I got kicked out of Hempfest's backstage yesterday, apparently for suggesting in The Stranger that the event should lose the tie-dyes on the stages and go for a broader appeal. It was nothing personal, and I worked on Hempfest for 12 years, so it surprised me when they demanded that I give up my pass (the pass they'd given me). Then they had security escort me out. I realize that this story may sound like sour grapes, but—I promise you—it leaves me with the sweetest of memories. First, here's a picture of one of those stages:
After listening to a few speakers and consuming one gigantic veggie burrito with pickled jalapeños, I went behind the main stage. I was talking to a friend when a member of the Hempfest board, John Davis, whom I’ve known for about 15 years, approached me and said, “You can’t be back here. You have to go.”
I showed him my VIP pass. Surely, an article I wrote suggesting the event should take down tie-dyes from the stages to debunk stereotypes about Hempfest couldn’t make them completely lose their shit, could it? And after working on Hempfest for over a decade, and pushing for many of the things the event organizers love so much (remember how pot enforcement is the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority now, guys? And that Hempfest steering committee members thought it was a “bad idea,” but it passed and now you appreciate it? You're welcome), they weren’t really kicking me out, were they? Davis snatched the pass out of my hand, and as the security guy escorted me out, he said that it’s because I'm a “member of the media.”
Uh, I’ve been a member of the media in past years, and I’ve always been allowed backstage. And before I was a reporter—back when I was the spokesman for Hempfest—several times we’d have reporters walk freely backstage. So what gives? Hempfest director Vivian McPeak reportedly told a staffer, who went to ask what the fuck was going on, that I had “proverbially stabbed [him] in the back.” But, Vivian, I thought you were omnipotent. About 10 minutes earlier, he was on the main stage mic referring to himself as “the great Vivian McPeak.”
The issue, clearly, is that Hempfest organizers are outraged that anyone would dare critique their event. They cannot separate themselves from their culture from their politics. So any commentary of their political strategy (simply saying they should take down the cheesy tie-dyes) is apparently a personal backstabbing. That's a tragically self-centered perspective for any organization, political cause, or leader—especially one that is "great."
So after going to Hempfest every year, I’m relieved of any duty I ever had. And frankly, even though the event’s got plenty of good things going for it, at least I don’t have to go to it. Likewise, they're probably relieved to be rid of me.
And once more, Hempfest, for the record: Nobody is saying that hippies are evil; I'm just saying that we're not all hippies and we want our "Oktoberfest of Pot" to feel like an event for all the pot smokers. We don't want it to feel like this:
Argh, "tye-dye" is even misspelled.