High Art: Weed-Themed Entertainment Is Popping Up All Over The Mile High City

It sparked to life so quickly, and with so much heat, that we're still making sense of it. But the numbers don't lie: Denver is a tightly packed pot community, and we're hitting it like there's no tomorrow.

That's a big deal for folks in the marijuana world – formerly forced to hide in the shadows and now legitimized through the exploding number of medical marijuana dispensaries (about 250 in Denver and over 400 in the state, according to WeedMaps.com) as well as voter-approved tolerance for recreational use.

And, increasingly, the Mile High City has the weed-themed entertainment to match, from song-and-dance shows (think glittering, tap-dancing pot leaves) to bawdy stand-up comedy, "Legalize it!" concerts and pot-themed conventions and festivals. Our alternative newsweekly, Westword, even boasts its own pot critic who has been featured on "The Daily Show."

"When they were making fun of (the job) on 'Jay Leno,' I was like, 'This is a big story and we're really at the forefront of something here," said the critic, known only as Will Breathes. "There was an airplane flying over the Widespread (Panic) show at Red Rocks last weekend that said 'Light It Up,' and it was a banner ad for a hydroponic grow store. It made me realize people are really embracing it as a mainstream thing."

But when the smoke clears, is it a good thing when our pot culture becomes pop culture, when the "high" in the Mile High City is the punch line of national jokes? Are we just cementing lazy stereotypes, or are we actually evolving our attitudes about marijuana?

Is the art of pot any good?

For the most part, Denver's pot culture still follows the tired cliches about forgetful, cotton-mouthed stoners and pot's exaggerated reputation as a psychedelic drug. Black- lit Zeppelin posters in the dorm room? Hippies and hog-leg-sized blunts? These things are as common today as ever.

But some argue that weed-themed culture doesn't have to make grand statements.

"My whole goal is just to provide entertainment of a fun, naughty bent," said burlesque veteran Reyna Von Vett, whose "Reefer Mania" show ended its month-long run Saturday at Crossroads Theater. "These songs have been around as long as pot has been around. When they were written pot was legal and alcohol wasn't."

For her show, Von Vett dug up forgotten jazz-age tunes such as "Reefer Man" and "When I Get Low, I Get High" and lightened them up with dancing cannabis.

The show got a mixed reception. Critical reviews complained of recycled themes, and Von Vett suffered uneven ticket sales. She chalked it up to peoples' tentative approach to drug-related entertainment.

But even she's not sure if it was artistically important. "If there was any statement to be made with it, it would be, 'Get over it, people,' " she said. "This has been around forever. My point was to be apolitical, but the time period I chose to do this show in has made it political."

A growing addiction

TV news reports like to trot out the fact that we have more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks in Denver these days (reportedly a 2-1 ratio earlier this year), but pot has long been a part of many people's laid-back lifestyles.

That's why we embrace comedians like Doug Benson and Arj Barker (the pair co-created the "Marijuana-Logues," a take-off of "The Vagina Monologues"). Benson even starred in the "Super Size Me"-inspired documentary "Super High Me," in which he spent 30 days sober and 30 days smoking massive amounts of pot. He then compared the results of various physical and mental tests to gauge differences (there weren't many).

"I thought a lot of people would be intrigued by the idea of it, but those same people would forget to watch it," quipped Benson, whose recent "Medical Marijuana Tour" visited Colorado and the 12 other states with medical marijuana laws at the time. "I'm just a comedian. I tell jokes. Some of them are about pot. Which makes me an accidental activist. The deadliest kind!"

Predictably, Benson talks about being high on stage – and it's readily apparent that he is during performances. At a recent stand-up set at Denver's Larimer Lounge, he lapsed into unintentional self-parody, forgetting lines and repeating jokes. The show felt more like a rally than a comedy set, with audience members cheering him on rather than actually laughing at his jokes.

