Sonoma’s Emerald Cup festival reached new heights last weekend

Sonoma’s Emerald Cup festival reached new heights last weekend

Last weekend, we were lucky enough to attend the annual weed, music, and arts festival in Sonoma County.

Some highlights:

Willie Nelson earned the Lifetime Achievement Award
Margo Price unveiled a new strain of Willie’s Reserve (Willie Nelson’s branded cannabis)
Les Claypool joined Gogol Bordello on stage
Jay & Silent Bob announced their new movie

The Emerald Cup is the global standard in organic, outdoor cannabis competitions. Last weekend, the iconic festival turned fifteen. But it was the first Emerald Cup since California legalized recreational cannabis.

Crowds converged on the Sonoma Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California, despite the rainy weather. They cheered as Willie Nelson accepted the lifetime achievement award. (To further honor the legendary outlaw, the award was renamed. From now on, it will be known as the Willie Nelson Lifetime Acheivement Award.)

In keeping with Emerald Cup tradition, the festival kicked off with an opening ceremonly emceed by “Canna Claus.” The figurehead recited an indigenous peoples’ blessing. After a sound bowl meditation, people were encouraged to start lighting up. They didn’t really stop.

For the last 14 years, throwing this festival has been, for its organizers, relatively straightfoward. Attendees would simply celebrate the bountiful crops grown in Mendocino and Humbold Counties. But this year, thanks to legalization — and the ensuing state and local regulations — it became more complicated.

“Sometimes, I think it would’ve been easier to remain an outlaw,” says festival founder Tim Blake, speaking on stage at the Awards Ceremony. Attendees murmured in agreement. They knew the feeling.

California’s successful ballot initiative to legalize recreational pot has been, for some, a double-edged sword. Growers must worry about compliance now.
For those who can navigate the new regulatory framework, of course, there’s an enormous upside.

Zkittlez/Fieldz Extracts, a new California brand formed by a recent merger, earned top honors. Whoopi Goldberg’s Om Edibles brand gained attention as well.

Even as former outlaws turn to branding and corporate consolidation, this region retains a disctinctive flavor. Maybe it’s something in the soil. It’s the same land that produces some of the world’s best wine and food. Something here is inescapably, quintessentially California.

Despite the grumbling about new regulations and compliance, festival attendees seemed pro-business. They were eager to network with one another.

Meanwhile, in large tents, customers purchased product directly from the owners of some of the biggest and best cannabis brands in the world. The Emerald Cup also hosted panels and workshops. The expert speakers talked about soil nutrients and, naturally, regulatory compliance.

Maybe you came for the music and entertainment. At the Harvest Stage, cannabis-friendly comedian Doug Benson (Getting Doug with High) introduced Jay & Silent Bob, who announced they’ll be shooting a new film together. Meanwhile, they were recording a live edition of Kevin Smith’s podcast Smodcast. Teenage hip-hop sensation XIUHTEZCATL blew everyone’s minds, while OG artists like Charlie Tuna from Jurassic 5 brought the fire.

The Emerald Stage hosted reggae stars Nattali Rize and Mike Love. Later, energetic entertainers from Eastern Europe Gogol Bordello kicked their way into our hearts with a bombastic performance on the main stage. Les Claypool, a Humboldt local and the legendary bassist from Primus, came out to play a few songs, too. (Claypool has a new album coming out in February.)

On Sunday night, Willie Nelson protege Margo Price played almost every instrument on the stage. She covered Tom Petty and The Grateful Dead, and opened her tour bus for an interview about her new cannabis strain Pineapple Wonder. The strain was created under the umbrella of her touring partner Willie Nelson’s brand, Willie’s Reserve. On Sunday night, Big Gigantic stole the show, closing the weekend’s festivities.
Despite the miserable weather, attendees looked happy to be there. They were consumers, growers, scientists, and businesspeople. At The Emerald Cup, on its 15th anniversary, they found quality product, sustainable cultivation practices, and cutting edge innovation.

The vibe was one of professional chill. From the royal family of Tim Blake, Taylor Blake and Chad North, Spike Brant and Justin Collie of Nimblist, the amazing media team at Civilized, perennial judge Ngaio (maker of ‘Cooking on High’ on Netflix), Jim Lewi of Red Light Management, Swami — it was truly the people who made this an incredibly special event.

This event celebrates local history. It combines a love for soil, sun, plants, and local people. And it was the first Emerald Cup in a fully-legal California. For the Emerald Cup, the future looks bright.