There was smoke everywhere. It was a late October Friday night in Philadelphia at the Legendary Dobbs and the color of the season was not black and orange; it was green.
“This is surreal,” I said to Sweet T as we walked towards the corner of South and 3rd.
We were attending Philly NORML’s Decriminalization Party in celebration of the City’s recent decision to decriminalize nature’s most benign substance. As advocates of the medicinal and recreation usage of Weed, Sweet T and I were beyond stoked to be involved in this event. We walked in and hands were stamped, City Wides were bought, and we had just enough time to check out some of the prizes in the raffle before a tall interlocutor on stage took the mic and began waxing lyrical on the joys of decriminalization.
“Thank you all for being here tonight to celebrate one small step in our journey towards marijuana legalization!” host N.a. Poe said, “I wish could join you in celebrating properly, but because of the legal system you’ll all have to join me in December for my Freedom Party!”
The crowd – lit with a buzz that was palpable and pleasantly fragrant – cheered with approval. I know I was excited. Being able to possess and smoke weed in Philadelphia without the fear of being thrown in jail? Yeah, that’s worth celebrating. If you were going to celebrate, why not do it with people who shared your specific beliefs? And boy oh boy, we were celebrating. We were witnessing something that my parents probably didn’t think they’d live to see; something that my children would probably not understand if prohibition repeal continues to progress.
“Alright you potheads, give it up for Bong Hits for Jesus!”
And that’s when it hit me; I was really high. Too high for journalistic accuracy, most likely. But this band on stage was reminding me what I was here to do. I’d never seen Bong Hits before and I’m sorry that this is the truth because they took me back to a time I had long since forgotten. When had I forgotten my stoner-music roots?
“LET ME GET A BONG HITTTTTTTTTT”
I wouldn’t be able to do justice to these guys, but let me assure you that they had me grooving. Their songs were catchy and I found myself singing the hook to more than just a few of their songs even though I’d never heard them before. The band stood on stage in jackets that Michael Jackson would have approved of and belted out song after up-tempo song celebrating the most controversial plant in history.
These guys were more than just a stoner band though; they were rock, they were reggae, there were elements of punk and hip-hop enveloped in a sound that could make even the least musically inclined person nod their head at least a little bit. To say that BHFJ has a widespread appeal is an understatement; their sound is all heart and good vibes. I was going to have to thank bassist Shawn Betz for inviting us along.
It was time for a drink and a (decriminalized) smoke. The Philly NORML crew was slinging raffle tickets and proffering comedic interludes between the bands when we came back inside. The crowd had such a nice positive vibe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many excuse-me’s and it’s-all-good-bro’s in a Philadelphia bar before. We were waiting patiently for the next band to come on, everyone upholding themselves in a polite and friendly manner. Seriously, potheads are just so damn considerate.
Shortly after Bong Hits For Jesus packed up their stuff and joined us in the crowd and at the bar, we were greeted by a young man on drums and a young woman on guitar. Together, they were the Little War Twins and they had a sound that was far bigger than just two people should have been able to produce inside a packed Philly bar. A cataclysm of sound and energy, Miss Gaetana Brown put down the guitar halfway through their and began to bang a single drum as she sang. My ears were being forcefully entered upon by noises I’d never heard before but this was not unpleasant. This was a sort of musical plundering of my ears and I was okay with that.
After their set it was time for another drink and another smoke. The air outside was pungent with cigarette smoke and not-cigarette smoke. A couple of mounted police officers strolled by on horseback and looked down at the throng of people packing bowls and lighting joints right there on the sidewalk. A savage bunny approached me out of nowhere and we Broke Bread.
“This is insane,” he said, clearly flabbergasted, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.”
He was right. This was pretty unreal. And the night wasn’t over yet. I stumbled back inside with Sweet T just in time for the raffle ticket drawing. I pulled all fifteen tickets I’d bought a half hour earlier in a lit-up haze and began scanning furiously as they called out the numbers. I was really trying to win that copy of Cheech and Chong’s Up In Smoke on vinyl. Alas, as N.a. Poe called the numbers it became clear that winning the raffle was not in the cards for me.
While obtaining another City Wide from the bar I stumbled into a young man standing with his friends. He handed me a sticker that said LUA: Atlantic City, NJ.
“You guys from AC?” I said incredulously, “I lived in Ventnor!”
“Yeah? We have a song named Ventnor! We’ll play it just for you tonight,” guitarist Brett Miller promised me. We took a shot together and he scampered onto the stage.
“Heyo Philly! We are Lua – the original party band from Atlantic City!”
Lua closed out the night with a set full of dancy tunes and energetic lyrics all while jumping around on stage and keeping the now clearly buzzed crowd engaged. They held our attention until the lights came on with their smooth melodies and songs from South Jersey’s cultural heartland. Mark my words – this band is going places. They even pumped out their tune Ventnor – named after a city very close to my heart – and dedicated it to me. I was honored to be included.
As the lights came on and the bar started emptying I looked around and saw that the crowd, the band members, and all of the Philly NORML crew were still lingering, not wanting to let this night come to an end. I stepped out into the night and could smell the evidence of our debauchery still clinging to the air and found myself unwilling to leave just yet. There was still smoking to be done.
The bottom line:
The Decrim Party was a phenomenal time with all the right people and all the right music. These bands were well suited for this event with a broad range in sound that was perfect for the nature of the occasion. Philly NORML gave us just the right blend of antic and entertainment that makes for the perfect event recipe. Fun loving, benign, and friendly, the NORML crew knows how to put together an event. It was a night of liberty, progress and homemade popcorn – Philly NORML is helping to push this city in the right direction and we were privileged to be a part of it.
I’d like to especially thank the boys from Bong Hits For Jesus. They were extremely generous and welcoming and are just an all-around friendly and fun-loving group of guys. Thanks in particular to Shawn for his hospitality in getting us on board for the night and introducing us to the Philly NORML crew!