“No dude, there are seriously snakes in there. People get bit every single year. I’ve seen it on the news.” Another group behind me, “I wonder how much hiking we’ll actually have to do at the Red Rock.” And another, “Dude, that guy letting people onto the bus has a badge. Where is the bus going?” So, there I was, my VIP bracelet around my wrist, courtesy of the great people here at Dope Directory, sitting patiently on the bus to take me to The High Times Cannabis Cup Red Rocks concert, featuring SOJA, NAS, and J Boog. It was a bus ride filled with speculation, paranoia, laughs, trades, but most certainly excited anticipation.
It was 4:20 PM on April 18th, and after emerging from the cloud of smoke that congregated around the Vader Extracts tent (those people certainly know how to party), I decided to sit in the grass, and wait for my ride to the concert. Here’s one thing the Cannabis Cup did very well: they knew our delicate brains were being constantly fed some delicious THC, and so they answered every question with a smile and a high-five. The signage was perfect. During my wait, a few people started groaning and swearing. “What’s up?” I asked. “Red Rocks, man,” one bleary-eyed man with a goatee and a big white hat replied, “Morrison’s getting some snow now.” Oh boy. Now, this is only the second show of the season for Red Rocks. It’s still early, and if anyone knows Colorado Spring, they know that getting a few inches of snow in April, followed by blue skies and sunshine is par for the course. This should be interesting.
A very comfortable ride which just bolted past in my mind later, and we arrive at the bus corral at Red Rocks Amphitheater to see SOJA, NAS, and J Boog. This was SOJA’s first time headlining a show, and what better time for the poppy reggae outfit from Arlington, Virginia than Cannabis Cup? The crowd was excited. During my wait in line, another bad piece of news: security was confiscating all cannabis, and no cameras allowed. As Red Rocks is a public space, cannabis consumption is technically verboten there. On top of that, the snow. Oh the snow. And oh, we were all brutally unprepared.
After an anxiety-inducing security check, I rushed to the ponchos (which were a best seller for the stands, much like when it rains in Roller Coaster Tycoon), and then found a seat near the front. Predictably, most people were already lining up, much to the chagrin of the concert staff. Hey, it’s Cannabis Cup. It’s a reggae and hip hop show. I think we’ll be okay.
Up first was J Boog, a reggae artist based out of Hawaii. I suppose the gods heard his plea for warmer weather (because being based out of Hawaii made our snowy April night seem like an odd form of torture), because the clouds parted, and made way for warmer (well, dryer) weather. In short, J Boog crushed it, leading crowd-wide singalongs to “Sunshine Girl”, “Hawaiian Pakalolo”, and some of his other harmony-inducing island beats. And let me tell you, the vibe of the crowd was one of pure bliss. White guy reggae dancing all around (this editor included), while people were sparking up their own Colorado-style pakalolo, and dreaming of sunshine girls of our own.
Now, there are very few marriages as strong as classic hip hop, and a potent kush. Showing my personal defiance to authority, I sparked up one of my Master Kush joints from my pack, and waited patiently for NAS. Now, I was very excited to see NAS, a New York-born hip hop artist who has been regarded as one of the best MCs of all time. And boy, NAS has been on the scene for a long time, having a lot of success in the 90s and early 2000s. I was interested to see what he would do, now that he’s in his forties. The house lights went down just in time for my kush coma to hit, relegating me to standing with my hands in my pocket, and nodding along to the beat. I wasn’t alone in this “stay warm, high kid” stance, either. NAS resurrected a lot of his hits from the 90s, like “If I Ruled the World”, and reminded us all of that early 2000s feud he had with Jay-Z by leading the crowd in obloquies against the producer and musician. NAS also brought in some of his reggae work that he did with Damien Marley, and paid homage to Bob Marley by leading the crowd in a rendition of “One Love.” Sure, it was cold out, but NAS just… emanated cool.
Finally, the main event: SOJA. Now, SOJA has opened for 311 and Slightly Stoopid at Red Rocks in 2012, but this was their first time in the captain’s seat. Despite a portion of the crowd leaving after NAS brought down the house, the majority of Morrison’s cold souls stuck around. SOJA primarily played from their latest album, Amid the Noise and Haste, kicking off with the first track from the album, “Tear it Down.” However, the band did not hesitate to play from their monumental album, Born in Babylon, which was released in 2009, including their chilling love ballad, “You and Me.” Drum cadences, saxophone and trumpet solos courtesy of Hellman Escorcia and Rafael Rodriguez, and hits pingponged between lead singer and guitarist Jacob Hemphill, bassist Bobby Lee, and lead guitarist Trevor Young. From the crowd, the smoke was never thicker than during Bobby Lee busting out “Promises and Pills,” a dark and horn-heavy track from Amid the Noise and Haste. After the shortest wait for an encore ever, SOJA brought it all home with an extend cut of another off their latest album, “Shadow.” Absolutely spectacular. The crowd was electric.
A cold and quick walk back to the bus, a sleepy ride back to the Denver Mart, and then a lonely 1 AM walk back to my car. Despite the weather, and despite the harsh warnings of Red Rocks staff, what a great way to kick off 420 weekend. And you know what? The early snow we had only made me enjoy the weather clearing up for the music even more. We might have been chilly and ill prepared, but the crowd’s energy showed the world what us Coloradans are all about. It might be cold out, but we’ll smoke an indica, drink a beer, and let the transcendental reggae and hip hop wash over us. What a night!