TV, Books & Film
Twist Again: Chris Webby, Cannabis and a Career in Hip-HopRead More
by Samuel Farley, @thcsamuel
Christian Webster, better known as Chris Webby, is a rapper, environmentalist and cannabis enthusiast from Norwalk, Connecticut. At 28 years old, Webby has already gained a reputation in the world of hip-hop for witty lines, a passion for cannabis and a love for the environment.
Webby wrote his first raps as a sixth grader. It immediately called to him and he soon knew that it was something he wanted to pursue as a career. Not long after, in the eighth grade, he was first introduced to cannabis. Looking back, Webby says he believes it may have been too early for him to begin consuming the plant, contributing to his existing attention — a topic he broaches in his music. But for a teenage Webby, the ramifications weren’t as manifest, and he continued to partake. Eventually, after his second time getting busted, he made a stand with his parents who, despite being cannabis consumers themselves, disapproved of their teenage son’s usage. He told them that cannabis was something he cared deeply about, and that it would continue to be a part of his life. “I am an only child, so I had some leeway so I knew the penalty wouldn't be too severe,” says Webby with a grin.
His relationship with the plant continued through high school, spurring him to develop his entrepreneurial skill set. “I sold a little weed on the side and I worked at a Mexican restaurant, and people would hit me up and I would put weed in the chip bags and would slide them chips and salsa with their weed,” Webby recalls with a laugh.
Graduating from a stoned high schooler crafting raps and battling others at parties, he briefly attended Hofstra University in New York, but left at the age of 20 to pursue his rap career full time. Webby has been in the hip-hop arena for nearly 10 years. In that time, his relationship with cannabis has changed slightly. “I run an independent business, I have to be sharp. I use cannabis now, in my twenties, more as a reward system compared to when I was younger,” he says. “Weed is with me but I also treat it with respect and take what I have to get accomplished into consideration with my consumption. When there’s business to be done and phone calls to be made, I’ll save my smoke sessions for later in the day. When I’m in the studio it’s a different story though. That part of the job often benefits from a solid high, at least in my experience.”
“I’ve had experiences with the right strain. Sometimes I smoke weed in the studio and it puts rocket boosters on me and I work at a higher capacity. I think it’s deeper than indica and sativa and really the full combo of what is in a strain. I’ve loved AK-47 specifically since I was younger,” says Webby. Preferring sativa strains over heavy indica flowers, he admits he is still learning about the nuances of the plant, including terpenes and the new technology legal states have brought to the marketplace. “When you're raised out east, we know and hear the names and know about some of the strains, but it’s not something we are exposed to in terms of having real options. It’s always been what the dealer has, because it’s been the only option. I’ve become a lot more knowledgeable now that I can come to Colorado and California so frequently on tour, and I learn more and more each time but back home it’s still different. The fact that we have an option now in legal states, where we can ask the right questions. And now it’s to the point where you can pick and choose through flower, edibles, oils, pens, and that is an amazing thing. It redefines everything,” says Webby.
But while the legal market is something special, it’s not the only source of weed for Webby. In the course of cross-country tours multiple times a year, including to states that do not have legal cannabis, he often finds fans more than willing to provide him with cannabis. “Weed always finds a way. There’s good weed everywhere and my fans are awesome enough to bring it to me,” says Webby.
But at this point in his career Webby’s tours frequently bring him to legal adult-use states, like Colorado, where he spent 4/20 weekend and filmed his recent “Twist Again” music video with cannabis enthusiast The Dabbing Granny. “It was a crazy journey and it’s been gradual,” says Webby. A recent highlight was opening for Tech N9ne, one of the most successful independent rappers in the world, on a countrywide tour. He has also collaborated with Tech N9ne on songs and has worked with B-Real of the legendary rap group Cypress Hill. “People are starting to realize that it’s not easy to last this long in this industry and to maintain and stay relevant for this long,” mentions Webby. With a career spanning 13 projects and an outpouring of singles in 2017, he’s more excited for the future than ever before and pouring that energy into his current projects. “I wanted to reactivate my fan base, while at the same make music that will transcend beyond that and connect with new fans,” he says.
No matter how successful Webby may get, and how broad an audience he may reach, his passion for environmentalism still seeps into his music through songs such as “Stand Up“ and “Questionnaire”.
“I’ve been conscious and extremely zealous about environmental issues for my entire life. I've always felt connected to nature, it’s important. It’s the world we live in and other things live here too, there’s a way to live in harmony with nature and we just don't do it. I think we have a duty to leave the planet a little better than when we got here. Not everyone is a hip-hop artist and has this platform so that is kind of my superpower and that’s what I try to do. I linked with the organization 1% for The Planet, so moving forward I will be donating one percent of my income to environmental causes. Everyone can afford to care a little bit and I think it’s important,” says Webby. “Becoming a part of the environmentalist movement is really my calling and my platform is allowing me to get to a point where I can really do something about it. It’s always been the duty of musicians and people with a voice to use it for something other than their own personal gain. Of course I want the money, but at the same time, everyone has to stand for something.” ♦
The Legend of 420: Denver's Hollyweed Premiere EventRead More
photos and article by Ben Owens
Times are changing, especially in areas with legal cannabis. The world premiere of the documentary, “The Legend of 420” came to Colorado — affectionately referred to as #Hollyweed — on the last day of September, 2017. Produced and directed by Peter Spirer, the movie features stories from prominent cannabis activists and celebrities. Spirer, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary “Blood Ties,” showcases the changing views on cannabis through interviews with Tommy Chong, Melissa Etheridge, Michael Des Barres, “Bong Appetite” host Abdullah Saeed, activist Amy Dawn-Hilterbran, and many more. Millennium Grown hosted the premiere to an RSVP-only crowd at Denver’s Cultivated Synergy.
Attendees gathered outside begging around 4:20 p.m. and were greeted, ID’d and given wristbands that provided access to an on-site consumption bus, an empanada food truck, as well as the main event. The screening began a couple of hours later, giving guests a chance to meet and greet with many of the featured interviewees. Hosts Sean Savoy and Stevie Kaye dressed to impress, in cannabis attire fit for the formal “green carpet” event. The event was a definitive nod to the film industry and high class premieres with a Colorado cannabis twist. "It was such an incredible world premiere event. Truly, Denver is Hollyweed now,” Hilterbran remarked.
