Big Tree in the KC — Green band arrives in a veggie oil van

Anyone venturing into the KC the night of Oct. 20 was greeted by a group of flailing, shoeless students, captivated by a band of  free-spirited twenty-somethings.

This band of free-spirited twenty-somethings, Big Tree, is touring the country for six weeks in a van that runs on vegetable oil, to promote their second full-length album titled “This New Year.”

Professor Nels Christiansen heard about the tour and music in an email, and thought it was “cool.”  Not sure if he was too “old” to adequately judge the music, sought the opinion of student Pryce Hadley, Marquette senior.

Hadley approved, excited about Big Tree’s environmentally friendly tour as well as their upbeat, folk-ish tunes. He was also pleased with the creativity the group brought to campus.

“We need more opportunities for creative arts on the music scene (at Albion College) since the Coffee House shut down,” Hadley said.

The Coffee House, was a student run co-op business that hosted various events on campus, including shows, poetry readings and other culturally entertaining activities.

Hadley felt as if hosting Big Tree at the College was an opportunity that could not afford to be missed, and he took over the organization of the event as a date and price were negotiated.

Securing a Student Senate ‘pet project’ to cover the band’s $500 tab was only one part of the deal – they also asked for fuel for their vehicle.

Big Tree travels to their shows in a van that runs on vegetable oil, an environmentally conscious project that started about two years ago.

After applying for funding through, a website where groups propose creative projects that are funded by online donors, over $8,000 was raised. This was used to buy a van and convert its engine to run on the oil held in a heated boat tank.

Student Becky Cotteleer, Chicago, Ill. senior, collected fry oil used by Baldwin and The Little Red Lunch Box café for the band to filter through a large tube sock-looking strainer before using it as fuel.

The process can be time consuming, but is one that results in big savings when it comes to gas money, something the band doesn’t have in excess.

Big Tree actually has to pay the label they work with for marketing purposes, making album sales a large proportion of their income. In fact, before their current tour was possible, all five members had to work regular summer jobs – something more typical of college days when the band first began.

Although Big Tree has had a few line-up changes, the original group started while undergrads studying jazz at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

“Everyone was constantly practicing, and then they would go and listen to jazz and drink whiskey together afterwards. So it was kind of a natural progression,” guitar player Danny Pirello said.

Current members now include Pirello, lead singer/keyboardist Kaila McIntyre-Bader, vocalist Anna Ghezzi, bassist Luke Bace and drummer Collin Fahrner.

McIntyre-Bader also writes the lyrical portion of Big Tree’s songs, which to the listener can’t really be categorized into a specific genre.

“People have been calling it (our music) indie pop. But I don’t know, we all studied jazz, so it obviously has a jazz backbone,” said McIntyre-Bader.

Their official Facebook page has ventured to call it indie pop psychedelia, but whatever it is, the group of shoe-less students dancing and flailing obviously enjoyed Big Tree’s resonating sounds paired with McIntyre-Bader’s imagery-rich lyrics.

Photo courtesy of Emily Ten Eyck

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