ALBANY — For the first hour or so, the rains that had been threatening all day held off, and the early crowd at the Knobby Knees Music Festival, held adjacent to the Flint RiverQuarium and across Pine Avenue from the Flint Riverkeeper’s downtown Albany offices, enjoyed the overcast and much cooler weather than the region’s seen lately.
But three or four songs into Bodean and the Poachers’ set, the bottom fell out and the rains came in earnest, sending the crowd scurrying for shelter.
God, though, is a Riverkeeper Himself, and He wouldn’t rain on Gordon Rogers and other RiverKeeper officials’ parade. Within 20-30 minutes, the clouds party and the Knobby Knees fest carried on.
“You could kind of argue that this is the fourth Knobby Knees Festival because we had those concerts on the Muckalee (Creek) and then we had the fundraiser last year to mark our 10th anniversary,” Rogers, the director of the environmental group, said. “But last year’s festival was so successful, we decided to do it again and maybe make it an annual thing.”
Indeed, last year’s fest raised $44,600 for the Riverkeeper, which has been an outspoken advocate group for conservation issues associated with the Flint River and its tributaries. And there have been plenty of those, including sewer spills that dumped thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Flint.
“Awareness of the river and what we (the Riverkeeper organization) do is also a big reason for having this festival,” Rogers said. “I think the close relationship we have with the city of Albany — plus some of the leaders’ genuine concern — is what’s kept everyone vigilant. Everyone’s hard work has kept (the city) from getting into a litigation-type situation. No one wants that to happen.”
Senior Project Manager Wes Byne and Engineer A.B. Ladsen with Constantine Engineering are among the group working with the city to stave off the kinds of environmental issues that plagued the city the last couple of years. They are “a third to halfway through” an audit of the city’s aging — and recently failing — sewer system.
“The people in Albany should be happy that they have city leaders who are proactive,” Byne said. “We’re working with them on a longer-term plan where we’ll make recommendations on ways the city can separate its sanitation and storm (sewage systems). And we’ll help them try to find sources of funding to help cut costs.”
But those costs, Rogers warns, are going to be significant.
“The city’s sewer situation is bigger than the spills, and those were significant,” the Riverkeeper director said. “But the city has put the right people in place to slow those catastrophic lift station failures down. What that’s done is give us a little breathing room. Because when (Constantine) finishes its work, it’s going to be time to eat that elephant.”
Environmental concerns remained on the minds of Shaky Knees fest organizers, even as they kept an eye on the sky and watched as the crowd started to swell midafternoon. But there was also a good time to be had.
“This is really a lot of fun,” Ellen Cardin, who is on the Flint Riverkeeper board, said as she looked down at the growing crowd from the second-floor balcony of the RiverQuarium. “It also is a significant fundraiser for the Riverkeeper. But it’s also important for the organization to get the word out about the things we do. There’s no one that doesn’t support efforts to keep our waterways clean. This is something that impacts people from all walks of life.
“From farmers, to fisherman to kayakers to people who love the outdoors, the common denominator that all support is clean water.”