The cultural revolution that is making marijuana part of everyday Denver life conquered another established front Tuesday as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra announced a series of performances sponsored by the cannabis industry.
The concerts, organized by pro-pot promoter Edible Events, will start May 23 with three bring-your-own marijuana events at the Space Gallery in Denver's Santa Fe arts district and culminate with a large, outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13. The events are being billed as fundraisers for the CSO, which will curate a themed program of classical music for each show.
While acknowledging that the arrangement is unusual, even ground-breaking, CSO executive director Jerry Kern said the concerts will help the orchestra reach beyond its conservative, fine arts demographic while raising money for an organization that has struggled financially in recent years.
"We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado," said Kern. "Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra."
Edible Events, known for its monthly series of upscale music-and-marijuana happenings, has already lined up key sponsors who see the concerts as an opportunity to "brand their brand with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and also give back to the arts," according to owner Jane West.
Ideal 420 Soils, a New Hampshire-based business that manufactures cultivation supplies, is the lead sponsor for the Space Gallery shows along with two dispensaries, The Farm and Gaia Plant-Based Medicine. Those events will feature small ensembles of CSO musicians, along with gourmet food and wine and beer, for $75 a person. The gallery will have a smoking lounge on its enclosed patio, and the shows are open to those 21 and older.
Sponsors and programming for the Red Rocks date have yet to be lined up, though the concert is likely to feature the full orchestra and a plaza where sponsors can show off wares. Marijuana use is technically illegal at Red Rocks so the event is being sold as an educational effort with vendors offering information about anything from consumption to child-resistant packaging. "Every one has to have an educational element. It can't just be 'this is my product,' " said West.
The connection between classical music and marijuana culture is surprising on its surface. For three centuries, orchestra concerts have largely been formal affairs demanding a strict set of behaviors: No talking, no eating, unwavering attention. Pot users, true or not, are known for a more casual approach to consuming art.
But the partnership may be logical for the CSO in particular, which has worked hard in recent years to present a more democratic lineup. It still has its Beethoven and Brahms concerts, where cellists dress in tuxedos and tradition rules, but it has been playing more contemporary music and collaborating on concerts with pop acts, such as the jam band Guster, singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov and the art-rock ensemble DeVotchKa at Red Rocks.
Orchestra musicians are already set to play Red Rocks shows Aug. 8 and 9 with Pretty Lights, a.k.a. Derek Vincent Smith, one of the biggest acts in electronic dance music, a genre widely associated with marijuana and harder substances like Ecstasy.
As trumpet player Justin Bartels points out, the musicians have already smelled the waft of marijuana smoke at shows, and playing before mind-altered audiences won't be shocking.
"Denver is a different kind of city, and you have to program your orchestra for the community you're in," he said.
Kern, who led the orchestra back from near collapse two seasons ago, also sees the event as a way of connecting his organization to new benefactors who can help the orchestra thrive in difficult times.
"We see our future as being very dependent on our relationships in the corporate community," he said. "And this is a legal business in our state."
For more info on the performances, go to coloradosymphony.org or call the CSO box office at 303-623-7876.
Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, email@example.com or twitter.com/rayrinaldi
UPDATE: April 29, 2014 at 2:40 p.m.: Clarification: While some of the cannabis-sponsored Colorado Symphony Orchestra events will be bring-your-own marijuana events, marijuana consumption at Red Rocks is prohibited by law.