As April wears on and Finals sneak onto the radar, many students tend to talk about the year coming to an end. Before the sun sets on another year at the University of Massachusetts, however, there is at least one major event to attend: the inimitable Extravaganja.This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Amherst’s historic festival. Taking over Amherst’s South Common for Saturday and Sunday, the event centers around the celebration of cannabis culture, as well as protest of what activists view as the “marijuana prohibition” that exists in the United States.
Extravaganja is sponsored and organized by the UMass Cannabis Reform Coalition, a student organization dedicated to ending the “war on drugs” and reforming the way that our legal system deals with marijuana. While Extravaganja is their largest annual event, they are active throughout the year. In the past the group has launched campaigns to both petition for and raise awareness of cannabis usage rights. “We don’t want it to be pot humor” said Adam Freed, treasurer of the CRC. “We want [marijuana] to be accepted culturally, medically and legally, just as if it were any other harmless substance.”
While in the past Extravaganja has been a one-day event, it has been expanded this year to a full weekend-long event. “Basically it’s our twentieth anniversary,” said Freed “so we decided to celebrate by having it go two days.”
The festival’s main attractions are, as always, musicians and speakers who take to the stage in support of cannabis. Vendors of exotic foods, colorful clothing and smoking paraphernalia will also be flooding the commons, bringing their wares directly to their target customers.
Saturday’s music lineup will feature local bands including UMass’ own “Kids on The Hill,” who earned their spot by beating out all challengers in March’s battle of the bands. Returning for yet another show, last year’s headliners “Solo Sexx” and “Primate Fiasco” will also be taking the stage alongside a host of local artists.
Sunday’s talent is set to include Amherst-based “Orange Television” as well as such touring groups as “Echo Movement” and “Spiritual Rez.”
New this year is the presence of private sponsorship. Area businesses such as Captain Candy have supplemented the CRC’s usual fundraising activities, allowing the group to better supply the festival with audio equipment and activity booths.
This weekend’s keynote speaker will be John Sinclair, a socialist radical who spent the 1960’s rallying for racial equality. Sinclair gained national notoriety in 1969 when he was arrested for possession of two joints of marijuana and sentenced to ten years in prison. This quickly became a rallying point for the legalization movement, and his imprisonment was protested by such high-profile entertainers as John Lennon and Stevie Wonder.
Other Extravaganja attractions are set to include a DJ tent and speaker tent for those who want to escape the elements. An art area will also be set up, with a tie-die station and body paints for those who wish to leave more colorful than they arrived.
While possessions of small amounts of marijuana no longer carry criminal charges in this state, its possession and use are still illegal, making Extravaganja’s historic drug use a serious legal problem. Attendees can toke in peace, however, thanks to a long-standing peace accord between the CRC and the Amherst Police, wherein possession and use of marijuana on the South Common are tolerated as an act of peaceful protest. Attendees should be warned, however, that the public consumption of alcohol and other drugs will still be prosecuted as usual.
Extravaganja starts at noon on Saturday, and will be held regardless of rain. The threat of lightning could shut the event down, but as of the time of printing, no thunderstorms are predicted. Rain or shine, supporters of cannabis are sure to be out in force, celebrating, and partaking in, the herb that they love.
Andrew Sheridan can be reached at email@example.com