Image courtesy of @divisuals
Throwing a music festival is a Herculean undertaking. So is throwing a cannabis event. But hosting a music festival and legal weed event combined into a massive three-day party in the Emerald Triangle is audacious. It straddles the border of Mendocino and Humboldt counties, meaning there are two sets of local laws the festival must abide by. But Northern Nights founders Andrew Blap, Matty 'World Famous' Roberts, Peter Huson, and Emily Wilson successfully executed it — amid a heatwave, no less — for the festival's 10th anniversary of live music in the Redwoods.
"I think we can continue to grow with the help of other brands such as Cvalt, Weedmaps, One Log, and everyone else who helped us compliantly bring in weed this year," Peter Huson said as we sat in a campground next to the main stage with the Northern Nights team.
Courtesy of @y.s.a
Aside from the fact you can buy and smoke weed legally at the festival, the best part of Northern Nights is that it remains DIY. It's among the remaining live music events that music imperialist Live Nation hasn't bought out. Northern Nights is still grimy in ways mainstream festivals could never. It has a soul of a rebellious teenager who paints their nails black, dyes green and purple streaks in their hair, and sneaks out of the house through a bathroom window to smoke weed from a kaleidoscopic steam roller with friends. The festival is the opposite of corporate, despite working with a few brand-name weed companies.
"There have been so many corporate cannabis brands that have fallen off," Blap said. "Our goal is to figure out a way through events to support the brands around us by giving them a new opportunity, and so we can incorporate cannabis more into the events industry."
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The Northern Nights team also curated a stellar representation of small, local businesses from the area, including wineries, breweries, and restaurants, to provide service to attendees. In many ways, the festival felt like a community effort.
“Every single facet of the festival and where we’re able, we want to support local [businesses] and present the best that Northern California has to offer. We even have Humboldt Bay Oysters fresh from the docks."
An area called the Tree Lounge was located at the center of the festival. Here, attendees could purchase flower, get stoned, do yoga, and chill. But, rather than obtaining a temporary dispensary license from the Department of Cannabis Control to facilitate cannabis sales and consumption — what most event producers do that work with cannabis — the Tree Lounge received delivery approval instead, changing the festival's dynamic from years prior and inching it ahead of competitors.
People reviewed a product menu using technology powered by Weedmaps. After choosing a product, they'd pay for it with cash or debit card, and within five minutes, the products were delivered. This streamlining made it drastically different than other festivals with on-site cannabis areas, most notably Grass Lands at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. (Side note, the Northern Nights team works with Outside Lands on Grass Lands, so perhaps things will be different in the coming years). The Tree Lounge wasn't segregated from the rest of the event with fencing, due to the workaround of a delivery license.
Courtesy of @divisuals
Local officials in the Emerald Triangle have been striving to bring tourism to the area, especially since the industry took a downturn at the end of 2021 when the wholesale price of cannabis plummeted. Northern Nights undoubtedly attracted thousands to Cooks Valley Campground. While most traveled domestically, I also met attendees from Sri Lanka and Australia.
“[Northern Nights] is definitely a tourist attraction,” said Matty World Famous, the talent booker, as we drove through the music festival on a golf cart. “Over the past several years, [local officials] have been incredibly supportive of bringing cannabis tourism to the area. It used to not be that way, so the support is a welcome shift for the community.”
“That’s the whole thing with starting Northern Nights,” Andrew Blap said. “We are bringing the next generation of people to Humboldt and Mendocino, and hopefully [bringing] tourism to the region as well, to meet the small farmer and get a feel for the cannabis industry here.”
Courtesy of @GucciPhoto
The success of this year's festival has unequivocally positioned it to grow and become an asset to the region. Just looking at the lineup (and even past years' lineups) and the cannabis brands the team worked with, Northern Nights is destined to become a renowned, three-day music destination that offers Emerald Triangle highs in a picturesque environment along the Eel River.
"Watching what's happened in this region over the past five years has been terribly sad," Matty said. "Whole city centers are vacant now. Hosting Northern Nights at a venue rich in music and cannabis history is an honor for us."