Following the screening at Cultivated Synergy, select guests were invited to a private afterparty at Herban Space, above the Herban Underground. There, they enjoyed conversation, a green room, and infused food and drink offerings. High Times cannabis chef Jarod Farina offered infused appetizers and small plates throughout the evening, including bruschetta with infused balsamic vinaigrette on toast, infused sweet and sour pineapple chicken bites, and infused teriyaki tri tip with pureed mashed potatoes served on crackers. Additionally, Andrew Mieure of Top Shelf Budtending crafted cannabis-infused mocktails such as the “canna caramel apple” drink, which is made by mixing organic apple cider, cinnamon, and caramel with Stillwater’s water-soluble Ripple THC, and features a rim coated in a caramel, brown sugar mixture and lightly accented by Moonshine Haze terpenes from 14er Boulder.
Thanks to the likes of Johnny Magar, professional joint roller, many in attendance were privileged to smoke a stack of $100 bills — or at least a lookalike stack of bills. Magar brought multiple creative rollings, including a gold-coated necktie blunt that he wore all evening. Hilterbran was very proud of everyone involved, including the people who attended the premiere. "Working with such amazing people ... it was absolutely a dream for me. But it was the 420 people watching that world premiere, surrounded by glitz, glam and the freedom to consume — cheering, sometimes crying ... I knew right then, we had accomplished something substantial. I couldn't be more proud, and certainly couldn't have done it without my team."
Another notable attendee, Bobby West, commonly known as Uncle Stoner from his videos and USA Squash Off competitions, was very impressed with the event and movie. "A legendary evening filled with cannabis education and friends ... I'm looking forward to part two,” West fondly summarized.
After a night of many laughs, ashtrays full of artistic blunts and joints, and plenty of dabs, the evening was a big success both for those involved as well as the cannabis community at large. Events like these showcase the professionalism and perseverance that are so prevalent in Colorado’s cannabis industry and the national cannabis industry at large. The documentary is a must-see and is available on iTunes and Amazon Video. Fire up your favorite cannabis device, and enjoy “The Legend of 420” with a few buds. ♦
Fluff, Fluff, Pass: Review of ‘Disjointed’Read More
by Amanda Pampuro
Don’t get me wrong, pizza rolls will always have a special place in my heart right next to the TV show “Recess” and tie-dyed 8-ball Pogs. If you’re a Denverite,you know what I’m talking about — the giant pizza rolls were screened on the commuter rail and RTD buses with slogans like “better when baked” and “it’s high time for pizza rolls.” I’m sure dozens of other “hip” frozen food companies are re-evaluating marketing strategies in other legal states as I write this, because those dumb stoned kids sure are suckers, right?
Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you one of the greatest challenges is fighting drug war era stereotypes that paint the cannabis consumer as a patchouli-scented couch potato incapable of feeding himself. In this vein, the first season of Netflix’s 2017 stoner comedy show “Disjointed” blows smoke and ogles the animals in the zoo.
Following the passage of Prop 64, “Disjointed” imagines what recreational cannabis will look like in California as lifelong activist Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) opens her own strip mall dispensary. The store is managed by Ruth’s son Travis (Aaron Moten) fresh from an MBA program and is populated by LA misfits. Playing the role of Mr. N.I.M.B.Y. is black-belt Tae-Kwon-Doug (Michael Trucco), and Tara Sands makes an appearance as an overtly desperate housewife.
In between strange encounters over the counter and awkwardly placed vlogs, the show addresses questions everyone in the industry is asking — what does it mean to sell out? How do you bridge generational gaps? How much is too much? How do you “come out” to a family member? Is there a middle ground for prohibitionists and stoners?
Instead of being the subject of contemplation however, these questions are mainly set ups for flat punch lines. When one considers the legacy of the show’s creator, sitcom king pin Chuck Lorre, it isn’t all that shocking that Disjointed is offensive in all the same ways as “The Big Bang Theory”.
The show isn’t an entire flop — just the live actions parts. Each episode features a psychedelic representation of a PTSD episode animated through the eyes of Carter (Tone Bell), a veteran suffering the condition. According to Stash Media, Dave Hughes, creator of Adult Swim’s “Off the Air,” gathered a dozen different animators to create ten pieces of visual mastery. In one scene, Carter has a flashback as he opens the fridge and ends up imagining stop motion bacon and eggs battle over a chocolate cake. In another episode, Carter’s psychologist asks him how he’s been doing, and the screen dissolves into visions of all the things he is unable to put into words.
The generation of legal weed needs its own manifesto to stand by, but “Disjointed” is not it. It is far away from the freedom of “On the Road” (1957) and too campy to be “Fear and Loathing” (1971). It lacks the simplicity of “Dude Where’s My Car” (2000), and the coming of age honesty of “Dazed and Confused” (1993). Even “Wilfred” (2014) managed to incorporate cannabis as a central component without letting it overpower the plot.
If “Disjointed” ran on cable TV, the laugh track and cut scenes would be status quo, but because it came with that red and white stamp, I had pretty high expectations. Between “Orange is the New Black” (2013-present) and “Making a Murderer” (2015), Netflix has proven it can produce content that is equal parts entertaining and critical of the institutions it examines. Unfortunately, “Disjointed” is an exception to the rule. Instead of satisfying my hunger for honest content portraying the highs and lows of a budding industry, the series burnt my palate like a plate of pizza rolls eaten too soon out of the microwave. ♦
I Survived ARISE Music FestivalRead More
by Evan Hundhausen
The Arise Music Festival is in its fifth year. Held at the Sunrise Ranch conference and retreat center at the base of foothills in Loveland, Arise is an independent three-day music, yoga and co-creative camping festival featuring activism, musical artists, provocative films, dynamic speakers, art installations, yoga classes, workshops, performance art, and even an art gallery.
I arrived on a Friday in an attempt to avoid the Thursday night (The Early Camping Upgrade) downpour. I played around with the poles on my $34.99 Walmart dome tent before realizing this might just be a two-man job. Since I showed up by myself, meeting a friend later, I asked a neighbor if he could help me. He was nice enough to give me a hand and we got my tent upright when the worst rainstorm all weekend started.
"You'll need to weigh it down," said Rick, the nice man who helped me set up my tent, so I instinctively laid down inside of it with my arms and legs spread like "The Vitruvian Man" as the storm raged outside. A tent behind mine was flung into a ditch as the wind whipped.
