Inside The Emerald Cup: Northern California’s Pot Competition


Photo: Jack Rikess
Pretty maidens all in a row: More than 140 outdoor organic strains were displayed in this glass showcase at the Emerald Cup

​By Jack Rikess

Toke of the Town

Northern California Correspondent

Tim Blake, organizer and host of the 2010 Emerald Cup, was reminding me with a huge lopsided grin, “It’s only Friday…this is just like a sound check, a rehearsal for tomorrow night. This is the pre-party party.” 
I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first Emerald Cup except what I read on the poster.
Besides the prestigious awards for first, second and third place for the best strain grown that season, there would be awards for things like the best joint rolled, guessing the number of roaches in the roach jar, highest CBD count, biggest stalk, and — much like rookie of the year — the best new strain.

It would be a two-day event not counting the judges’ dinner Thursday night that start the proceedings properly.
Tim has been telling me about it for months, actually since a few days after last year’s Sixth Annual Cup, when I first made contact with him for a report on the festivities for another periodical. At that time, he insisted I attend the 2010 Cup, their seventh, to get the full picture.
And here I was Friday night, after a week of on and off again rain, sneaker-deep in the big muddy. 

Photo: Jack Rikess
Two of the excited attendees at the Emerald Cup, Northern California’s premier cannabis competition

​​Already about three to four hundred people have trickled in since the gates opened at 2 p.m. The slight rains have made the driveway and on-grounds parking lots a little soupy. Most spots are starting to fill up with cars, trucks and RVs. The canvas is being stretched across the geodesic dome that will serve as the ‘215 Area’ by a bunch of good fellows, stopping every so often for a smoke break.
Folks are still busily setting up their booths and tables in the vendor tent in anticipation of the expected crowds of stoners who will have traveled from all points of the compass to attend the United States’ longest run cannabis cup competition. 
People, mostly men in brown mud-stained overalls or once colorful hemp pants now dulled by dirt, are humping equipment, tables and whatever else is needed for the daily operations of running Area 101 and turn it into party central to make room for the upcoming guests so no one person goes bump into the night.
I’ve been told in another 24 hours, there is going to be the biggest pot party I’ve ever seen and Tim wanted to be sure that each one of his attendees are safe and they have a great time.
Right now through the drizzle and the mist, it kind of looks like Deadwood meets Woodstock. Replace your immigrants and wide-eyed Easterners who headed West with dudes rocking long twisted dreads stuffed into wool caps or the floppy chimney-like hats you’d see out of Dr. Seuss, and you have the Emerald Cup.
​Workers, some paid, some volunteers, are smiling and hammering and erecting booths and stages as massive joints are being passed. From the speakers throughout the grounds, you can hear stage mangers test microphones, repeating constantly, “Check one, check one. So looow. So looow.”
And then asking some mysterious person in the shadows, “How we doin’?”
“After that last joint, man I’m doing great!!” The person in the shadows replies.
“The sound man, the sound. How’s the sound doin’ man?”
“We’re cool, man. Just havin’ some fun…”
Giggling to myself I enter Area 101, the main room. This is where the headliner stage is located.
Also this is where the glass showcase is displaying the over 140 strains that were entered for the competition. All strains were outdoor organic.
Next to that on the wall is a two-foot by 18-inch picture of an alien mothership descending on to Earth made entirely from the discolored resin-soaked paper from roaches.
Ed Rosenthal, who is being given the Lifetime Achievement award on Saturday, is being chatted up by a local who is overwhelmed by the fact that he is talking to “Ask Ed” in person and has a million questions about growing and cannabis in general for Rosenthal to answer. 
Another local, a grower, wonders if Ed would like to smoke a joint.
“Indoor or outdoor?” Rosenthal quickly inquires.
“When was it picked? If it was picked after August 15, I don’t want it. The UV rays drop considerably after that point that it isn’t really worth my time. I smoke only the best. Read my latest book. I talk all about it.”
The gentle grower offering the invitation of the joint just nods and slinks away.
I had to ask Ed, “Do you smoke indoor?”
“What about it not being organic and chemical free?”
“I don’t smoke it if it hurts me,” Rosenthal responds with complete stoner common sense.
“Are you a judge this year?” I wonder.
“I’m too stoned all the time to be an impartial judge,” the Guru of Ganja says seriously.
Then someone yelled dinner and some 400 of us were fed a vegan meal with salad and all the fixing’s that was pretty good. 
And still in the distance I could hear, “Check one, check one. How we doin’?”
For a Friday night and not knowing what to expect…not bad. Not bad at all.
I skip the 4:20 joint party — which I hear was spectacular — and didn’t arrive back for the second day until around 6 p.m. As luck would have it, I was able to get the last parking spot on the premises.
The Cup had various parking lots established about a mile and half down the road from where very nice people shuttled the Cannabis Nation to their own private vine tasting.
I started off in the 215 geodesic groovy dome. There were these nice guys with Mendocino County Aids Volunteer Network (MCAVN, pronounced ‘McCaven’) who were having a bake sale to bring awareness to what they do. Because of state and federal funds that were cut in the last year for them, they are left without a budget and resources needed for the work that they do.
Covering all of Mendocino County, they help HIV and Hep C patients get treatment, housing and education. Plus they run a needle-exchange program and have a once a year fund raiser in February. (For more info call Steve @ 707-462-1932.)
With that said, they also make an incredible Sativa energy bar…The foundation for any good evening. 
The music Friday was great. I don’t know if the bands were local or not, but they rocked. Three bands played Friday but I had left before the headliner went on at 1 a.m. (More about this later.) 
One of the bands from last night was on the main stage playing when I came entered the club. Some 40 or 50 people were swaying and bouncing to righteous rhythms and inhaling the blue oxygen.
Dr. Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, fresh from accepting High Times’ ‘Freedom Fighter of the Year’ award in Amsterdam, waded through the crowd to the VIP tent, talking and seeing old friends along the way.
Outside during one of the band breaks I spoke to another first time Cup goer, “Jim,” a neighbor who lives two miles down the road.
How’s it happen that this is your first time here and you only live a mile or so down the road
“I’m not much for competitions,” Jim says in that same slow, quiet draw that a lot of the locals share. “I’m here to see Lucas Nelson.”
I had asked Tim Blake earlier why he started the Emerald Cup. I know that it hasn’t been profitable so far.
“It was a way to give back, a tithing to the community. A chance for many of us to celebrate another successful harvest. Another season that the growers made it through intact. Also when we started this Cup seven years ago, we had no idea it would grow like this. And now, here’s another opportunity for us to come out of the shadows.”
I thought maybe this is why it was Jim’s first time.

