Oregon hempfest party weekend

Bill Conde is a 52-year-old cannabis activist and festival promoter who can be described as cherubic, despite having the energy, muscle mass, and profile of a football player. He needs the strength. It’s hard being a hemp activist who also sells wood products, a vocal proponent of marijuana decriminalization and med-pot ballot initiatives, a guy who helps create a tribal herbalizers’ gathering in an empty wheat-coloured plain in the middle of a conservative agricultural valley. The July 17 weekend World Hemp Festival, like the many political rallies and music events held on that site in the past, would not have happened without Conde’s vision and courage.
Like Gideon Israel, the jolly man of Southern Washington’s Rainbow Valley peace-love-hemp community concerts, imprisoned last March on bogus drug charges, Conde found out the war on marijuana is a real war, a holy war for some.

Conde watches on a Sunday morning as an auto-line of holy warriors glides along the narrow farm road bordering the festival site. The warriors condemn cannabis culture, blind to the fact that the sunny, cool day is blessed by these happy, consciousness-altered people of all shapes, sizes, genders, colours and political persuasions, disabilities and talents, heading to and from the secure WHF world of bongs, bods and buds.

The holy warriors honk their horns and wave signs at heathen, dope-smoking, hippie, commie, godless, unwashed, ecofreak, bare-stomach babes, smugglers, grannies in wheelchairs, college professors, rainbow gypsies, demanding they repent, give up marijuana, for “it is the devil’s weed,” and “ye shall be cast into a lake of everlasting fire.”

God’s messenger

Down the highway a bit, standing in weeds on the roadside, is a fellow who believes he is God’s messenger of vengeance and truth.

I first laid eyes on Old John English at last year’s mid-July concert. He was holding a sign instructing the local district attorney to confiscate Conde’s land. The man looked lonely and slightly daft, but my pity for him was tempered by the realization that he was also very rude. I don’t think any cannabis activist has ever stood outside a church full of extremist, pot-hating people, asking the government to confiscate the church’s land.

I talked to Old John last year; he poured out his condemnations, lamentations and prophecies. He bragged of driving the Grateful Dead out of Southern Oregon, of harassing the Oregon Country Fair, a “hippie” event that is more uplifting in an hour than a rodeo, drag race, gun club meeting, or fundamentalist church service is in a week.

When I saw Old John this year, I stopped the car and began to take photos of him. Apparently, he didn’t want his picture taken. He said he’d call the police, and began pushing me.

Old John believes pot smokers are weak, dumb, wasted people who have no strength or spunk. Losers who don’t fight back. Of course he’s wrong. I informed him I’d have to knock him to the ground if he continued to touch me. He seemed surprised, then afraid, and began frantically dialing his cell phone, pleading for police intervention.

I took the opportunity to drive away, and arrived in the parking lot with a creepy sensation that I’d had an encounter with a devil. Thank Jesus I escaped.

When I told Conde about the incident, he said he was glad I hadn’t been forced to hurt English. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” Conde said. “He was one of the only people to have a ballot pamphlet statement in favor of criminalizing marijuana in last year’s vote. What he said was so ridiculous that it convinced a lot of people to vote against recriminalization. I hope he’ll keep on spewing his weird diatribes, because it lets people see how rabid and ignorant our opponents really are.”

Later, I chanced to ask a police officer his opinion of John English. “He causes traffic problems and confrontations,” the officer said. “We would be just as happy as you if he went away.” Amen.

Inhalation nation

Glass is class in Southern Oregon. WHF featured a glass competition wherein glass companies offered their artiest and most functional smoking devices, which were judged by a smoked-out panel that included Jack Herer.

Glass pipes are called tubes these days, not bongs. “Bong” is an officially forbidden word, codified as paraphernalia. A “tube” is a smoking device that also looks nice, and maybe becomes a vice, because people get stoned and spend hours at home, hallucinating movies and moonbeams in the multi-colored swirls of once-molten glass.

At least that’s what Bob Snodgrass, the Master of Glass, told me.

“There’s patterns in there that we put in. They change as the resin accumulates, causing the layers of glass to take on different shadings,” says the 53-year-old grandfather and tube-blowing legend who began his career as a kid watching a neighbour make lamps. In 1978, Snodgrass made his first glass sculpture. Since then, he’s evolved a distinctive style, and is generally acknowledged to have pioneered the use of colours, pictures and multi-images in tubular glass design.

“I’ve made thousands of pieces, selling from five dollars each to many hundreds of dollars,” Snodgrass said, demonstrating one of the dragon-motif pipes that made him famous. “I’ve made them for Dennis Peron and members of the Grateful Dead. It’s an art, and even though I almost lost a lung doing it, I love it.”

Snodgrass teaches glassblowing safety and technique to students from all over the world, but says tubers have a hard time getting respect from the mainstream glass-blowing community.

