Seattle’s Hempfest and Denver’s 4/20 Rally have a lot in common. Both, for instance, claim to be the largest event of its kind. They also contribute to large amounts of marijuana smoke drifting into the sky. It’s not a fun day to be a bird in either city. While both festivals are rooted in activism, my first trip to the Emerald City uncovered quite a few substantial differences I wasn’t expecting.
1. People panhandling for herb: Being unabashedly asked for marijuana a couple dozen times, I was somewhat desensitized to the notion by the end of the weekend. Some of the signs were clever — “Help This Stoner Get Stonederer” — while one guy was downright aggressive with a Juggalo who refused to donate. It almost escalated to “unfortunate,” but cooler, stonederer heads prevailed. In my years of attending 4/20, I can think of a handful of times I might have been asked for weed. Usually it was just someone wanting to creep into a circle, though.
2. People straight-up selling pot everywhere: This kind of brought me back to my time in Italy, where walking through a park meant the occasional passerby would whisper “Hashish?” while making very direct eye contact. There were backpack deals aplenty both outside and inside Hempfest, with people posted up by the aquarium with coolers of edibles or bags of herb. As we were leaving on Saturday, one guy walked the line, stopping to yell “I KNOW one of you ain’t leavin’ without this Blue Dream.” Turns out he was right, as a bro in a neon tank took it off his hands seconds later. Denver is much more discreet: I’ve never actually witnessed a “buy” on 4/20.
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3. The absence of a true headliner: Civic Center is usually treated to someone on par with a Slightly Stoopid-level of entertainment, but whoever booked the bands for Hempfest went for quantity over quality. With six stages there was a lot of time to fill, but Lil Eazy E (the son of the late Eazy E whom I’d never heard of prior to the weekend) was their big main-stage guy. Huh? Gotta give this one to Denver 4/20, which trotted out Wyclef Jean and B.O.B. this year. For a fest they say takes $800,000 to put on, I’d spend some money on a name. Literally one name.
4. The speakers, though …: Every stage saw a litany of cannabis greats get up, talk pretty generically about cannabis, and then leave to tepid applause. I was one of them! Minus the “greats,” of course. Overall, you can tell activism is important to the organizers from the time and effort they put into the bookings. And the Rick Steves levels were off the charts for the Washington-based travel expert and drug reform advocate.
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5. There weren’t any shootings: I know, I know. What happened in 2013 was an isolated incident (hopefully). I’m such a fanboy of my home state’s festivities, I had to throw them a bone somewhere.
Five more differences between these two weed-centric events, including the crowds, the vibe and the weather.