Photo: Jack Rikess
Elton John and David Crosby? No, that’s a local Elton impersonator along with standup comic Bruce Baum.

​Around 8 p.m. the comedian Bruce Baum hit the stage. For a highly medicated group, Bruce killed with his frenzy, zany goofy humor. Many people walked in freaked out that a guy that they’ve seen on TV for so long was actually doing his shtick right there, 10 miles north of Laytonville.
Because of the similarity in appearance to almost being a Davis Crosby lookalike, many of the hippies might believed that they saw a third of CS and N doing a set that night. So bonus for them.
But the best was yet to come.
Okay, I can’t say enough about the amount of marijuana that was smoked. Anywhere you went there was joint or a glass pipe fuming like a Pittsburgh smokestack.
I will definitely state this: You couldn’t buy any weed if you tried.
I saw a guy who came in from Florida thinking he was going to be able to hook up with a grower. Fat chance. You actually had a better chance of someone giving you some, if they knew you or trusted your vibe. Some frat boys showed up expecting a dealer’s convention. That didn’t last too long. 
The conversations were about soil samples and nutrients. How to be more organic. And then, how to be even more organic. Farmers wearing t-shirts that read, ‘Shut Up and Trim’ or ‘Mendo Your Own Business,’ talked about how to raise the CBD count and lower the THC, curing problems and of course, how far the price has come down in the last few years.
It wasn’t that different from the country fairs I went to in my youth back in Minnesota, except instead of corn and wheat, it was cannabis.
One thing for sure, hash is the new black. Hash was all the rage.
Besides some of the more incredible strains that seemed that they were powered by NASA, the grower in the know was smoking the latest advancements in hash and hash oil.
Okay, so I want to make it clear, I was at a pot party if you will. That’s why the next part was so freaking cool.
“The road is like a river when you’re alone.”
~ Lucas Nelson