After that experience, I was ready to check out what Arise was all about. It was my first time and I was way f-ing curious!
The NoCo Hemp Village
This year you could visit the NoCo Hemp Village sponsored by the NoCo Hemp Expo.
The village included hemp companies like, Colorado Hemp Company, Tree Free Hemp, EnerHealth, Pure Hemp Botanicals, H.O.P.E. Manufacturing, Nature's Root, Straight Hemp, The Anti-Soap, Left Hand Hemp, and Freida Farms.
Zane Kunau from Freida Farms was there selling gear, like a grinder made from hemp and his CBD salves, oils, and isolates.
I asked Zane how he handled the rainstorm on Friday, which dampened the festival just a bit.
"The rain storm came in like a thunder of stallions," he said. "Almost took our tents away. We had to step on all our tents. Then the lightning started. They told us we had to go to our cars. We had to pack up and go. It was havoc and as quick as it came, it went. Thirty minutes later we were back out. Looked like a tornado hit our stuff though, for real! Our stuff was just all over."
The art of Android Jones and Phil Lewis were highlighted at the festival’s official entrance. Two intimidating, colorful towers covered in their art stood outside the main camping and parking area. Android Jones had some of his digital art videos playing.
Inside the festival there were tents with crafts, art prints and fashionable clothing to check out. Some featured $100 tapestries of original art, which was one of the hipper items I saw for sale.
Vincent Gordon and his tent caught my eye. A local "Pop" artist, his work is reminiscent of famous television cartoons with grotesque imagery, similar to that of artist R. Crumb.
There were a few great exhibits that can only be seen to be believed, such as a giant tree with stringy fabric falling from the top creating a sort of maze for attendees to walk through.
Many artists were out on the grass painting murals and on canvases with their easels. They painted through the night, inspired by the musical acts. This was a really interesting part of the festival and way fun to observe.
There was also a large "art gallery" with prints and paintings for sale, creating a fun museum to walk through.
Beats Antique, Lettuce, Atmosphere and Ani DiFranco were just some of the highlights of this year’s musical acts. Performances started around noon and ended at 2 a.m. so you could get some rest for the next day.
Brasstracks was a personal highlight — a funky act made up of Ivan Jackson and Conor Rayne. Ivan mixed electronic music on a laptop and played trumpet while Conor played live on a drum set.
Dirtwire was another performance I enjoyed. Described as a "rebirth of Americana music," the band uses traditional instruments, world percussion and electronic beats, as well as more eclectic instruments like the thumb piano, mouth harp, and the saz.
Tipper played on the Main Stage Saturday night, accompanied by the digital videos of Android Jones. Otherwise, you could be dazzled by fire dancers.
Radio DJ Buddha Bomb, who you can hear regularly on KGNU 88.5 FM, played at all five Arise Music Festivals over the years, and about this year's Arise he said, "It was the most scintillating and the most grounded Arise festival yet."
The StarWater Stage
The StarWater Stage and tent was one of the best places to go during the deluge. It was an extravagant setup with a cozy cafe/coffee shop offering coffee, mate tea and other drinks, as well as a large music stage with constant musical acts and performances next door. During the first night I got some broth in a packet with hot water and drank it in a paper coffee cup. It was a great thing to have on the cold and rainy first night.
For the kids
The Rainbow Lightning Children's Village entertained kids all day long with music and kid friendly entertainment.
Taylor Martin had a vision and saw a need for a children's village at festivals like Arise.
Rob Treaphort, Taylor's boyfriend and partner, does the technical side at Rainbow Lightning, setting up big speakers and a stage where all kinds of musical acts perform strictly to entertain the kids. Rob is also a conscious DJ and producer, and played at the StarWater Stage Tent during the weekend.
"Parents were getting all fucked up and losing their kids and there was no place for any of the kids to go," Rob explained to me. "We're here as a place for parents to interact with their kids in a festival type setting."
In the future, the Rainbow Lightening Children's Village will also be at the Shamanic Boom in Wyoming, the Jumpsuit Family Gathering and Unify Fest in New Mexico.
The biggest and most popular tent by far was the Yoga Sanctuary. Every day you could see the crowd that formed up on the hill from the farthest reaches of the Arise camps.
Hundreds of people crowded the tent, all performing yoga poses led by world-renowned yoga instructors.
One of the most interesting exercises was a laughing exercise in which participants lay down resting their head on someone else's belly. When you feel the other person laughing, their twitching stomach muscles — let's just say it was contagious!
Throughout the festival, world thought leaders, artists and activists discussed a wide range of topics in the Big Sunrise Dome, which is Sunrise Ranch's spacious, air-conditioned, dome theater. The dome also featured music, storytelling sessions and film
The food trucks at Arise were extra special, providing all sorts of dishes from vegan dishes to Greek gyros to fried raviolis. There was nothing better than getting a New York style pizza slice with pepperoni at 2 a.m. I bought a homemade organic lemon, lavender and ginger popsicle. Try to imagine a refreshing ice cold dessert like that in your mouth on a hot day at Arise.
Finding your friends
On Saturday I caught up with friend and artist Sofia Bogdanovich. She camped near the RV site and we met her nice neighbors from Omaha who let us sit under their awning as it started to rain.
Under the awning we pulled out her canvases and started collaborating on a painting. When the rain finally cleared up there was a double rainbow across the cliffs of Sunrise Ranch.
The smell of patchouli and porta-potties
It seemed like every time I had to "go," a truck drove up and started cleaning the portable bathrooms. They did a thorough job sanitizing them and getting rid of any foul smells.
There was also a shower area where you could pay for a shower like you were at a bathhouse. For VIPs, there was a private shower, which was next to a small sauna, hot tub and a freezing swimming pool that was perfect for cooling off during the hot days or between rainstorms.
If you go next year
It’s easy to get sore walking around Arise, so make sure you’re prepared for some meandering. Make sure you’re prepared for temperamental Colorado weather, and be prepared to share the festival with revelers of all ages.
There are a lot of couples getting romantic, no doubt, but there are lots of single people, and you should not shy away from the festival because you don't have a date. People are friendly when you talk to them and you can have plenty of fun there.
