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Event Report:
Erowid Center in Harmony
Erowid Staffs an Information Booth at the Harmony Festival
by Jon Hanna
Jun 2009
Citation:   Hanna J. "Erowid Center in Harmony: Erowid Staffs an Information Booth at the Harmony Festival". Jun 2009.
The Erowid booth at Harmony.
On June 12-14, 2009, Erowid Center ran an information booth at the 31st Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California. Over 25,000 people attended this gathering, which focuses on music, art, healthy living, spirituality, and alternative culture. After attending and enjoying the Harmony Festival last year, I wanted to bring an Erowid presence to it. I arranged a non-profit booth space for Erowid Center and organized to have knowledgeable volunteers whom I thought would enjoy the event. We had a blast.

The Musical Flavor of the Festival
One of the best features of Harmony is its inclusion of a wide diversity of music styles: the poetic songs of India.Arie; the ambient house of The Orb; the mystical percussion of Medicine Drum; the hardcore/funk of Bad Brains; the punk of The Dead Kennedys; the new age synthesizer music of Kitaro; a jazz tribute to Miles Davis by Legba's Light; the down-tempo/electronica/folkie stylings of Lynx & Janover; the acrobatic performances of The Shamanic Cheerleaders; and countless others.

I designed an Erowid banner emblazoned with an Amanita muscaria, a four-way blotter hit, and the slogan, "Ask me about psychoactive plants and drugs!"
Friday night featured one of my hometown favorites, CAKE, who performed fifteen years ago at my wedding's afterparty. My wife and I had not seen them for years, and--along with our nine-year-old daughter--we danced up a storm. Singer John McCrea's quirky sense of humor was infectious, as he led the audience in competitive sing-a-longs and later shamed many of them into turning off their cell-phone cameras and enjoying the moment rather than being obsessed with documentation. "Don't we all spend too much time staring at a screen already?" he quipped.

Saturday night's outdoor stage headliner was Michael Franti & Spearhead. In the 1990s, I was a fan of Franti's political/industrial/rap band the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, but I'd never heard Spearhead. I found their folk/reggae music catchy and more pop-oriented than I had expected. A couple of hours later, packed like sweaty sardines into a sweltering room, we caught a theatrical Shpongle DJ set, featuring hula-hoop fire dancers, stilt walkers, and acrobats.

The Culture of Harmony
Harmony also hosts dozens of lectures and workshops on topics such as yoga, sustainability, renewable energy, sacred medicine, unified field physics, global warming, peak oil, permaculture, Tantra, gender issues, and more. Noteworthy presenters this year included eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill, promoting the Women's Earth Alliance; Goddess religion revivalist Starhawk, discussing progressive shifts in cultural consciousness; host of Coast to Coast AM George Noory, addressing visionary culture; author Daniel Pinchbeck, speaking about post-2012 transformations; and raw food authority David Wolfe, describing how chocolate can save the planet.

'Starlight Kush' cannabis plant on display
at Peace in Medicine Healing Center's booth.
With over 300 vendors, Harmony is unquestionably the most openly commercial event that Erowid has so far had a presence at. (This ain't Burning Man!) A wide selection of food and beverage booths made it easy to entirely forget that one was actually camping. Unlike another long-running "alternative" festival--the Oregon Country Fair--at Harmony one can thankfully purchase cold, refreshing beer. And despite a similar overall level of consumerism, Harmony--with its open, spacious layout--feels much less like one is trapped in a constricted mall, being herded from one side to the other with nowhere to sit and catch one's breath.

Visionary artist Mark Henson had a gallery of his work, which led into the Transformations Art Village featuring psychedelic paintings from numerous West Coast artists. Along with a massive selection of cool clothing (pirate jackets, psy-trance spacesuits, tribal jewelry), alternative health products, CD hawkers, gardening gear, and glass pipes, there were several booths focused solely on marijuana: the Cannabis Action Network, Oaksterdam University, and the Harborside Health Center (a medical marijuana dispensary), to name a few. At the Peace in Medicine Healing Center's booth, I snapped a photo of a potted pot plant, while marveling at the deeply serrated leaves typical of the 'Starlight Kush' strain displayed.

The Erowid Booth
The first wave of Erowid volunteers arrived Thursday night, before the festival opened. We easily found our designated outdoor booth location in the non-profit row, and I was pleased to discover that we were within range of a wi-fi signal. After setting up our shade structure in the fading light, we located a spot in the camping area to pitch our tents. Over the course of the weekend, a dozen volunteers joined me to help staff the booth, answer questions, distribute literature, and accept donations to Erowid Center.

We were pleased to be stationed directly next to a Planned Parenthood booth (we were just waiting for a rock band to show up); both booths dabbling in harm reduction and hedonism. One of our volunteers noticed that visitors to our neighbor's booth tended to mostly be attractive women. Occasionally when two young ladies stopped by next door to score some free condoms, one of them feigned a short-lived interest in our booth--apparently less embarrassed to show public interest in drugs than in sex.

In parody of the old "Ask me about Herbalife" bumperstickers, I designed an Erowid banner emblazoned with an Amanita muscaria, a four-way blotter hit, and the slogan, "Ask me about psychoactive plants and drugs!" After hanging the sign above our booth, we initially forgot about it and wondered why people kept asking us--in a general way--to tell them about psychoactives. Nevertheless, the sign worked perfectly as a hook, as the folks who approached were both clearly interested in the topic and had never heard of Erowid before. Approximately 400 flyers went out to such people over the weekend.

The other major category of booth visitors was comprised of people who were already familiar with the site, and wanted to thank us for the work that we are doing. As was the case with our booths at other events, several people referred to Erowid as their "bible". A couple of people commented on having seen our presentations at last year's psychedelic conference in Basel, Switzerland. Those who were already familiar with Erowid had more specific questions for us: How does one avoid or lessen the nausea that psychedelics can sometimes cause? What psychoactives aren't contraindicated for someone with asthma? How concerned should an occasional user of sassafras tea be about the carcinogenic effects of safrole?

Erowid volunteers Tania and Lotus.
Sipping frosty Chai-Colas purchased from the Northern Unified Brewing booth across from us (nothing like the NUB!), we answered those questions we felt confident about and turned to the Erowid web site--which we had available to booth visitors on a laptop--when we were unsure of how to respond. We also made ample use of our complete collection of Erowid Extracts, when questions about MDMA toxicity and other topics came up that have been dealt with in detail in past issues. A few people deep into the throes of their trips on assorted psychedelics came by and expressed their concerns or their joys. One Erowid user stopped by two nights in a row, offering us sample glasses of his tasty, home-brewed absinthe.

I left Harmony feeling as though the Erowid booth was an unquestionable success as a public service for this sort of gathering. The volunteers--enthusiastic and well-informed--expressed how much they enjoyed helping out (and would do it again). It was fun to have a central gathering spot where friends new and old could "chat drugs". Having produced events myself for many years, I am always impressed when attending something that is both large and extremely well organized, as this event was. Thanks very much to our volunteers: Bläk, Carla, Geoffrey, Greg, Katherine, Keeper of the Trout, Kyri, Lotus, Maria, Mojave, Seabrook, and Tania. I hope to see you guys again at an Erowid booth at some future event.

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Jun 25, 2009 - Published on