Photo: Jack Rikess
Lucas Nelson onstage at the Emerald Cup

​I was outside when Lucas Nelson and his band, Promise of The Real, took the stage. I came in to his second or third song. I knew people spoke glowingly of his set when played last night at one am. But seeing was believing.
I can’t imagine what it is like to be Willie Nelson’s kid at a pot party. His hand had to be hurting from all the shaking he was doing. 
“Hey man. Your dad is my hero.”
“Hey man, I grew up with your dad. He’s fucking awesome!”
“Hey man, can you set it up so me and your dad can get high together?”
Lucas Nelson is the best band I have seen in some years. It was amazing. It was even more so to see him and his band in a space no bigger than your average restaurant. 
He leaped higher than Pete Townsend; got lower in the blues than Albert King. It was like seeing the Allman Brothers in the old days when one jam led to another. The energy from Lucas on guitar and Corey on bass, and the other two guys, one on a drum kit, the other playing congas and other assorted percussion instruments, was incendiary. They pumped out so many jams for a small combo, it blew the tiny room away. 
There were shades of Neil Young and most notably, Danny Gatton’s pulsating guitar in Crazy Horse. For the first hour Lucas and the band played their own originals. At times, Lucas sounded like Neil, Bob Dylan, Gregg Allman and yes, his dad. 

Photo: Jack Rikess
Check out Lucas Nelson’s cool jacket.

​I learned that there is something about when one of the Nelson clan says the word, ‘angels.’ It’s like they should copyright the word. They own it. His phrasing was like his dad’s sometimes, and then it wasn’t it. I guess the kid can’t help it if his dad is Willie Nelson. But he is definitely his own person.
He closed his set first with a scorching “Down By The River” and then a very eerie bluesy “Dear Prudence” that took on a new life of its own. Finally a blues song that has it all. Ups and downs. At one point Lucas was laid out on stage, playing on his back, thumping the stage.
He rose like a magician to the audience’s stony delight. After his closing, it was like Willie who? Lucas was gracious enough to give me some of his time before his show.
Toke: How did you end up here at Area 101?
Lucas Nelson: I guess Tim called. We talked and I said yeah. I really like it up here. We’ve played up here like…I think this is our fifth time. The first here at Area 101, but we’ve been playing up here [in
Mendocino and Humboldt] for a while.
Toke: Have you played San Francisco?
Lucas: A little. Maybe twice. I’ll be doing four nights in January with my Dad at the Fillmore. We just finished an album with some Hank William’s songs, some Buddy Cannon songs, some of our own and are going out to tour together.
Had a great time recording the album in Nashville. Thinking about moving there.
Toke: Do you live in Austin? (I don’t know why I thought that)
Lucas: No, I live in Southern California. That’s why I’m thinking of moving. I live in Venice Beach. You pay big rent to live next to the ocean. I can’t afford it. Plus, Nashville has a great scene that I need to learn from and experience. I’m still learnin’. 
Toke: Will you be back next year at the Emerald Cup?
Lucas: If y’all will have us.
After Lucas’ blistering set, the Top 10 winners were announced.
If the grower was in the room, he or she would speak about the strain, the conditions, curing time, in that soft spoken, barely intelligible even with the microphone at 11, we the audience could barely hear. 
One special moment was when one of the growers who won I think second or third place, choked up reminding the folks who knew, that he had received the prize-winning seeds from a fellow farmer that had passed away a few months ago. That because of this weed, this strain, the gentleman that no longer was with us, was always going to be remembered by this honor.
It wasn’t a buzz-kill or a downer moment. In fact, it was what makes that area so special. It is very local up there. They don’t forget…
With that being said, at this press time, the statues for second and third place were missing. Foul play is suspected, but more information is needed. 
The first place trophy went to a grower who had just joined Area 101 sponsored collective, Mendocino Farmers Collective. One of the judges and hosts, Marv Levy, said he had to contain himself when the grower joined the collective because Marv knew that they had the winning strain. 
Once the Top 10 was announced, I believe that’s when the evening really began.
The Top Five Winners, Emerald Cup 2010    

5. Cheese To Please
4. Headband
3. In The Pines
2. The Cheese
1. Best Sour Shit Ever

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

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.