The Dr. of Rock

Fill 'er up with biodiesel, Dr. Dan!

A weekly distillation of musical goings-on, local and otherwise.

With increasing regularity, Dan Freeman, proprietor of Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuelwerks in Ballard, gets a call from a band manager looking for a refill for a tour bus. They rarely tell Freeman the name of the band ahead of time, and he, for that matter, doesn't care. He arranges the time and place, takes his fuel truck to wherever the band is playing, and loads up the bus tanks with pure mono-alkyl ester, better known as biodiesel.

"I got a call a couple weeks ago," says Freeman. "Manager told me they needed a fill-up for four tour buses and four semi-trucks. We went out to Chateau Ste. Michelle, and it turns out it was for Bonnie Raitt. So, we got to stick around and see the show for free. At the time, the price of diesel was higher than biodiesel, so the manager figured they saved around $500 on fuel."

For a touring band, even one as financially sound as Raitt's, fuel can be a major cost. But while the price of diesel fuel can fluctuate from moderate to exorbitant, the price of biodiesel, Freeman says, stays consistent, currently at about $3.15 per gallon.

As eco-friendly travelers all know by now, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable, renewable, and domestic. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowers dependency on foreign oil, and results in better engine performance. The fact that he has done biodiesel refills for artists as high-profile as Raitt, Keb Mo, the Vans Warped Tour, and the Indigo Girls (he had one scheduled for Neil Young, but Lookout Management lost his number) is not surprising. Green-minded folks like Willie Nelson (no pun intended), Jay Leno, and Jane's Addiction have been singing biodiesel's praises for years. But after five years in the business, Freeman is noticing the trend's inevitable trickle down to the masses. Now bands the size of Gomez are running their tour operations on biodiesel.

And for our smallest local bands looking to tour outside the region, Freeman notes there are alternative fuel stations as far away as Ellensburg, Spokane, and Missoula, not to mention along the whole West Coast (bands planning an entire trip around biodiesel can visit The only problem is finding a van with a diesel engine.

"Seattle is an amazing area. We have a lot of empowered, educated folks that don't want to be part of the problem," he says, noting the 500 users he has in the Ballard area alone. Even our own resident superstar Dave Matthews has celebrated his band's use of biodiesel, though that's something Freeman remains skeptical of.

"I'm not so sure about how much he uses biodiesel," says Freeman. "I've never seen him pull the tour bus into our filling station."

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