Whit Jones, a team member of ReEnergize Iowa—an initiative of the Sierra Club, the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), and the United Steelworkers to promote a clean energy economy in the state—was driving through downtown Des Moines on June 18 with his girlfriend Claire, who he describes as a "huge Ben Folds fan."
Folds (above), was performing in town that evening with Texas rocker John Mayer at Wells Fargo Arena, where Jones was planning to set up a ReEnergize Iowa table. SSC organizer Joe Richie picks up the story:
"Claire sighted Mr. Folds walking down the street, and after some driving maneuvers that Whit describes as 'not life endangering but certainly worthy of a ticket,' he and Claire stopped at a red light and waved [Folds] over to the car. They shook hands, and, like any good organizers would do, left him with a ReEnergize Iowa flyer.
"That evening, Janie Hauser, Chelsea Feeny, and myself set up our table at the arena to collect signatures and pass out flyers at the concert. After the opening number of Ben Folds' set, he stood up and started emptying out his pockets, saying that someone had given him a flyer that he wanted to sing about. After giving up hope of finding it, he settled back into his normal set.
"Meanwhile, John Mayer strutted across the floor to the stage in mid-song while playing the tambourine and delivered our leaflet to Ben. When the song ended, Folds told the crowd he'd met a lot of great people in Des Moines, and he was inspired by us to write a song. The band started rocking, and he started singing lyrics directly off the flyer (I believe this makes me his new lyricist). The song was an electrifying two-and-a-half minutes of perfectly coupled climate lyrics and synthesized solos (check out what the Des Moines Register had to say about it).
"I sat agape as I absorbed what had just happened. Ben Folds, who I had been perfecting my air piano to since age 13, had just performed a song about the project I had spent so many months planning and making a reality. There were now thousands of adolescent firls and popped-collar boys clamoring get their hands on our flyers. Ben Folds had just delivered us to organizing nirvana.
"I busted into the dressing rooms backstage using the age-old tactic of looking confident and thanked Ben for singing the song. We talked a little about global warming, he told me how his parents had had solar panels up on their house for years, and he wished us luck. The sound guy promised us a tape of the song.
"We don't do this work for screaming crowds, the backstage passes, the shoulder rubbing with celebrities, or to become immortalized in song; we do this work because we can't imagine doing anything else. But if that means occasionally putting up with all those other things, I guess I can accept that."
Watch the YouTube video of Folds' performance. The ReEnergize Iowa initiative, part of ReEnergizeUS, will culminate in a 5-day march from Ames, Iowa, to Des Moines August 1-5, 2007.
Photos used with permission.