We headed north to the redwoods for the latest installment of the original cannabis-friendly music festival, Northern Nights.
The festival’s geography plays a significant role in its place in the history of cannabis progress. The venue, Cook’s Campground, sits in the heart of the Emerald Triangle stretching across the county line separating Mendocino and Humboldt. In addition to all the fine local cannabis, attendees spend their weekend enjoying up-and-coming EDM acts across numerous stages, and floating on the river.
This past weekend we got the chance to sit down with many of Northern Nights’ co-founders as they celebrated the festival’s 10th anniversary, including Andrew Blap, Peter Huson, Matty “Worldfamous” Roberts and Emily Wilson.
The festival has long been associated with legal cannabis sales after hosting the state’s first at music festival in the wake of Prop 64’s implementation. Following Northern Nights’ lead, major festivals around the country jumped on board with the idea, including EDC Las Vegas and Dirtybird Campout. In past years, those sales were confined to specific areas — last year even featuring two stageside dispensaries and a main cannabis activation area. This year the entire cannabis footprint was integrated into the heart of the festival, a short walk from the mainstage under the shade of the region’s massive trees.
We asked the Northern Nights team what it was like pushing that further integration this year.
“I think the big thing in working in two counties is first and foremost the context of where you are putting things,” Huson told L.A. Weekly. “When it comes to the history of cannabis events here, it’s the local jurisdiction, you have to start there. Mendocino passed their ordinance and we could bring a couple of dispensaries into Mendo.”
But there was a lot of separation between those dispensaries.
“And ultimately, I think the premise of boundaries, aka fencing, has been a big thing in terms of limiting the number of sales,” Huson said of the caged-in areas. “I think the different places that we were putting the dispensaries if you wanted to get them, for example, all the way out to the river, it’s a lot of overhead.”
A big part for the team was making sure those local sponsors from the cannabis industry felt right. Huson notes there have been a few folks in the space doing these events for a while, but the brands taking part fund the progress to prove what can be done.
Matty Roberts added pushing boundaries is in line with the general ethos of the festival over the years.
“We’re booking cutting-edge shit, which makes our lineups very eclectic. We pick all this cool music because we’re kind of in a sweet spot. We’re not a big event. We don’t have a ton of money behind us, so we have to get scrappy and find a lot of new stuff.”
Roberts laughed, noting people look at the old posters from over the decade and act like the performers back in the day were bigger, but they didn’t actually know who a lot of those now big-name acts were when Northern Nights booked them.
“Now you look back, our lineup from eight years ago looks like a $2 million lineup,” Roberts said.
Roberts spoke of coming from the Midwest where a stem on your shirt would land you in jail. He’s thrilled to help facilitate a good time for a younger generation that never has to know those horrors.
Emily Wilson went on to speak that filling the void that Reggae on The River left in the hills is an honor.
“But there is a lot of responsibility as well. That means, we have to do the due diligence in finding new and up-and-coming music, working with local cannabis businesses and producers who have been working in the community a long time and supporting it through these transitions.”
Wilson argued sometimes that means bringing in both the little guys and the big guys. She said that is a responsibility you can see they take seriously across the festival with not just cannabis but local wineries and breweries, too.
“Every single facet that we can, and where we’re able, we want to support local and present the best that Northern California has to offer. We’ve got Humboldt Bay Oysters fresh from the docks,” Wilson said.
One of the things Wilson said she enjoys the most is those people that have stuck with them since year one. Through all the trials and tribulations of being a small independent festival and the learning curve that came with it, they kept coming back, and that meant a lot to her.
The actual cannabis section itself was really well done. As in years past, it provided a shady reprieve from the Northern California sun that hit 94 degrees Saturday in what felt like 1,000% humidity. One of my favorite parts of the festival was the morning sound bath in the cannabis zone. You would see people tiptoeing around all the people laid out, to get to the ATM for their weed money. Everyone was really respectful, but even then, the visual was hilarious.
This year’s switch to delivery was a good move. While it took five minutes longer, it allowed for the entire Northern Nights cannabis experience to be more streamlined than had there been fences everywhere to facilitate a temporary retail site.
The actual weed people were buying was no slouch. Some cannabis activations over the past couple of years have gotten a bit midsy. Sometimes you’d see these brands that can’t even get dispensary shelf space taking a lead at festivals — gross. Thankfully, Northern Nights did not have this problem. I would argue that The Lantz from Ridgeline Farms is the nicest weed for the price I’ve ever seen at any festival. Eighths were only $35! I bought seven over the weekend.
Hopefully, other festivals trying to get into the cannabis game will take note of how well Northern Nights did it.
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