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Au Naturale

Songwriter Graham Colton makes a green stop in BR

By Christie Matherne
Published October 12, 2011

In 2011, we’re used to hearing famous people talk about petroleum alternatives. We’re also used to hearing about their private jets, SUV collections, and tour buses. It’s become kind of passé, to say the least, but some of them actually practice what they preach.

At 29, Oklahoma City native Graham Colton has quite the resume, and it started off with more of a bang than most. About 10 years ago, his first demo fell into the hands of Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. Colton was attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex., so he spent his first national tour opening for them in the fall of ‘02.

Since then, Colton has toured with the likes of John Mayer, Maroon 5, Dave Matthews Band, Guster, Sister Hazel, and even Kelly Clarkson, whom he dated. Since 2008, his song, “Best Days,” has been featured in promotions for MTV, HBO, ABC, and CBS; Oprah Winfrey tapped the song for her primetime series, “The Big Give.” American Idol uses the song as exit music for the first round of live auditions.

Though he’s toured with some big names, he’s stripping things down a bit this year – musically, and in terms of his carbon footprint. Colton is travelling to 18 different cities this fall, in a vehicle that uses compressed natural gas instead of petroleum-based fuel. His first stop is at Red Star on October 20.

It might be easy to assume that this is a publicity stunt. Naturally, my first question for him was, “Why?” His 12-minute answer convinced me that it wasn’t.

“[It’s] being from Oklahoma, and being the son of an oil man, which is kind of what Oklahoma was built on, and they’re very proud of that,” Colton said. “But times are changing, and I was thinking to myself how much money I waste, and how much pollution…just a bunch of junk that I can change.”

During his explanation, he off-handedly revealed that he’s the one who approached CNGNow.com (a website encouraging use of the fuel) about the idea for the tour.

“When I brought this idea to the people at CNGNow.com, I just said, ‘The way this stuff is going to change is with young people. It’s not gonna be oil men. It’s going to be through social networking. It’s gonna be through musicians and artists, and people who think outside of the box. And it’s not going to be because people look up at a billboard.’”

Travelling to nearly 20 cities with a CNG vehicle isn’t a cakewalk, either, because the fuel doesn’t have the infrastructure of petroleum. In other words, he might get stuck somewhere. He’s willing to take the risk.

“Is there going to be a gas station for me to fill up in every city? Probably not,” he said. “I know I’m going to learn a lot out there. I’m no expert. But this will help guys like me keep playing music from town to town, because it’s getting to the point, with the price of gasoline, that we can’t afford to do it anymore.”

Any musician travelling in a standard vehicle knows what he’s talking about – it’s not cheap to go on tour. For those without a record deal or an expense account, budgeting is absolutely necessary. Colton has the record deal, but he hasn’t forgotten how he started.

“When I got started playing music, I was in the Ford Explorer,” he said. “When I graduated a little bit, I went to the van. And then I added a trailer, and then I went to the tour bus. I’ve flown on planes. I’ve ridden in trains. I started to tally what it’s going to cost me to do this one tour – just my silly, little, four-guys-in-a-van tour.”

He asked a CNG company if he would even be changing anything on a large scale by using a CNG vehicle for his fall tour, and what they told him was pretty astounding:

“They told me that if one garbage truck changes to [CNG], it would have the same effect on pollution and overall smog that 300 converted automobiles would have. That’s just one garbage truck. So that makes me think of tour buses, that makes me think of semi-trucks, the concert tours.”

It’s not just about a carbon footprint, either – CNGNow.com states that the cost is about a third of that of gasoline. With the full tab of a band on tour considered, CNG fuel usage would cut expenses in half.

“It helps us musicians out, too – it would be half as expensive to tour in natural gas vehicles.”

Graham Colton’s stripped-down (yet electric) set comes to Red Star on October 20. Colton is touring in support of his fourth full-length studio album, Pacific Coast Eyes. Hear more at www.GrahamColton.com.