Benson attracts a stoner crowd because he makes a point to talk about weed, but he's certainly not the first. The trailblazers of ganja humor are Cheech & Chong – who topped the charts with albums in the 1970s and '80s.

Of course, they weren't much like the characters they played, which gives their success a cynical, exploitative edge. "The characters we play are exactly the opposite of our real personalities," Richard "Cheech" Marin told The Denver Post in 2008.

The pair reunited in 2008 and decided to kick off their most recent national tour in – surprise, surprise – Boulder. A previous show at Denver's Paramount Theatre sold out, and they've planned a return visit to Colorado Springs' Pikes Peak Center on Oct. 15.

"Our audience has no particular ethnicity, social class or gender. We're like butter," Cheech said. "Everybody likes butter, right?"

Maybe, but with so much activity in the weed realm these days, it's also a smart marketing gimmick. The pair's Paramount show was packed with partiers. The show started with the tone of an irritating pro-pot rally, and the classic bits tended to fall flat. Then again, it's easy for '70s drug humor to sound out of date and surprisingly lowbrow when peddled by a couple of would-be retirees.

The Mile High City

Stoner-related entertainment has always had a built-in audience (picture the Doritos- munching couch-potato cliches) but the recent flurry of marijuana-related activity along the Front Range is slowly pushing pot into the mainstream.

"We're planning some kind of big event out there," said Dan Skye, executive editor of High Times, the 36-year-old journal of all things marijuana. High Times recently concluded the San Francisco version of its international Cannabis Cup competition, and Skye hinted it may be Denver's turn next.

"Every time I go out to Colorado I'm amazed," he said. "The whole industry is evolving and what we see today will change as people embrace cannabis more and more. We're only on the cusp."

On Aug. 21, Dick's Sporting Goods Park – home of the Mile High Music Festival – will host the Cannabis Festiva, with music from No 1 Left Standing, Statewide Emergency and other weed-friendly acts. Of course, outside of the planned pro-legalization speakers, the event seems an excuse for local bands to party under the weed banner.

A week after that, Equinox Theatre Company will open its own version of the "Reefer Madness" musical – based on the cult 1936 propaganda film – for a three- week run at Denver's Bug Theatre.

Marijuana-seed king and hemp-clothing purveyor Adam Dunn even relocated parts of his $3 million-per-year business from Amsterdam to Colorado four months ago to take advantage our burgeoning weed culture.

Dunn has the connections to seal Denver's budding reputation as a pot city. "Denver's now becoming what Amsterdam once was in the sense of a model city," he said. "It's like a beta city, a test market. I'd never been to Denver before and I'd been in Amsterdam since 1989, but I was amazed. I threw a few parties here and saw the kids were really relaxed and friendly, and pretty much everybody was smoking."

As Denver's marijuana culture starts to rival better-known pot cities such as Los Angeles and Vancouver, some think it's not a fluke. "Colorado has always had a reputation for cannabis connoisseurship prior to this, and then now with the laws loosening a bit they can really play that up," said Danny Danko, senior cultivation editor for High Times.

But when dispensaries sport names like Daddy Fat Sacks and Mr. Stinky's, don't we risk falling into the hokey stereotypes that have always been part of weed culture?

"It's time for a real, non-stereotypical face to be put on ganja – both medically and recreationally," said Westword's Breathes, who pointed to local chef Scott Durrah of 8 Rivers and Apothecary of Colorado as someone bucking stereotypes.

It's an optimistic goal, and pot smokers are ultimately a diffuse, diverse group. But as much as pot culture has grown lately in Denver, it hasn't come all that far from its bloodshot beginnings.

Then again, no ever said marijuana was a great motivator.

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: The Denver Post
Author: John Wenzel
Contact: The Denver Post
Copyright: 2010 The Denver Post
Website: High art: Weed-themed entertainment is popping up all over the Mile High City

* Thanks to MedicalNeed for submitting this article
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