“They think it’s just paraphernalia,” he says. “I make lots of glass art, not just tubes. There’s prejudice against us. And we’re concerned about losing the glass trade to foreign countries. They’re starting to make cheap, low-quality glass in Belize, India, Malaysia, Mexico.”

Ryan Benson and Bucky Sturgeon, the directors of Doctor Waterpipes, are part of what’s being called the New School of tubemakers who’ve built on what Snodgrass started. “We challenge ourselves to come up with original ideas, lots of details, quality glass,” Sturgeon said. “Even though some shops have been harassed, business is good. We can’t keep up with demand.”

Tribal unity

WHF featured the best glassblowers; it also revealed the resilience, communal spirit, and optimism of cannabis culture. While Conde and his lawyer dealt with undercover narcs and other government officials who relentlessly tried to shut the event down, ten thousand people smoked tons of pot, ate mushrooms, cannabis goodies and delicious vegetarian and standard cuisine, danced to bands like Rubberneck and the Zen Tricksters, listened to impassioned speeches, and visited dozens of booths selling hemp products, paraphernalia or providing information on cannabis activism.

Jack Herer, the Emperor of Hemp, wore his hand out writing detailed inscriptions in specialized, numbered versions of his famous book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. In conversations and two stage speeches, Herer told of working for Oregon marijuana decriminalization for two decades. “The key to success,” he said, “is to register to vote, and vote. If you move, register again, and vote. We can win. We have power. If the bastards support the drug war, vote them out of office.”

Herer also revealed a prototype of a patented wood pipe design.

“Check out the hit you get off this one, time after time, even near theend of the bowl,” he said proudly, stoning people who took hits off the handsome wooden pipe.

“This is the coolest, freshest smoke, and it tastes good. People get higher when they use this pipe. Isn’t that right?” The people gathered around him murmured assent, too high to talk.

Barge’s budshots

At the Cannabis Culture booth, staffed by sunburned but happy Canadians, flocks of visitors brought buds and bought magazines, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

CC’s fearless photographer Barge proved that massive doses of mega-marijuana do not hamper technical skills. Kneeling in the sun for hours crammed into a makeshift studio behind the CC booth, Barge valiantly photographed dozens of perfect specimens: Jack Herers, Northern Lights, and a myriad of specialized varieties from the American West.

Even though the WHF occurs two months before the traditional outdoor harvest season, many growers told us they were harvesting outdoor crops already, using greenhouses, bags and other techniques to force flowering in July.

Indoor growers were also abundant. Many reported ordering seeds from Marc Emery Direct, and scoffed at some of Emery’s competitors, who’ve been publicly proclaiming that ordering pot seeds through the mail is likely to result in arrests. “Ordering seeds through the mail is safer than buying clones,” one grower told me.

The Northwest growers we talked to seemed to be turning away from clones. “They’re vectors of mites, and have destroyed a lot of the grow rooms in Portland,” one grower said. “I’m into seeds. Breeding seeds is very lucrative. Some seed varieties are worth more per pound than bud.”

Overall, WHF bud was high quality and in abundant supply. Eighths were selling far below usual retail prices, and lots of people were giving pot away. WHF guests understand harvest timing, breeding and curing. We didn’t see any schwag at this event. No chemweed. No looks good but tastes like crap weed.

Almost all the growers who brought buds for Barge to photograph offered to smoke him out, and he managed to accept their largess. Ever able to manage the complicated technical and artistic details required of plant photographers, Barge nonetheless seemed to have entered Mars orbit by Saturday night. It might have been the chunks of hash, or the Blue Magoo bud proferred by the Seattle Hempfest guru, but by Sunday afternoon, Barge was dancing with a huge bong on his head in front of our booth. His pictures are perfect, but hey Barge, what happened to that beautiful glass bong?

An excellent event

Musicians played all night, and the traditional Rainbow drum circle and firepit was also in full glow for hundreds of nocturnal partiers who trance-danced as the stars whirled above in the cool summer sky. Vivian McPeak, taking a break from preparing for his own festival, Seattle’s ever-popular Hempfest held August 22, congratulated Conde and Cannabis Culture for “putting on a well-managed, entertaining and educational event that seems to have gone off without a hitch.”

By late Sunday, Conde reported that the event had indeed come off far better than in previous years. Virtually no medical emergencies, traffic jams or arrests. Toilets and showers that actually worked, no piles of garbage or debris, no rip-offs, fights or dogbites, just a sweet smell of mary jane in the air and everybody grooving on a Sunday afternoon. Conde, who has endured government harassment that intensified during last year’s event and has never let up, was weary but satisfied.

“This isn’t about money. I’ve lost money. These festivals are our way of showing who we are,” he said. “People come here from everywhere and create a family. We police ourselves, and everybody is happy, everybody gets along. The people who are against us see ten thousand peaceful people, and they have to know deep down that we are not criminals. We are the ones who are fighting for freedom, for using hemp and cannabis to save this planet. That’s what the World Hemp Festival means to me.”