"So give me an idea of how this thing will work. When does it start? What's the format?" I ask, partially because I'm a reporter and I'm supposed to ask things like that, but also because I've seen plenty of posters and advertisements for the touring reggae event called Hempstead World Music Festival, yet I'm still not sure exactly what this large-scale party is all about. I do, however, have some guesses.
"Well, it starts at 4:20...for obvious reasons," says Paul Stanford, the promoter of the festival, which also makes stops in Eugene on Saturday and in Portland on Monday, with a Sunday date up at the Deschutes County Fair and Expo Center. Stanford has been advocating for the repeal of cannabis prohibition since the mid 1980s when he placed another marijuana legalization measure, albeit unsuccessfully, on the ballot and is no stranger to events like this.
The "obvious" reason for the 4:20 start time has to do with the fact that even though the concert is headlined by one of the biggest names in reggae music, Toots and the Maytals, it's also a political rally against marijuana prohibition. Proceeds from the event, which seems custom built for the legions of reggae-loving folks in Central Oregon, go to fund the petition drive for the 2012 Oregon ballot measure currently known as the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act. If passed into law by voters next year, the OCTA would establish a set of regulations that would allow state-sanctioned stores to sell marijuana to adults, while also allowing farmers in the state to grow hemp for a variety of uses. There would be an accompanying tax system that would primarily go to the state's general education fund.
The concert, in addition to raising awareness of the ballot measure, is also aimed at allowing Stanford and the other OCTA supporters to gain signatures to help get the measure on the ballot. Currently, they've gathered almost 15,000 signatures, but by this time next year, they'll need 87,200 verified signatures to put this law before voters. Festivalgoers will hear plenty about the measure as Stanford and others are set to give speeches between sets.
It seems likely that there wouldn't be many audiences who would gladly lend their signature to such a cause as fans of Toots and the Maytals. This isn't to say that everyone who listens to the legendary reggae act is a stoner. They're not. But they probably don't care if someone else lights up, either. As most know, Toots Hibbert launched the band back in the early 1960s, drawing heavily from the Jamaican ska and gospel influences to become one of Jamaica's most esteemed acts.
"He's the guy who invented the word 'reggae.' No one else can say that," says Stanford of Hibbert when I inquire as to why he chose this particular act to headline his politically charged concert.
This is true, before Toots and the Maytals' began pumping out hits in the late 1960s, no artist had used the term "reggae" to describe what was then a new sound that most Western audiences had yet to catch on to. By the time Toots and company released "54-46, That's My Number," the band had forged the way for Bob Marley and other acts to achieve commercial success in the United States. Toots never reached Marley's level - no one has - but after reuniting his band in the 1990s, he gained a loyal following in the States that continues to grow, with younger audiences catching on to the music from one of reggae music's forefathers.
According to Stanford, it was Toots who originally said he'd like to help the OCTA cause.
"Toots offered to do a set of benefit shows for us. When I talked to him last year, he said that next time he did a tour, he'd come out this way," says Stanford.
The lineup also includes some newer reggae-inspired sounds, like the dub-heavy Dubtonic Kru, a Jamaican crew that recently has been making waves in the reggae world, and the smooth vocals of Oregon's own Nikii Davis. Not everything on the bill is reggae, however. Also appearing is John Trudell, a Native American songwriter and political activist who was actually booked for last year's Cannabis Tax Act rally that was scrapped when tickets sales proved sluggish.
This time, though, the event is going ahead as planned, making for an alternative Fourth of July celebration. Just don't space out on that 4:20 start time, people.