Cindy Sterling Clark Puts a Perfectionist’s Touch on Garbage

For Cindy Sterling Clark, Rhythm & Roots isn’t about music and dancing, it’s about trash.

“Isn’t that sad?” she says, laughing. She hasn’t listened to one band from beginning to end since she started volunteering in 2012. Most volunteers love the festival first and decide to volunteer second. It was the other way around for Clark.

Garbage is Clark’s passion. She directs a crew of about 30 volunteer haulers and pickers who fill four 30-yard dumpsters with trash and three with recyclables over the course of the three-day festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.

The crew may not be quite as enthusiastic as Clark, since they don’t work from 8 a.m. to midnight and they actually listen to some music. “Truthfully, my volunteers think I’m a maniac,” she says. She spends much of the festival on her bike, chasing after crew members on golf carts loaded with garbage and recycling. No cross-contamination, please.

She says veteran volunteers and novices alike are hard-working and committed to recycling – so much so that they’ll pick through recycling containers even when they’re not on the job.

Festival attendees are also conscientious recyclers, but they’ll copy what they see, Clark says. If they see a recycling bin with garbage in it, they’ll follow along. If it’s obvious that bottles, empty food containers and plastic cups are carefully separated, they’ll be careful too.

Clark and her volunteers get warm feelings from neat garbage containers and untainted recycling bins. It’s a good thing because it’s sloppy, sweaty work. Rain makes a mess of everything. Wind wreaks havoc, and valuable finds are few. “The biggest treasure ends up being a good chair – it’s really sort of slim.”

Eventually, Clark hopes to compost food waste. Maybe one day she’ll even see a performance, but for now she enjoys the people and the vibe. She loves how the festival is an annual event for families and friends who put up balloons and flags so everyone can find each other in the crowd. “When I first showed up I was thinking, ‘OK, it’s camping and music,’ but it’s the most classy group of people. That’s what really stands out to me.”