Colorado Symphony Orchestra holds marijuana-friendly “Classically Cannabis” event


William Breathes

This past weekend, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra held a cannabis-friendly fundraiser that almost didn’t go off thanks to overzealous Denver city officials hell-bent on preventing people from smoking cannabis quasi-publically. The solution was to make the event invite-only, leaving all but about 250 people out in the dark (and rain/hail mix). The event was a success, raising more than $50,000 for the CSO, but more than that it did a great job of pointing out the absurdity of Colorado laws that keep otherwise legal pot smokers in the closet.
More below.

I can’t help but think about Friday night’s mash up of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the marijuana industry as a giant piece of performance art, though I know that wasn’t anyone’s intent.
On the surface, the idea behind the “Classically Cannabis” series — of which this was the first — was to bring two “cultures” together. They did accomplish that goal, even though I’m pretty sure marijuana and classical music have been combined plenty in the past. But even if a handful of the 250 cannabis-lovers in attendance truly opened their eyes classical music, that wasn’t the main outcome of the concert. What the event really did was point out how absurdly we’ve been treating cannabis since limited amounts of pot were legalized for adults 21 and up in 2012.
Take away the media attention and the controversy of the CSO linking up with a few cannabis businesses for a fundraiser, and what you had last night was a fine art event much like any other. Music was the focal point, of course, but the Space gallery also had some amazing artwork on display, from sculptures to photography to beautiful, wall-sized oil paintings and murals. People mingled and schmoozed. The open bar served drinks, and food trucks served up free meals around the back of the venue. Certainly it was a cool event on its own merits and likely not a huge departure from events the CSO normally holds.
Except, of course, for the pot. And there was plenty of that.

I parked a block away and started my walk over, and the clouds of smoke had already begun wafting south down Santa Fe. A few steps closer and I was overcome by the familiar smell of past High Times Cannabis Cup events — but this time, there was the sounds of a brass ensemble in the background instead of the boom-boom-bap of hip-hop. The Space gallery is a beautiful building that stands like a sharp glass and steel monolith on an otherwise-dreary stretch of Santa Fe. Smoking (and vaping) were allowed on the fenced-in patio wrapping around the venue. It was covered from public view by plastic sheeting.
Though I’m sure everyone there would have told you that they love classical music, it was pretty clear that most people were excited for the idea of the event more than the music itself. In that sense, it wasn’t really a concert. People didn’t sit down quietly for the five-piece brass chamber orchestra (except for one slightly stoned-looking, retired-age couple who plopped down on the floor in front of the band for the second set). Instead, the focus was on conversation, chiefly centered on the fact that the event was actually happening at all. There was also a lot of business schmoozing — there were plenty of dispensary owners, attorneys and other pot big-wigs mingling around outside, streaming trails of smoke from finger-sized joints.
As for the music: It was awesome, though I’m not going to pretend to be a classical music critic or have recognized many of the tunes, aside from a lone Beatles’ cover and the tail-end of Strauss’s famous “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” which the ensemble was wrapping up as I walked in at 8:45. Still, it was clear that the musicians were outstanding. I’m not hooked yet, but even I have to admit that standing before that much sound just a few minutes after toking a couple of grams of Triple Sour Diesel was among the more profound musical experiences I’ve had recently. My only critique would be the lack of Frank Zappa in the evening’s song choices. Despite Zappa’s anti-drug use stance in life, even one selection (“Peaches en Regalia,” maybe?) from his groundbreaking music would have been the perfect match for the evening.

I mostly hung back and didn’t chat with anyone other than a few reporters (we tend to gaggle together). I didn’t want to get locked into pot talk and really wanted to enjoy the event on its own merits. But I did get a second with Mason Tvert. He was excited to see people getting together to enjoy cannabis consumption outside of the stereotypical places, like rock concerts and Cannabis Cups. Still, the fact that this event was so novel is telling.
Tvert’s comments highlighted the bigger questions that the night really unintentionally addressed: Why isn’t this normal? Why has pot paranoia seemingly grown in Colorado since adults got the right to use it? Why has our state wasted so much time and energy restricting something that really isn’t a big deal? Finally: why did something so innocuous as a symphony event incur the ire of the City of Denver, simply because it allowed adults the right to use a substance that it otherwise legal to use? We have a choice here in Colorado, and frankly we aren’t making the right one.
If the CSO had just been serving alcohol, there wouldn’t have been anything newsworthy, because we’ve accepted that as normal. It’s time we start treating marijuana the same way. Who cares what legal substances people want to use to enjoy their lives? Let them use it. And let us focus more on the arts and community we’ve got around us, without these filters and distractions. The CSO cannabis concerts illustrate that point quite literally and should jump-start the conversation of loosening public consumption laws. Events like last night’s shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. They should be the norm.
(This story originally ran over at the Backbeat music blog.)