Photo by Linda Sutin

Recently I attended the Clearwater Festival for the first time. If you’re not familiar with the festival, here’s a brief description from Clearwater’s website: Since the 1960s, the Clearwater festival has grown into the country’s largest annual environmental celebration, its music, dance and storytelling, education and activism attracting thousands of people of all ages to the shores of the Hudson River.

Now, Saturday here was just a gorgeous day—the kind of day invented for outdoor festivals held in expansive parks tucked up along a beautiful stretch of river. I have no idea how many people passed through Croton Point Park that day; my friends and I stayed till the chilly end where a “full house” at the main stage enjoyed Arlo Guthrie and family doing the honors of closing down the day’s events. During the 8 hours we were there, we saw many, many families with young children, and many folks who toted in their own food and beverages, but what we didn’t see was a scrap of litter—even with an artisanal farmer’s market offering all sorts of delicious wares for sale and sample, food vendors, and beverage stands and water vendors stationed through the park. No napkins, food wrappers, empty bottles or cups; not even a cigarette butt carelessly tossed aside or abandoned in the grass.

Make no mistake: we didn’t see litter not because there were cleanup crews working round the clock to manage the mess that a boatload of thoughtless people can make in less time than you can say, “landfill” and “non-biodegradable”, but because people simply didn’t leave their trash behind. The environmental message of the festival and Clearwater itself, I’m sure, was a potent motivator, but more compelling was the highly visible “zero waste“ campaign Clearwater incorporated into the festival—the message clearly reinforced by trash and recycling bins placed in key locations around the grounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cleaner event attended by even half as large a crowd!

Lining the main thoroughfare of the park, which gets you from one end of happenings to the other were banners displaying inspirational quotes by a diverse and varied group of contributors extolling activism and personal responsibility toward community. In this clever manner Clearwater compelled attendees throughout the day to aspire to “the better angels of our nature.”

And, for a festival that includes four different simultaneous music performances going on all day long, a full slate of dance and storytelling performances, a juried craft show, an artisanal farmer’s market, an environmental and activism expo, river activities and educational demonstrations, merchant vendor stalls, a healthy “food court”, accessibility services for wheelchair-bound, hearing-impaired and sight-impaired individuals, and much, much more, everything seemed to run pretty smoothly. No long line at the entrance, no dangerous crowd control issues, and everybody grooving to the music and able to get the information and assistance they needed.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of music festivals, many of them in the out-of-doors, and I’ve certainly been lured to any number of bucolic locales by the promise of a unique musical experience, but here’s the thing that really struck me about Clearwater—

From the compostable plates and plastic ware used by all the food stall vendors to the nifty hand-washing stations placed next to each port-a-john area to the fountains set up for refilling water bottles to all of the larger messaging mentioned above, Clearwater’s environmental mission that is the core and very essence of its brand identity was, well, absolutely clear and present. These weren’t showy or gimmicky stunts, but thoughtful details and thematic motifs that demonstrate how deeply those that manage the Clearwater organization and plan the festival really embody and live the vision and values of the organization. And that radiates out to everyone in attendance and is the reason Clearwater is truly a very unique and special kind of festival.

At its core, a brand is ever only the people who represent it. If you’re not getting the results you want and you’re wondering why your brand isn’t “sticky”, consider whether it’s defined clearly and fully enough to win over your own employees—if they’re not sold, how can they sell anybody else? If you’re a solopreneur, how deeply are you committed to your own brand values; to what level of detail are they evident in how you conduct and manage your business?

Comment below, call or email me about how to create or deepen your brand values and customer relationships and experiences.