Getting to Know Seattle: Hempfest

Hempfest is the next-to-last big summer outdoor festival in Seattle, the last being a music event called Bumbershoot that takes place on Labor Day weekend. Hempfest happens in Myrtle Edwards Park, which is closed off for the weekend — you have to pay to get in to a space that is usually free. Hempfest is a celebration of everything connected to hemp: you get to sample anything that can be smoked, eaten, or worn relative to the plant. When pot was illegal in Washington state, Hempfest was a daring counter culture gathering that the Seattle Police managed for safety but agreed to ignore in terms of legality. Now, with medical and recreational marijuana being legal, the naughty quotient is much less, and you can frankly walk through as much pot smoke any day of the week near Pike Place Market. But tens of thousands of people still gather along this narrow strip of park next to Puget Sound, dressed in tie dye, to hear music and get high and act like 1960’s hippies. Outside Hempfest, along Alaska Way, there is always a contingent of Jesus people carrying big You Are Damned signs and shouting through bullhorns that the fallen should depart their drug-addled ways and repent.

It’s all very Seattle, and mildly amusing — except that it makes one of my favorite walks off limits on what is usually a beautiful weekend. I did pass through the park on Wednesday, while they were beginning to set up. The tie-dye painted VW busses haven’t shown up yet — I’d love to show those to anyone my age who remembers them from the 1960’s. Who knew these things — or the people who still drive them and lovingly tend their ancient engines — would still be around?

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