Wes Watkins, center, and his band The Other Black performed at Lincoln's Road House Thursday night, April 10, 2014. Watkins and his back the Other Black plan on playing on 4/20 in Denver. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

4/20 in Denver: The rise of a new entertainment holiday

As Denver musician Wes Watkins booked springtime shows for his gospel-tinged band the Other Black, one date on the calendar took absolute priority.

“I decided that we had to play 4/20,” Watkins said of the stoner holiday known as 4/20, or April 20. “We played last 4/20 at 11 o’clock at night, and it was a laid back and silly show because everybody was so tired and stoned.

“This 4/20 we’re playing a brunch show at the Larimer Lounge because it’s also Easter. And like Easter, 4/20 is a date that speaks for itself.”

Especially in a Denver with nearly four months of legal recreational marijuana sales under its belt, 4/20 — the calendar equivalent to 4:20 p.m., the time pot smokers would historically toke up — does speak for itself. And it speaks in a language of music festivals, unseasonably early Red Rocks shows selling out a month in advance and themed concerts sponsored by the biggest marijuana companies in the state.

April 20 is now a full-on entertainment holiday in Colorado with promoters and entrepreneurs looking to capture a slice of the massive audiences in the same way they might on Halloween or New Year’s Eve — and music fans are the winners with a dizzying array of music throughout the city.

2014 events guide: There are a stunning number of happenings planned for the first 4/20 in Colorado’s recreational marijuana sales era.

“We’ve got the concert at the sculpture park, shows at Red Rocks and if you look at any of the band-oriented clubs and even the dance clubs they have a theme to their nights this weekend,” said Brian Kitts, spokesman for Denver Arts & Venues, the division of the city that manages venues like the Denver Performing Arts Complex and Red Rocks. “4/20 has become another way to market music.”

Just how in-the-know is Denver’s 4/20 with national trends? The current High Times magazine cover features Mount Kushmore, a Mount Rushmore-styled photo of Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill frontman B-Real and Method Man & Redman — “the four godfathers of weed culture,” said the magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Simunek. All four MCs are playing unrelated 4/20 shows in Colorado this year, and Snoop and Method & Red are each doubling up with two shows in one day.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Map: Colorado medical dispensaries and recreational marijuana centers

In the past week rappers Ice Cube and Too $hort, comedians Cheech & Chong and Andy Haynes and the actor who played McLovin in “Superbad” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) have played 4/20 shows in Denver. The list of those yet to play this weekend reads better than any New Year’s Eve lineup in recent Colorado history:

That list includes Snoop, Wiz Khalifa, Wyclef Jean, Slightly Stoopid, Matisyahu, Mac Miller, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Talib Kweli, Leftover Salmon, B.o.B., Method & Red, Julian Marley, Paper Diamond, Nappy Roots, Collie Buddz and Pato Banton.

It’s a lot of hip-hop, but rap music and weed culture have long walked hand-in-hand.

“The hip-hop community is where you’re seeing 4/20 thrive the most because it’s been a part of weed culture for a long time now,” said Robert Castro, founder and managing editor of Colorado-based music blog Ultra5280. “The weekend around 4/20 has become a hub, and (4/20) really started picking up steam in Colorado two or three years ago as all the dispensaries were taking root.”

More: How 4/20 is helping Colorado bands, and inspiring local entrepreneurs

This story was first published on DenverPost.com