DEVENS -- As music exploded across the field and comedians cracked jokes on three different stages, the smell of hot dogs and burgers wafted by.

The Nines, a new arts-and-music-based festival, took place on Willard Field on Devens, Saturday.

The festival is a collaboration of Ayer-based 3Rivers Arts, of Ayer, and Great Northeast Productions, of Townsend. The latter is known for producing all the festivals for the jam-band Phish from 1996 through 2004, as well as the annual Mountain Jam, a four-day music festival held in upstate New York each June.

Mauricio Cordero, creative-projects director for 3Rivers Art, gathered artists who had something in common. Highlighting eco-sustainable work was his main focus.

"For me, it was about finding artists that I really wanted to work with who also have a compelling story to tell," Cordero said.

The Nines featured a broad range of musical artists and a comedy tent featuring six comics chosen by the Comedy Studio's Rick Jenkins as well as a 21-plus beer garden.

Dan Balter, co-founder and artist at Fire Seed Arts, wore a shirt saying "Art with a re-purpose" and explained his process of creating art with recycled material from landfills, like his guitar made out of an old kitchen counter.

Balter came to the Nines Festival this year to introduce a different view of art, he said, and he used old plastic CDs as a way to do it. His sculpture, Moby Disk, a giant fish made of about 6,000 plastic CDs, portrayed ocean pollution.


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Using only recycled material in his art, Balter's band, "Johnny FireSeed and the Junkyard Dogs," even uses instruments made from scrap material.

"I want to change the way people see their community," Balter said as he presented his "Seed-D." Instead of selling his music on plastic CDs, Balter and his band have teamed up with seed gatherers to create a plantable piece of paper, shaped like a CD, containing seeds from endangered plants. The band then provides a code for a downloadable version of its music upon purchase.

Balter explained that many grocery stores only want to buy the most common produce, leaving many plants no longer available to the public.

He compared the lack of variety in produce in stores today to the lack of variety in art and music. "Just as stores no longer want certain fruits or vegetables, many artists and musicians are experiencing similar things as they are increasingly asked to conform," he said.

On the main stage, "Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys" was the first act, and although described as a "rock cabaret group," Jojo Lazar, the "burlesque poetess" of the band, describes their genre as "Steam Crunk."

Many other artists also described their work as a little bit different from the norm.

UMass Lowell music teacher Dr. Tom Malone teamed up with Balter to create the world's longest xylophone made out of recycled wood. "The wood really comes from anywhere, my neighborhood, landfills, fences." Malone said.

Malone's students helped make the xylophone. "Nobody tells you, 'Hey, you might have to use a table saw in this music class,' but if you teach kids how to build their instruments, you're giving them a whole other level of pride," said Savannah Marshall, a recent UMass Lowell music education graduate.

Marshall explained that teaching music and art as hands-on activities could be an interdisciplinary course in many curriculums. "For a project like this, you could get the wood-shop kids cutting and nailing the wood, the art students painting the instrument and the music kids playing it," she said.

The long xylophone will be broken up into several xylophones and donated to schools that can't afford musical instruments. Malone believes that learning to make instruments is a skill that could help those who cannot otherwise afford them.

In its first year, The Nines Festival was inspired by a festival in Austin, Texas, called South by Southwest, which is an art and music festival, but hosts other mediums as well.