Thievery Corporation has been announced as next year’s headliners, so remember to buy your tickets early, plus early birds will get them on the cheap. ♦
To learn all about the Arise Music Festival, check out arisefestival.com.
Morning Teleportation: Spacey, Psychedelic Music for Your Inner Circus PerformerRead More
by Amanda Pampuro
Love road trips? Try being on tour. After a few hours sleep in LA, the members of Morning Teleportation hightailed it to the next stop on their summer tour with Modest Mouse — Denver, Colorado. At dusk, hustlers outside the Fillmore on Colfax set the price on the last tickets to the sold out show as fans lined up around the block.
After sound check, Tiger Merritt sucked his cigarettes down to the filter, while keyboardist Travis Goodwin, drummer Joseph Jones, and bassist Tyler Osmond finalized the guest list. Security had just kicked out their old touring-buddy Brage, and Travis was trying to remember his real name.
“It’s Tony,” Tiger offered.
“Can’t we just put Tony Brage?”
After spending the last year in Isaac Brock’s Studio 360 in Portland, Oregon, the guys are stoked to be back on the road with “Salivating for Symbiosis,” a ten-track slice of the rock quad’s wide repertoire. With a sound that is as full as it is full of surprises, Morning Teleportation shifts from galactic, spacey orchestrations to the light whimsical sounds of a circus sideshow. Linked by the echo of electronica and Merritt’s metaphors, the album contains a wide spectrum of psychedelic-indy, beginning with the folksy picking of “Rise and Fall,” building up to the epic arena noise of “Rocks Gears Desert Trucking,” and settling back into the jazzy and melodic instrumental “A Cell Divides.”
Instead of saying “baby, don’t go,” on “Escalate,” Merritt calls out over a bubbly orchestra of echoing synthesizer and ghostly steel drum, “I don’t want you to evaporate.”
While some songs take as long to play as they do to write, Merritt and Goodwin estimate they have been writing “Escalate” for the last seven years.
“That idea had been floating around for a while. Every now and then we’d go back to it,” Merritt said. “The guitar part traveled a lot through the years and it wound up as a track; it’s kind of like whatever sticks in the brain like that and stays for a second, you revisit it. Some melodies will stay around for a little bit.”
“We had so many versions of that,” Goodwin reminisced. “We had this really cool version, that I remember was my favorite besides the record version: My dad’s old drum machine is called Ernie Yokomoto, and me and Tiger worked on it in my brother’s room one night. My dad used this analog drum machine probably for 25 years in the lounge sets that he does.”
Travis Goodwin’s brother Aaron also tours with the group. “He’s the fifth member of the band. The lights are his instrument,” said Travis.
Much of the time, when Merritt is writing music, he said he compiles together various sounds with memories. While he estimates three-quarters of the song writing process is done under the creative influence of cannabis, he doesn’t quite know which parts.
“Different sections of lyrics represent to me different moments of time, and each line kind of triggers a memory. So each section of a song triggers memories of something else. Some of those moments are stoned moments,” he said. “Sometimes smoking helps with focus, sometimes it doesn’t, but it just puts me in a better place.”
After the tour, Merritt will return to the studio he built in Franklin, Kentucky. A former rubber band factory, surrounded by cornfields, he calls the place “The Country.” In addition to Morning Teleportation, the studio is frequented by members of Cage the Elephant as well as Waylon Baxter and Buddy Ray.
Asked about where he wants to be, Merritt said without pause, “Right here’s good. Hanging with these guys, being on the road, getting to play music and putting on some great shows.” ♦
TUMBLIN’ DOWN: The weed-scented history of Colorado’s obscure, early-’70s record label, Tumbleweed RecordsRead More
By Gregory Daurer
The Denver record label that hardly anyone remembers – or has ever even heard of – is getting some love.
A Tumbleweed Records compilation called “Sing It High, Sing It Low” has been released by the noted reissue label, Light In The Attic Records. Mojo – the elegant and tasteful music magazine out of England – gave the project its top rating of four stars. The new album/CD/digital download has shined a spotlight onto a forgotten musical history.
The story of Tumbleweed Records involves a multi-million dollar record deal, one of the most respected names in music production in the ‘70s (who would go on to produce the Eagles’ multi-platinum selling album “Hotel California”), and an eclectic roster of musicians playing everything from quasi-jazz and country rock to psychedelic folk and R&B. Nine albums were released by the label, which only existed from 1971-1973. According to some, it wasn’t so much the-record-label-that-couldn’t as the-record-label-that-wasn’t-allowed-to by its parent company overseers.
But now, thanks to Light In The Attic’s compilation, artists who were overlooked when their music was first released are being re-evaluated – and their highs (some very cannabis-accented ones, at that) and lows are being sung.
“So sing it high, sing it low/Which way would you like to go?...High, low, high...” – “Sunday Sherry” by Arthur Gee.
Tumbleweed Records began in 1971, after two record music vets Larry Ray, 31, and Bill Szymczyk, 28, arrived in Denver. The region had been gaining an increasing reputation as a place for musicians to relocate to. Szymczyk says “the vibe was very, very open” in the city back then, noting the area’s “undercurrent of musicality” – which some have likened to a pared-down version of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon scene.
Ray, who had spent time in Denver growing up, was burning to base a brand-new venture there, likely desiring his own hits with Tumbleweed like his previous employers, Elektra and A&M, had achieved with The Doors, Joe Cocker, and Cat Stevens.
But Szymczyk – who’d had some success producing B.B. King’s hit “The Thrill Is Gone” and the James Gang (featuring guitarist Joe Walsh, who would become a longtime collaborator) – ultimately had a terrifying wake-up call which caused him to join Ray in Denver: the deadly San Fernando Valley earthquake in California, in February 1971, scared him into moving his family out of harm’s way.
Through entrepreneurial hustle, Ray negotiated a multi-million dollar deal with Gulf + Western – one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, and the owners of Paramount Pictures – and Tumbleweed Records was soon in business. Things were looking up for the brand-new label, which featured the image of a tumbleweed on its records (a tumblin’ tumbleweed, in fact, when spinning on a turntable).
For their offices, they rented a house at 1368 Gilpin Street (a fact noted on the back of each release) situated near Cheesman Park. Robb Kunkel, who brought several acts to Ray and Szymczyk’s attention before eventually recording his own album “Abyss” for the label, lived upstairs; Kunkel sometimes wheeled his upright piano out onto the deck situated above the house’s porch, filling Gilpin Street with song.
