As 2019 is winding down, L.A. Weekly associate publisher of cannabis Michael Miller is reflecting on his favorite cannabis-related memories. Here, he delves into the intersection of artistry and cannabis at Grand Performances.
David Garza has a strong relationship with Grand Performances, both as an artist and as a resident of downtown Los Angeles. When he was invited back by L.A.’s decades-old concert curator, he knew he had to put together something special. “When I heard Grand Performances was switching from a summer concert series to a one-time street festival with a whole summer’s full of world class artists performing same day, I instantly thought of block parties. To me that meant music, food, drinks and a little smoking. At the least, I thought of hearing Legalize It, Sweet Leaf or songs that one might not even know were about cannabis.” Grand Performances Audacity of Sound world music street festival was free and open to all ages and took place in the historic Bunker Hill art and music district.
Garza began his set with a song most do not know has anything to do with cannabis, “La Cucaracha.” This song is so old that no one seems to know who wrote it or when. The lyrics have changed over the years. Garza chose the early-1900s Mexican Revolutionary War version, the lyrics from which are about a cockroach that can’t walk because it has no cannabis to smoke. Critically acclaimed singer-songwriters Gaby Moreno, La Marisoul (of La Santa Cecilia) and Martha Gonzalez assisted masterfully. Many of Garza’s friends took the stage for wildly exuberant versions of Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man,” and kazoo-accompanied versions of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Garza brought on stage comedian Margaret Cho, and together they substituted the lyrics for Chic’s “Le Freak” with a Cho ramble contrasting ’70s marijuana culture and today’s. Garza clearly was more interested in just singing cliche songs about cannabis. He wanted songs that “were like the plant, always there, and a part of our history.” Song selection ranged from obvious to unknown, silly to emotional. The cover of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels To be Me,” with it’s lyric “let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint, and turn the radio loud” was one of the many sing-along moments for the diverse audience consisting of young adults, retirees, and families.
Garza’s set was exactly what he envisioned: an afternoon of songs that shows the historical foundation that cannabis marijuana has had in our society. “Look, I’m a long haired Chicano, a rock & roll musician who’s been driving the highways, crossing state lines, going to shows for decades. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had my guitar cases opened by police looking for contraband. Meanwhile a top 40 station is playing “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth. Imagine that. Here is a song by a bunch of kids talking about going out for a walk, passing the dreadlocks camp and hearing the grown men say pass the dutchie, meaning pass the bong. Over and over again we have these songs, these moments when the whole country is singing about cannabis. From Cab Calloway to Cypress Hill, there are songs that resonate. I wanted to connect with an audience of all ages with varied musical tastes. Cannabis just happens to be sung about in all genres: pop, rock, country and hip-hop. In the end, they are all just beautiful songs.”