Cannabis has played a central role in festival celebrations for thousands of years, from bhang lassi at the Holi festival in India to joint-passing at Woodstock and Coachella, but in the United States both cannabis growers and consumers have had to stay in the shadows to avoid persecution. Over the past few decades in Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle,” small farmers behind the “redwood curtain” have grown more cannabis than any other region in the United States, supplying the U.S. and much of the world with legendary “Northern Cali” strains that have no doubt made their way to countless concerts and festivals over the years. In a paradigm-shifting moment, thanks to the recent legalization successes for medical and recreational marijuana use in California, this legendary cannabis producing region will now be able to celebrate the growing and consumption of cannabis out in the open at a one-of-a-kind festival known as Northern Nights. Not only will cannabis no longer have to be hidden, but it will play a central role at a state-of-the-art Tree Lounge where local growers can share their craft, and where those with medical recommendations can sample their products.
Andrew Blap is a co-founder of the Northern Nights music festival and one of the central organizers behind the Tree Lounge. We caught up with Andrew amidst the busy lead-up to this year’s festival (held this weekend, July 14-16) to discuss the importance of removing stigmas and supporting local cannabis growers in a festival atmosphere.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Andrew. I know you are very busy getting everything ready for this event. Can you give us some background on Northern Nights and the Tree Lounge?
We started Northern Nights in 2013. The majority of our team is from the San Francisco Bay Area, and some of us used to to go Reggae On The River back in the day, which was at Cook’s Valley Campground where Northern Nights is now held. We had a passion for music and wanted to build a musical experience that was so much bigger than just the music, so we created Northern Nights in the redwood forest right along the Eel River, with electronic, hip-hop, funk, jam, soul, and alternative music. Little did we know that just a few years later, cannabis would be legal in California.
As we continued to build the festival and legalization came about, last year we had a Proposition 215 Tree Lounge. It was next to the main stage but somewhat closed off, and didn’t get the exposure that a lot of these farmers and independent cultivators really deserve. So this year we asked ourselves, “What if we were to bring the experience of music, the experience of festivals, and integrate it with cannabis in a more central way?”
So this year, we’re incorporating the cannabis community- the cultivators from Northern California, particularly the Emerald Triangle- and putting them in the main stage area so that we can normalize it a little bit more and bring credit to the small boutique artisanal brands that are out there. We have the technology and the team to execute it within all the regulations of a dispensary. Everything is still under Proposition 215, and all of the people who enter the area will need a medical recommendation from a licensed doctor. It’s all about showcasing and highlighting these local cannabis farms and brands, and also having music in the background so it brings you closer to what you might see with a beer garden or something like that.
Why is it particularly important to give a platform to smaller Emerald Triangle growers?
The Emerald Triangle refers to three counties in Northern California- Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity- that have for years been a haven for cannabis cultivation. There are so many talented, amazing growers out here that for years had to work in the shadows. For the growers and innovators around this medicine, they can now get the praise and the recognition that they deserve. They can actually come out and say “Hey, I grow weed, and here’s my brand.” In many states with medical marijuana legalization, you end up getting your medicine in a plastic bag or container, and you don’t know much about it or what’s in it. With small growers, and especially at Northern Nights in the Tree Lounge, you can actually interact with the cultivators and learn everything about what they produce.
Legalization has brought a lot of investment capital and investment bankers coming into the scene, which is great but also presents some challenges. From an overall perspective, it gives the small farmer more of an opportunity to be praised for their skillset, but there are still a lot of roadblocks with legalization and new laws. For the last 30 years, these growers have been burning their receipts and not telling anyone what they do, and now there are loads of laws and regulations that have to be strictly abided by. These growers are under the spotlight and competing against big corporate power. There’s massive growth popping up and huge amounts of capital that will make it difficult for small farms to compete.
With Northern Nights giving a platform for the Emerald Triangle growers to be celebrated, it’s important for us to offer this opportunity to incorporate music and cannabis in front of a new demographic that is coming from outside of the region. About 50% of our attendees come from the San Francisco Bay Area and are young working professionals, a big target market for cannabis producers. We are leveraging this unique access we have to the redwoods, the river, the cultivators, the musicians, and our audience to ‘bring the city to the country’ and highlight our region’s unique history with cannabis and the small farmers who are working to get their brands out.
We are grateful to Andrew for sharing his insights with us in this new paradigm of cannabis legality. To purchase tickets to Northern Nights and view their awesome lineup and other offerings, check out their website here.