Commander-in-chief Ray had his own office there. So did the label’s radio man, Bob Ruttenberg, doing the all-important promotional outreach to the era’s still-revolutionary band of FM DJs. Tumbleweed had two secretaries and an art department in the basement. Soon enough, the label had a string of albums ready to be released – most of which were recorded elsewhere, often in Los Angeles.
According to promo man Ruttenberg, the Tumbleweed Records crew was considered “radical hippies” by the industry – and not just because of their toking, but also due to their approach to business. Ray has said that Tumbleweed Records set out to equitably share royalties with its acts; not keeping two sets of accounting books like other labels did to screw over their musicians. (Never mind that ultimately there was very little in royalties to ever share.)
Tumbleweed’s label-mates shared their weed as well. “Everyone was smoking,” recalls the intelligently-quirky songwriter Pete McCabe, who would show up at the Gilpin Street house to pick up an advance check for his upcoming album and then spend part of it on that week’s blonde hash. Once, McCabe was visiting Arthur Gee, a Canadian who was Tumbleweed’s resident hippie/cosmic cowboy. Gee told McCabe, “I’m out of pot, but I did spill some hash oil on this sweatshirt.” They cut up that sticky part of Gee’s shirt and began smoking it, according to McCabe.
Ruttenberg also shared his weed with radio DJs. It was a way of seeking airplay, as much as it was a fun way to travel and hang out. Ruttenberg says, “All the FM DJs loved getting stoned – and I loved getting them stoned. And that’s one of the ways I presented myself: as Tumbleweed’s stoner... Let’s get stoned and listen to the new Michael Stanley record. Let’s get stoned and listen to Albert Collins and Dewey Terry.”
Notoriously, Ruttenberg was arrested in Seattle with six ounces in his possession after having to unexpectedly pass through an airport metal detector (which perhaps came into greater use as a result of D.B. Cooper hijacking a plane in the Pacific Northwest in 1971). The metal-detector alerted authorities due to the recording equipment Ruttenberg was carrying, and his contraband was quickly discovered.
Ruttenberg told airport security, “Listen, man. This is my personal stash. It means nothing to you. It’s not going to hurt anybody. I’m just going around the country, taking care of business. Why don’t you put the bag back in the suitcase and let me go Eugene, Oregon to see my friend who’s waiting for me at the gate?”
After a short spell in jail and ultimately five thousand dollars in legal fees, charges were dismissed due to an improper search and Ruttenberg was a free man.
But even though its promo man was able to get out of jail, the label couldn’t achieve breakout success.
Tumbleweed’s highest charting record was a single by Danny Holien called “Colorado.” It hit number 66 on Billboard Magazine’s charts in October 1972. Whereas John Denver’s 1972 single “Rocky Mountain High” (released after Holien’s) celebrated the natural wonder of the state, Holien’s song explored a dystopian vision, an early take on the “Californication” of Colorado. It has a martial, fife and drum-like quality to it, a deeply-expressed passion for how wilderness would be overrun by development one day.
“Colorado, Colorado, beautiful place that you are/Feel the sorrow of tomorrow, before you go very far/Listen to the calling of the wilderness crying for a human soul to feel.” – “Colorado” by Danny Holien.
The song incorporates what Pulitzer Prize-winning zen Beat poet Gary Snyder has termed a “moral sense of the nonhuman world.” In other words, given its subject matter and keen production, it’s a stunning-sounding bummer.
Holien wasn’t the only act brought to Tumbleweed by Kunkel. Also brought into the fold was Dewey Terry, who had been recording music since the 1950s as part of the soul and doo-wop act Don and Dewey. With his partner Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Terry had written and recorded seriously-grooving songs like “Big Boy Pete” and “Farmer John” (which has been covered, over the years, by The Premieres, Neil Young, and The White Stripes). Don and Dewey toured alongside Little Richard (featuring Jimi Hendrix) and even met the Beatles.
“He was one of the funkiest dudes ever,” Szymczyk says of Terry.
Terry’s howling vocals on the song “Do On My Feet (What I Did On The Street)” call to mind the Don and Dewey ‘50s raver “Justine.” It’s Tumbleweed’s funkiest, James Brown-like moment. Then, on “Sweet as Spring,” Terry delivers a tender, country-esque, string-accented number. The two songs, which sound as if they had been recorded by totally separate acts, both appear on 2017’s Light In The Attic release, as well as Terry’s Tumbleweed record “Chief.” Holien and Kunkel were both a part of Terry’s backup band, the Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings – as all-white as a snow-capped Colorado peak. (Kunkel has written about how, prior to Tumbleweed starting, he was dragged to Denver’s Five Points neighborhood by Terry so he could share his Thai-stick weed with a fellow soul brother at the “Bucket of Blood” bar and demanded that Kunkel take to the stage and jam on guitar for the all-black audience.)
Kunkel also heard brilliance in Denver native Pete McCabe, who rightly calls some of the lyrics on his recording “The Man Who Ate The Plant” “fantastical.” In McCabe’s song “Magic Box,” a seemingly whimsical story about a drunken magician turns into a tale of existential horror: in his act, the magician really does make volunteers from the audience disappear forever, and he laments over how so many people are eager not to exist. To close its reissue disc, Light In The Attic includes McCabe’s “Late Letter” – an ode to movie star Marilyn Monroe told by an admirer whose needy fan letter belatedly arrives after the late Monroe has already taken too many sleeping pills. Szymczyk remembers McCabe as an “eccentric singer-songwriter” and says, “I also always loved the Pete McCabe [record], because that is such an oddball.”
During the recording of “The Man Who Ate the Plant,” Szymczyk says it was “cool as hell” to put the anxious, tenor banjo-plunking McCabe – who’d only played solo before – in a room with 20 accomplished musicians. As for the studio environment itself, McCabe recalls, “Bill told me, ‘Okay, when these string players come in, we put the pot away. But for the horn players, it’s okay, we can smoke.’”
Szymczyk also produced bluesman Albert Collins for Tumbleweed. Collins’ guitar-string bends can wrench one’s guts, while the backing horns add their own “Yeah, ain’t life a bitch?” emphasis. (Collins’ song “There’s Gotta Be A Change” – the title of his Tumbleweed album – is included on his “Best Of” album, but not on Light In The Attic’s compilation, due to issues with acquiring the rights.)
