Saturday's series of "Live Earth" concerts features a marquee-bursting array of the music industry's megastars, but perhaps its most impressive headliner is a band that doesn't even have a recording contract. That group, Nunatak, will be performing from Antarctica, with a stage audience about the same size as Kanye West's entourage. And when all is said and done with Live Earth, the band's members will go back to their desks, computers, and ice-diving equipment for another day at the South Pole.
Nunatak's five members are scientists stationed at the Rothera Research Station, which is run by the British Antarctic Survey. They are an ad hoc "house band" who, at Al Gore's request, are frantically rehearsing for a live webcast for the July 7 show.
"There is quite a tradition of forming bands at Rothera," say band members Alison Massey and Rob Webster, via e-mail. Massey, the saxophonist, is a marine biologist who saws holes in antarctic ice so she can dive in the dark polar waters, even as her Live Earth compatriots in Hamburg and New York don bikinis and board shorts.
For the Live Earth show, which includes eight other concerts around the world, Nunatak will play at least part of its set outside – in fingerless gloves, with temperatures plummeting to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. No pressure, right?
The group's participation allows the Live Earth organizers to achieve a lofty goal: To stage concerts on every continent.
"We had envisioned Live Earth to be a seven-continent music event from the very beginning," says festival spokesman Matthew diGirolamo. "When we shared our plans with Al Gore's office, they connected us to [Nunatak.]"
Performing its "indie-folk fusion" via webcast, Nunatak will join the likes of Linkin Park, Madonna, Jack Johnson, and other stars playing around the world. The concert series was organized by Kevin Wall – who produced 2005's Live 8 concert – and Al Gore. Proceeds from ticket sales and rights to the television broadcast will support The Alliance for Climate Protection, a new foundation to combat what they call "the climate crisis."
It's all very sudden for the band. Each of its members, all of whom are in their 20s, is a scientist or engineer at the Rothera station, and several will not return home until May 2009. Rothera houses 22 scientists for the winter, and few can even access the station due to the weather and tiny runway. During the winter, the pole is cloaked in perpetual twilight.
But there's plenty to keep the band busy at the station. In addition to Massey's ice dives, Roger Stilwell, the band's bassist, regularly straps on his crampons to assist scientists navigating the ice dunes of Antarctica's frozen desert. While away from the drum kit, Webster is a meteorologist who moved to Antarctica after a teaching gig in Nepal.
The band's musical tastes – which range from Bob Dylan to Shakira – are as diverse as its members' scientific interests. The musicians jam using the instruments at the station's "Green Room" and the band plays the "occasional party."
The Live Earth affair will be quite different since Nunatak will play part of its set outside. (Fittingly, Nunatak is a Greenlandic word to describe an exposed peak or summit in an ice field.) The show will be filmed on HD cameras and transmitted via the Internet and possibly television feeds. For the band, the prime challenge will be playing in tune: There's nothing like a blast of arctic air to take the twang out of guitar strings.
Nunatak's members said that their work embodies Live Earth's mission. Asked if they would buy carbon offsets for their show, the band replies, "The work we do contributes to understanding how our world works and how we will be affected by future climate change. You could say our entire science and operation is an 'offset.' "