Seattle Hempfest: An Odd and Beautiful Protestival
I looked down and realized that I was wearing the brightest shoes I’ve ever owned. Through a sea of roughly 100,000 people at the Seattle Hempfest this summer, all other shoes were cast into medieval darkness beneath the swinging bipedal beacons attached to the bottom of my legs. Was it possible that all 100,000 people were staring at my shimmering neon green feet? Or was it more plausible that the Gorilla Glue #4 working its way up and around my head was playing some small part in heightening my alertness.
It didn’t matter because the inventors of the incredible Party Pretzelz pipe were dead ahead in a booth perched on a picturesque grassy hill overlooking the Seattle waterfront. The father and son inventors – who looked like two Minnesota farmers chatting in front of a general store – began capturing my imagination with the story of their remarkable product, an invention so simple and yet so useful. A pipe that you can actually smoke out of made from basic pretzel ingredients? Well, yes, don’t mind if I do.
They loaded me a pretzel bowl and explained how their pipes were baked daily and could be used “for a few months straight, then dunked into soup creating an incredible edible delight.” All that for $5. Nothing too elaborate – just a plain ole pretzel with all-natural ingredients, modest packaging and a cute little label with a panda taking a pipe rip. The idea was just simple and genius enough to illicit a chorus of why-didn’t-I-think-of-thats from festivalgoers as father and son high-fived one another through the pretzel dust.
A few booths down I found myself suddenly and inexplicably glued to a large, stainless mechanism that I assumed was an extraction device – but without enough signage to ascertain its true purpose, I couldn’t land on a suitable answer. Then suddenly I heard the sound of a dulcet voice proclaiming, “Free T-shirts for anyone who could eat one pound of candy in 4 minutes and 20 seconds.”
Three girls in their 20s were bellied up to the Kush candy booth pushing handfuls of gummy worms into their mouths – somehow remaining very ladylike – with most of us spectators unsure whether the ingredients were of the adult THC sort.
“So, are they edibles?” asked a girl next to me. I shrugged. As with most eating contests, onlookers wore mixed expressions oscillating from amazed to puzzled to concerned. I wondered if my CPR certification was up to date.
A few steps further down the way was a vendor who had rolled a 1-pound joint – yes, one pound. It had apparently been smoked for the past 24 hours because it was down to a so-called roach…the size of a shoe, which made me think of my own neon shoes again. This time, however, I saw my beacon-esque shoes in a far different light – probably because hours had gone by and the sun had moved and the light had literally changed, but probably more so because I was really comfortable milling through the festival. The place was a very cool, cohesive scene of people celebrating the many facets of the cannabis plant we all love. With more than 400 vendors and three music stages and items on offer from hamburgers with Krispie Kream glazed donut buns to pretzel pipes to colorful glass art, how could you not have a blast?
When I snapped out of my Hempfest reverie, I noticed a large sign reading “Hemporium,” accompanied by the sound of an unmistakably academic voice.
Yes, here’s the HEMP! I thought loudly enough to feel like everyone in the Hemporium had heard me. Under a tent that looked like a docile version of a Christian revival but with hempsters instead of parishioners, a laptop beamed the image of Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the legendary pro-cannabis advocate from Harvard. He was sitting at a desk via Skype somewhere on the East Coast (I pictured a 100-year-old brick building in Cambridge and the desk a lovely mid-century cherry) and yet he was also sitting atop a small picnic table on a stage in Seattle with all of us. I let that sink in for a moment – all that Harvard doctoral knowledge from across 3,000 miles talking about the trials and tribulations he’d experienced spanning a half century of advocating for intelligent use of cannabis.
I left the Hemporium and Dr. Grinspoon feeling positively buoyant about the future of cannabis acceptance and responsible use and walked headlong into a little attractive glade, an area the focus of which was a wizened, shirtless, elderly gentleman saying calmly, “My I’ve aged, I’m aging right now. I mean, look at this sagging skin. I have certainly aged. I am aging right before you.”
He was tugging at the drooping skin near his elbow, an act which somehow did not appear nearly as disturbing as it sounds, then he performed a very graceful pirouette. He said again, this time with a huge smile, “I’m aging again…right now…it’s really good to be here with all of you.”
People walked by him and inevitably slowed to watch, drawn in by the gravitational pull of his charm, elegant dance and resigned tone – and how happy he was to be surrounded by all of us. Within five minutes there were about a dozen of us all watching him dance while he recited the mantra that was clearly making him very happy. It was the most odd and beautiful thing I saw all day.
I looked at my watch and realized that it was 4:13, so headed toward one of the music stages. I got there at 4:19 as the announcer at the mic said, “Alright, are we ready?” The crowd howled a resounding “YES.”
The clock ticked to 4:20 and a guy to my left caught eyes with me and passed a joint. Almost simultaneously a girl behind me tapped my shoulder with a lit pipe. I had my pretzel pipe loaded and floated it into the rotation. I looked back at the crowd that stretched out for a couple thousand people, all sharing, smiling and laughing with this benign, beautiful plant and thought, It’s really good to be here with all of you.