However, if Collins had been hoping to have a hit like Szymczyk had crafted for B.B. King with “The Thrill is Gone”(which reached the 15 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970), the lack of chart success was something that Collins could have written a blues song about. Regardless, the Texan is remembered as a powerful performer by Gee: “He played his guitar and he’d walk into the crowd. That was one of his signatures. He was a fabulous blues guitar player. Very creative.”
Besides producing Collins, Szymczyk also brought Michael Stanley to Tumbleweed. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame presently cites Stanley’s woeful “Denver Rain” as one of the greatest songs ever written about Colorado.
“Maybe it’s back to the mountains/Back to my place in the hills/Hoping that maybe she’ll tell me/Denver rain never will.” – “Denver Rain” by Michael Stanley.
Stanley came to Szymczyk’s attention when he was playing in a Cleveland band called Silk, back when Stanley was still known by his original last name, Gee. That surname proved problematic when he was about to be signed to Tumbleweed. Szymczyk told Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer newspaper, “When I finished Michael’s album we played it for Larry [Ray], surrounded by a cloud of fine Colorado weed, (mostly mine).” Ray was “floored” by the music – which included musicians like Todd Rundgren and Joe Walsh – but there was a problem: the label already had a Gee –
Arthur Gee – as part of its roster. In that shroud of cannabis smoke, Michael Gee ultimately changed out his last name for his middle name, Stanley.
The other Gee – Arthur – was the only Tumbleweed artist to have two albums released by the label. Gee comes off as a troubadour of inner-space and outer-geographies, doing what he’s called his “hippie, wandering-minstrel type thing.” While his first album was released under his own name, his second included a band which Tumbleweed took the liberty of naming the Arthur Gee-Whizz Band. “I was sort of shaking my head about that for a while,” says Gee, who ultimately rolled with the decision.
Gee recalls of the era, “It was an exciting time musically, because there was a lot of experimenting going on, back then, with music and electronic instruments and stuff like that.”
Although the music was sometimes experimental, the Tumbleweed business experiment didn’t prove sustainable in the long run. There were constant rifts between Tumbleweed and its parent entities – Gulf + Western and its music distributor, Famous Music – which controlled the label’s destiny. Szymczyk and Ruttenberg both maintain that Tumbleweed’s records received decent airplay, but weren’t given proper distribution in retail stores for stoned heads to buy. “In retrospect, we were nothing but a tax write-off,” says Szymczyk. Ruttenberg adds, “We were up against a brick wall with Famous Music. They didn’t do shit for us...We were like a bunch of freaks to them. We were hippies in Colorado, trying to make something happen.”
Until the label wasn’t happening anymore, at all, that is.
Gee, just back from a tour in 1973, discovered that Tumbleweed Records had ended when he paid a call to the label’s office. It had been abandoned. “That’s how I found out,” says Gee. “Nobody called me.”
About two and a half years ago, Light In The Attic Records phoned Gee to tell him they wanted to use his songs for a compilation of Tumbleweed Records material. Light In The Attic had been working on the project for a few years already and had just located him in British Columbia. Gee learned they were going to name the project after a line from one of his songs. “At first, I was a little shocked,” he says.
Despite a quibble or two over song choices, Gee, now 73, says about “Sing It High, Sing It Low,” “I think it’s an excellent package.”
Gee’s greatest commercial success had come in the late ‘60s when his song “Sunspots” was covered by Canadian vocalist Anne Murray on an album that included her best-selling hit “Snowbird.” In the late ‘70s, he formed a punk-inspired band based in San Francisco and Portland. Over the years, he’s played fiddle for a Celtic group, and as a country-inspired artist. He also recorded an intriguing collection of songs called “The Dark Monkey is Laughing” with Jeff Bird, a musician known for his work with The Cowboy Junkies.
Gee’s fellow label-mate Pete McCabe, who lives in Venice, California, recalls his own Tumbleweed Record days as “a fabulous time...To be able to make a record and have the production I got is pretty amazing.” Employed over the years as a graphic designer and teacher’s aide, McCabe, 68, just started recording music again over the past decade, and his Tumbleweed record “The Man Who Ate The Plant” has become a cult favorite. In fact, it’s drawn musicians anew to him, assisting him with his recordings. He released a new disc, “I Forgot,” this year.
McCabe says of his late friend, Robb Kunkel, “I’m just eternally grateful for him for kind of discovering me and bringing me to Tumbleweed.” McCabe calls that period in the early ‘70s “a magical time for both of us.”
In 2009, Kunkel discussed by email his Tumbleweed album, “Abyss,” which has achieved its own cult following for its somber, jazz-accented stylings: “I was 21 and stoned to the hilt making ‘Abyss’ and, at the time, I knew there was not one commercial track on it – but, hey, I had 56,000 bucks to make it and more cocaine than Sly Stone...The company looked at me with suspicion, but [they] were too busy getting stoned to pay attention.”
Due to the label’s problems, Tumbleweed “backfired—but spectacularly,” says Sarah Sweeney, who wrote the liner notes to “Sing It High, Sing It Low.” Ultimately, it’s most noted for having served as a stepping stone for Szymczyk’s subsequent career, allowing him to “hone his chops.” Sweeney says, “[Tumbleweed] really launched Bill Szymczyk into the stratosphere.”
Szymczyk went on to produce popular records for the J. Geils Band, Rick Derringer (“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”), Bob Seger, The Who, Joe Walsh (including the song “Rocky Mountain Way”), and the Eagles.
As for his time with Tumbleweed Records, which ended in 1972, Szymczyk says, “I would consider that definitely my grad school work, if you will.”
Szymczyk, 74, still considers the Tumbleweed album he made for Michael Stanley one of the highlights of his career, and he remains one of Stanley’s biggest admirers. In fact, Szymczyk was preparing to travel from his home in North Carolina to visit Stanley and assist the Ohioan with a new album. “As he’s gotten older his songwriting has become incredible,” says Szymczyk. “It’s always done from a perspective of intelligence.”
