Seattle Hempfest All Weekend!

Draper Safety Team.jpg
Photo: Jack Rikess
By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent (From Seattle)
Seattle’s Hempfest opens today. For 20 years, political activists, social progressives, cannabis enthusiasts and the curious has been making the trek out to the Northwest’s longest running cannabis klatch. The festival occupies a twist of land that stretches on the East edge of the sound for a little better than a mile and half.  Really, just a hefty salmon toss down from Pike Place Market.
Expanding from two to three days, with a new Friday opening instead of the usual Saturday beginnings, from what I saw Thursday as the crews were setting up, it’s only getting bigger and better. For three days, there will be knowledgeable speakers talking about issues intrinsic to Washington State, plus non-stop music, great looking food booths and of course, about two hundred thousand attendees, looking for info, music, exotic munchies and a precipitous good time.

Being a veteran of a few of these festivals, as pot leaves are being glued to fences and outside shops and all things marijuana were being erected, I kinda wondered where the “Patient’s Tent” was going to be or as we say in California, the “215 Area.” That place where a festival goer can go when the cotton candy because too much and you’re looking for some cotton mouth now. Y’know, that place where we go to medicate. That place where the heads traditionally gather communally passing around the good Karma. You know, where we go to smoke.
That’s when I was told that there is no marijuana smoking at Hempfest. This may seem a little incongruous but this is also the reason the event has been able to exist for two decades operating during Republican administrations and now our own turncoat, President Obama. Operating a cannabis happening is at best a mountain climb with the uphill politics, a changing climate daily and with only your trusted guide to rely on, an overnight landside can stop you in your tracks.
Even this year’s Hempfest has to jump through hoops brought on by the City of Seattle, mostly a paperwork smokescreen intended on delaying the promoters from opening. But the Pot Gods favored the righteous, and here we are today.
Putting on an event of this nature must come fraught with hassles and unforeseen calamities. At the entrances and exits, rent-a-cops maintain security and control. The local Seattle’s finest, not the coffee, the cops, secure a position above the fray allowing the event’s own security to handle any interior occurrences.
When you think of rock concert security, the Hell’s Angels is what first pops in my head. Bearded fatso’s who favor pool cues as their means for communication. Or maybe ex-cops or old guys from World War II that ran security for hotels or corporations, now retired from that are in charge. I imagine pot-bellies, low slung pistols in a drooping holster, maybe a southern accent. Guys who are more comfortable working a state fair and now have been begrudgingly brought in to “work” with the hippies.
Two hundred thousand guests can be a handful to say the least. I had to meet who was in charge of the safety of the two hundred grand. I mean, the water right there! What could go wrong?
I walked over to the security tent. There was a kid out front with khaki shorts, security team t-shirt with a peaceful smile and a radio about to be keyed. Before he could get to his job, I interrupted him, asking if I could speak to who is in charge.
He said, “That be me.”
Really.
“Really.”
Meet Mitch Draper, the 24-year old, who’s in charge of yours and my good time.
My first question was, c’mon, Mitch, you’re the boss?
Then my ageism is snubbed out like Mexican swag.
“Well, this is my 10th year of working the festival. I started out doing this and that, but in the last years, I started with security, and now…I’m the boss.”
Right away his even keel demeanor tells you how partly he got this job. But there are details. So I asked Mitch my “burning” question.
What do you do about people smoking pot on the grounds?
“Most people are really cool and considerate. We give them a choice if they’re caught smoking on the Hempfest’s grounds. You can either dump out your stuff right now into this barrel that we bring to them, or we call in SPD.
The barrel?
“We have a huge barrel that we keep inside the perimeter. Once we catch someone and they choose the barrel. They dumped their stuff out and them before their eyes, we pour chlorine bleach all over everything.”
Is it mostly marijuana?
The 24-year old Army reservist went on, “We get acid, ecstasy, pills and other junk. But it all goes into the barrel.”
Just then some of the other members of the security team came out to where we were.
Not trying to be a smart ass, I asked these obvious older than 24 guys, what it was like to take orders from Mitch.
“So what’s it like being in security with Mitch? Taking orders from a kid?”
A big guy logging in at over a couple of bills corrected me right away. “We are the safety team; we don’t like being called security. That’s for the Seattle cops or TSA that handles some of our external posts. And that’s a stupid question. Mitch is great and a great boss. His age has nothing to do with his ability.”
Another gentleman, who looks like he could be your cousin William from Indiana, second the Big Guy’s opinion that Mitch is in control and sets the right tone for this kind of event.
All of Safety Team seems so mellow and youthfully exuberant that the three day festival may happen possibly with sun and not the expected rain, belittles the fact that Cousin Willy is actually ex-special forces and most of the rest of the team, even in their twenties
So guys, what does the Safety Team look out for. What are your biggest headaches?
Mitch said right away, “Distribution. People doing business or smoking or even giving some away. It’s all a no-no.”
Then comes the barrel?
Mitch nods his head yes. “There’s always someone who shows up thinking he can make some bucks selling here. Sorry, no.”
The Big Guy says crowds can be a challenged. “With this many people, some of them get a little crazy. We just do basic crowd control and it always seems to work out.”
One of the guys who hadn’t spoken yet said, “I hate the drunks. Even Seattle Police will tell you that they rather deal with the stoners at Hempfest. Their mellow and listen. The drunks are drunks. They want to fight or just cause trouble.”
Cousin Willy also mentioned dehydration. “Dehydration is a huge problem. People forget to drink water at these things. Got to stay hydrated. That goes for staff too. People working hard, we remind the staff to keep refreshing. We try to stay proactive.”
Any problems from past years stand out?
“We had a drunken naked guy swim out to the channel one year,” Mitch stated matter-of-factly. “We called the Coast Guard right away. They got him. He became their problem.”
At that point, my girlfriend, who I’ll call ‘Yoko,’ asked Mitch if the compound that the Safety Team is housed in, the Draper Compound. Is it named after you?”
Mitch answered humbly. “No, the compound is named after my Dad, Merle Draper. He was a long time cannabis activist in Washington before he passed.”
A second generation cannabis kid.
Mitch’s Dad is famous up here in these parts but Mitch didn’t expound and I didn’t pry. But I knew if he was my kid, I’d be sure as damn proud of him as I’m sure his father is.
While talking to them a call came on the radio about some street people on the outside of the gate harassing some people. I decided to tag along.
Four face-tattooed hobos, two inches away from the front main gate were smoking the ends of street-flatten cigarettes while trying to sell whatever they had on a blanket to the walkers going by.
Right away the hobos got their dandruff flying, accusing everyone but themselves that the others were the source of causing problems, not them.
Mitch and the Safety Team reasoned with them. Talked to them in low gentle tones. In five minutes they were gone.
Mitch and his guys are pros.
Have a great and safe Hempfest!

 
Photo: Jack Rikess

jack.jpeg
Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

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