Recognizing Szymczyk’s achievements, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame will be honoring him with an “Award of Excellence” on August 13 at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre. The Hall of Fame’s Director, G. Brown, says of Szymczyk, “There were only a handful of people that created the classic rock sound of the ‘70s – and Bill was one of them.” Szymczyk’s Tumbleweed days (as well as his more prominent recordings done at Nederland’s Caribou Ranch) will be cited at the ceremony, and Brown is particularly impressed with Light In The Attic’s recent reissue: “That was a forgotten bit of Colorado music history, until they addressed it. I’m not sure who would have.”
In 2019, the History Colorado Center will be including Szymczyk and Tumbleweed Records in an exhibition called “Colorado Sound: Homegrown Music from Folk to Rock.” Curator Megan K. Friedel says of Tumbleweed, “It’s part of that early 1970s story of what’s happening with the music scene here: that suddenly people from outside of the state are discovering Colorado as a place to come and make music, [a place] that’s particularly conducive to inspiring music that’s not necessarily of the mainstream.”
And given that Tumbleweed Records was known for gifting people stone-engraved roach clips in the early ‘70s, it’s fitting that Light In The Attic’s deluxe packaging of Tumbleweed’s music includes a packet of rolling papers. Arthur Gee – who G. Brown says offered him his first hit of weed back when Brown was a teenage rock journalist – agrees: “I think it’s totally appropriate,” says Gee, who says he’s been smoking cannabis for over 50 years and has recently been using a regimen of CBD oil to combat his cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. “Everyone was smoking pot back then.”
In other words, once upon a time in Denver in the early ‘70s, there was plenty of weed at a storied music label called Tumbleweed Records.
THE LONGFORM STONERRead More
By Gregory Daurer
On the podcast Longform, Aaron Lammer holds lively discussions with prominent journalists, geeking out on their abilities to conduct in-depth research and then write narratives that not only
relay important information, but emotional impact, as well. A savvy interviewer, Lammer readily conveys his fascination with his guests' narratives to Lonform's audience.
As examples, the 35-year-old Lammer has interviewed Evan Wright, a two-time National Magazine Award winner, about the warfare he witnessed in Iraq that led to his book “Generation Kill;” Nick Bilton about piecing together “American Kingpin,” his book about the dramatic rise and ugly fall of Silk Road, the onetime, dark web, drug-selling site; Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, about being a man of color reporting on the racial turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri; and New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi about how she cultivates sources, in order to report on what's happening within the detested militant group ISIS.
The way Lammer conducts himself with prominent people of letters — dissecting their work and asking them about the construction of their stories — one might suspect that he's a seasoned pro himself, a peer to the guests he hosts.
Hardly. “I've never really been employed as a journalist,” says Lammer, although he did work briefly in the publishing world, and did some ghostwriting.
He has another confession to make: “Honestly, I'm interested in journalism — but it's not my primary interest in the world.” As a web developer, Lammer assisted his college friend, Max Linsky, a onetime alternative-weekly scribe, start the Longform web site in 2010, and then inaugurate its lauded podcast (often seen on “Best Of” lists for the genre) in 2012. Despite having conducted dozens of interviews now, Lammer says, “I think I'm more interested in small projects that serve an important role.”
So what important role is Lammer's brand-new podcast project, Stoner, serving?
Unlike other cannabis-related podcasts, Stoner doesn't delve deeply into entrepreneurship or stock offerings, cultivation or commerce. It doesn't cover activist politics, for the most part, or discuss the origins of various strains.
Stoner is billed as “Creative people talk about their experiences with marijuana (and whatever else comes up).”
As the host of Stoner, Lammer is interested in the gradual, cultural shift taking place throughout America today regarding cannabis — although there still exists wide disparities from state to state. “The experience in New York and the experience in Alabama and the experience in Denver could not be more different than each other,” he says. “When you really look at America as a whole, a very tiny sliver of America is shopping for legal weed, even though it's sort of swept a bunch of the country.”
Even in legal states, people can still lose their jobs — and potentially their housing or children — if they're “out” as a cannabis consumer. Due to factors like that, Lammer has gotten rejections from several invitees he's asked to appear on the show.
Lammer says part of Stoner's role is to portray marijuana usage as normal, sane, acceptable; to open up a dialogue about social consumption.
So, why then is the show called Stoner, a term many still view as a pejorative? Lammer says he wanted a word that would immediately convey the nature of the podcast. And he wanted a term that would put the emphasis on people, rather than on the plant itself. Lammer likens “stoner” to the word “nerd,” which has undergone a rehabilitation “where it was negative and then it came to symbolize a community of people: 'Hey I don't accept that this is a stigma, a bad thing. I embrace it.'”
On his new podcast, Lammer sometimes spotlights media professionals like he does on Longform – although, they're often people within the cannabis sphere. Guests have included Amanda Chicago Lewis, who writes a marijuana column for Rolling Stone, Ricardo Baca, the former Cannabist editor for the Denver Post, and Krishna Andavolu of Viceland's Weediquette show.
Andavolu, who once smoked a joint at Uruguayan president José Mujica's home in front of Mujica (whose country is the first to regulate cannabis), says on Stoner, “I was telling my parents about that before it came out, and they were just mortified.”
The analogy of “coming out” in the midst of prevailing social stigmas resonated with Stoner guest Alexandra Chasin. She's the author of “Assassin of Youth,” a book about Harry J. Anslinger, America's first “drug czar” and the architect of reefer madness propaganda in the 1930s. Due to Anslinger's effective demonizing of marijuana decades ago, stigmas surrounding the plant still persist today in many quarters.
Chasin tells Lammer that when she came out as “queer,” it was a period when derisive names were still shouted at her, objects were violently hurled in her direction. She jokes about how it takes a “special kind of pervert,” like herself, to miss the onetime social taboo of being gay — or a “stoner,” for that matter. As the LGBT movement progressed into the '90s, and the emphasis became more on military service and gay marriage, Chasin recalls feeling about her activism that “the thrill is gone.” She tells Lammer, “I feel a bit like that about marijuana” — although Chasin still prefers seeing the birth of a regulated market in America, rather than prohibition living on.
Lammer, who's resided in New York his entire adult life, birthed the idea for Stoner after trips back to his hometown of Berkeley, California. “It's a whole other world,” Lammer says of the West Coast. “There's this massive retail establishment...not necessarily the classiest stuff always. A lot of dispensaries are weird, strip-mally places.” But in New York, some people still buy weed in parks — although, more often than not, purchases happen from delivery services that will show up with say, four to six strains, in Lammer's experience. For all it's hipster aspects, Brooklyn still isn't Portland or Seattle or Denver (places where Lammer has purchased legal weed), when it comes to cannabis.
Perhaps it's Lammer's East Coast location, rather than being in a legal recreational state, that gives Stoner a slightly naive sensibility compared to other cannabis podcasts out there. But, then again, Lammer isn't seeking to convey an in-the-know approach: “I try to come to it with the eye of an amateur,” he says. “I don't want to be like, 'Oh, I know more about weed than you.' It's more of a journey.”
The show is still coming into its own. Lammer says Longform began hitting its stride after 25 episodes (it's released over 250 episodes now), and Stoner, with new broadcasts appearing once a week, has less than 20 episodes in its archive.
So far on Stoner, Lammer has amusingly journeyed into the outré, Midwestern mind of Bill Levin, leader of the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis. Using Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act as a basis for a lawsuit, Levin is suing the state for the ability to use cannabis as a sacrament (and perhaps eventually sell it in his church's gift shop, if Levin has his way). When asked about President Trump's goal to allow churches to make political donations and endorse candidates — which Levin's cannabis church could potentially benefit from — Levin amusingly tells Lammer, “What is good for one church is good for all churches. And if [Trump's] going to make beneficial laws for churches, who am I to say no?”
Another guest, Nick Denton, who founded the website Gawker, discusses with Lammer the concept of “cross-cutting identities”: How people from disparate backgrounds can come together over a TV show — or a joint. “Being a stoner is an identity, and it cuts across race lines, it cuts across class lines,” says Denton in his British accent.
The guest who Lammer has known the longest is the singer who goes by the name of Francis Starlite of Francis and The Lights. It turns out Lammer and Starlite have been making music together since they were in their late teens. “It's still a pretty big part of my life,” says Lammer of his behind-the-scenes music career, which he cites as one of his primary passions. “I've been in a band for most of my adult life.”
Within the video for Starlite's song “Friends,” Starlite's friends Bon Iver and Kanye West both make appearances. Lammer is listed as both a co-writer and co-producer on the track. Lammer has also released “Big Personality,” an e.p. of songs — including one called “Stoned Out Wonderland” — all written by Lammer and performed and sung by Starlite.
Who knew? It's something that might surprise regular listeners to Longform or Stoner, who've become familiar with the engaging podcaster with the self-described, “scratchy and nasal at the same time, but not particularly high” voice.
“I like not knowing where people are going,” says Lammer. “That's basically my goal in interviewing people: to end somewhere that neither of us expected...And that’s been an unexpected delight in the show.” ♦
Judge RoughneckRead More
High Urban HikesRead More
With so many cannabis related companies and events popping up around Colorado these days, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Trudging through the mountain of supposedly “420 friendly” things to do can get a little exhausting, especially when those events all come with the caveat that consumption is strictly prohibited. For marijuana enthusiasts, finding an entertaining way to spend an afternoon while nicely toasted can be overwhelming in concept, yet paradoxically underwhelming in practice. I was lucky enough to attend one such event in the form of a beta hike put on by High Urban Hikes, a new walking tour of Denver that is promoted as a historical romp for those under the influence of THC.
The hike began outside the Brown Palace Hotel, the long-standing center of Denver’s socialite circle, where the upper crust used to come for clandestine liaisons with ladies of the evening afforded them by a subterranean tunnel connecting to what used to be a brothel that still stands across the street (though it no longer operates as such, at least to my knowledge). It was at this cultural landmark that the small group coalesced around tour guide and HUH founder Amy Rohrer, a small, eccentric woman with a passion for cannabis as well as the cultural and artistic history of the city with a zesty attitude to match.
“Legalization is patriotic,” says Rohrer from behind star-shaped American flag sunglasses, a reference to the title of this particular hike, the Pot is Patriotic Tour. It’s not just a love of the city that has brought this group together, it’s a love of the social progress around cannabis, and it’s influence on the ever developing culture.
Rohrer says she first got the idea for the hike after a stoned stroll of her own. After reacquainting herself with cannabis and finding today’s smokable flower too strong for her liking, an edible-enhanced walk set Rohrer’s curiosity ablaze so to speak.
“There were just these little gems everywhere I went,” says Rohrer, and with cannabis opening her mind’s eye in new and interesting ways, she began to absorb the myriad cultural and artistic beauties that populate the city. “I started to get to know the people,” she says, getting a more attuned knowledge of the city she had lived in as a young woman and grown reacquainted with upon moving back in 2011.
“The marijuana just made it all the more better,” she says. “It truly made me feel better about everything.”
The experience was eye opening, prompting a new found connection with the city, she says, and stirred the idea of HUH.
“How can I have the high of being a tourist in my own town?” posits Rohrer.
The answer: a stoner-friendly walking tour.
Now a certified international tour director, Rohrer led our group around some of the iconic parts of downtown. After interrupting high tea at the Brown Palace, the tour took us south to the Kit Carson monument at the corner of Broadway and Colfax, replete with facts about the historical origins of the city and the statues, architecture and people that made it happen. From here, the group hopped the 16th street mall ride down to Union Station, touring some of the revered drinking establishments. Along the way, Rohrer would stop to ask trivia questions, with a correct answer earning a random prize ranging from marijuana swag to dried geckos (still not sure what I’m supposed to do with them besides freak my girlfriend out). The tour concluded with a walk past the Museum of Contemporary art along Cherry Creek to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts before ending at the Convention Center’s iconic blue bear.
While smoking up on the hike is discouraged — a pre-hike email warned “Any obvious consumption on the hike may draw peace officers!” — I went, as usual, unharassed as I puffed away on my portable vaporizer as I walked around the city. For the time being liability issues prevent Rohrer from offering dosed treats to hikers, so pre-consumption is the recommended course of action.
The hike is a return to the boosterism that Rohrer is keen to point out played such a large roll in the foundation of the city and the state, and her passion for it shows through in her bubbling enthusiasm. It’s not just about marijuana, and it’s not just about the rich history of Denver, it’s really about the marriage of the two.
If a jaded townie like myself can enjoy an afternoon walking around like a tourist, then there is definitely something worthwhile to it. Check out huhdenver.com for a list of upcoming tours.