The Rise & Fall Of A Music Festival

By |Published On: March 7th, 2016|

I remember walking off the stage at our 3rd annual D.Day 4.20 Johannesburg street party in 2015 thinking to myself, “wouldn’t it be cool to hold an event in a Field Of Green” For three years our 4.20 celebration had always been held in downtown urban areas, heavy with graffiti and old factories.

We talked about in on the way home in the small hours, the bakkie crammed full of our exhibition equipment and Dagga Couple display stands.

“A three day event in the country like Woodstock”

“We could call it Weedstock”

We looked at each other and realised that was exactly what we had to do. One day.

It was then, less than 10 months until the Trial Of The Plant, scheduled in the Pretoria High Court in March 2016. We were planning an international fundraising campaign specifically to pay for the world’s best cannabis minds to come to South Africa to take the stand for us.

The ask? US$80,000 in 42 days, but by 21 days in, it was clear we would never reach our target and so we started brainstorming ways to back the crowdfunding up with another event………

That was in November 2015. We ran it past our regular crew, partners and sponsors and developed a three day event on a never before used piece of land in the Cradle Of Humankind 45 minutes outside Johannesburg. It was exciting times. The usual procedures were followed by our experienced team to make good all the festival protocols, and ‘Weedstock In The Cradle’ was born.

We chose the last weekend in January. Who would be crazy enough to put on an event of this size in January? At least there wouldn’t be any event competition for tickets that weekend.

The response we got bowled us over.

Bands, performers, DJ’s, comedians, poets, jugglers, tattoo artists, broadcasters and photographers to name a few, all contacted us for an opportunity to be a part of the event.

As we entered the New Year the only negativity towards the event was from a neighbour some 5k’s away. Nothing that couldn’t be ironed out. We had the signatures of five other adjacent property owners and all the relevant permissions were submitted along with all our other supporting documents to the North West municipality by our Safety Officer in early January, after the Christmas holidays.

Myrtle and I left for Europe for a week, two weeks prior to the event. We had been fortunate enough to attend an expense paid conference in Holland to share our experiences about the continued crop spraying the Pondoland. It was an art form concentrating on the conference at hand, and Weedstock playing out on WhatsApp and Skype a hemisphere away, but knew we had a solid team on the ground back home.

When WhatsApp rang on my phone, I didn’t recognise my own ringtone, so seldom do I get called by this method. It was our main partner.

“Are you sitting down”..….?

The local police said they couldn’t give us a low risk status because the road leading to the venue was a ‘medium risk’ because of a spate of recent hijackings. They had to escalate our application to a provincial level – and that would take a further two weeks to expidite, two weeks we knew we didn’t have and make available the relevant manpower.

My stomach churned. Why now? Why not three weeks ago when they received our documentation.
The Dutch pancake in front of me became inedible with the realisation we had to make the call and pull the event. Postpone it and reschedule it.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate on the final days of the conference. What a blow. How could we ever know a country road would pose so many problems? How come nobody saw it coming, just a few days before the event?

Dates became a mission. The existing venue couldn’t accommodate us for a number of weeks, there were established parties springing up on the calendar every weekend, and to cap it all, the miserable neighbour had amassed a petition of 40+ Cradle inhabitants who objected strongly to any and all events taking place within the conservancy area.

We walked away and spent a fortune on postponing the event one week before the gates were due to open. Turmoil, pissed off people and bands that were now not available for the new dates. The line-up had to change and we needed a new venue. At this point we’d only sold 200 online tickets.

We were told of a venue in the middle of nowhere outside Bronkhorstspruit that has hosted a number of parties. Weekend gatherings for 600-800 people. Maybe it was too far for people to travel but nevertheless, we arrived on the farm for the first time to recce the location and were greeted by the sight of main stage structure, ablution blocks, heavy duty electricity, car parking area, campsite area…….it was too good to be true. Maybe we could even save some money by not having to construct a stage and bring in fewer toilets. Things seemed to be looking up.

The land owner told us another area on his farm had hosted ‘Ramfest’ the year before for 18,000 people which was signed off by Tshwane municipality, but the smaller party organisers didn’t ever apply for permission because in 2014 the Bronkhorstspruit municipality claimed they weren’t interested in gatherings of less than 2000 people. This we could concur with. We had heard of such a rule/law in Johannesburg when organising our street parties.

   

We decided we’d found a home for Weedstock. We dropped the ‘In The Cradle’ and also decided, based on the information at hand, to restructure our submitted documents and make up a presentation pack if case the authorities ever showed up. At least they’d see we’d stuck to the rules as far as medics, security, sewage, and routes in and out etc had all been planned. It was more than any other small gathering had bothered to do. At this stage we were gearing up for 1500 people including crew and artists. Mathematically speaking we had enough infrastructure, ablutions etc for 2500 people.

We were on site for three weeks scrubbing the barn, fixing the fencing, bringing in equipment and planning the small print. Things were going well. Ticket sales were picking up and we seemed to be all systems go.

Until the landlord got a call from the local cops.

“This is a flagged venue”. You need permission. Four days to go and counting. A surreal feeling of deja vu descended on us. We went cold. We started to sweat. Had they been watching on social media? It was difficult to miss at this juncture. The most talked about party in a long time. The partners deliberated. I pleaded for one more chance at sorting out this confusion. What did they mean ‘a flagged venue’? Flagged for what? Something wasn’t right. Was there some sort of history playing out here? What had happened here in the past? Was the word Weedstock too much for the authorities to handle all of a sudden? Maybe we’d overstepped the mark…..a party to celebrate an illegal substance with ‘weed’ in the title. None of the local established trance party organisers we’d talked to had ever put in a JOC. Not for the amount of people we were expecting. I felt like I had a bulls eye on my chest and some powerful people were aiming at it. Shit.

It was decided to give it one more shot.

We used our past experiences to spruce up the presentation pack overnight. We bolstered it with every conceivable incidental to cover every base we could dream of. The pair of us drove to Pretoria with sweaty palms and three hours sleep under our belts.
When we rang for directions we were informed the usual Wednesday JOC presentations had been cancelled for the day. They were now being held tomorrow. We pleaded that we were on our way and were told to come in anyway to see what could be done.
The mood improved when an amicable Tshwane Municipality employee looked through our documents. We had mutual acquaintances at the JOC and chatted about past presentation experiences. It’s an intimidating place at the best of times. This was the same man who had signed off Ramfest and he knew the property intimately. He explained it was his job not to prevent our festival, but to ensure all the correct protocols had been adhered too. We were actually complimented on the thoroughness of our presentation.
However, there were a couple of documents not on the website checklist such as the insurance policy for the security company and of all things, the ambulance driver’s licence. At the time, we thought that was bizarre. Who could have imagined being asked for the ambulance driver’s licence if it wasn’t on the website checklist?
None of the JOC specialists we’ve subsequently talked to have ever heard of such a request. It had to be a stalling tactic aimed at the bullseye.

There were four minor points to take care of and we could provide them relatively easily whilst on the go because our final mission was 80k’s away at the Bronkhorstspruit Police to be categorised as a low risk event -based on the findings of the office we’d just been in.

We were home and dry. One final signature. We relayed the news to our waiting crew. “Give us one hour, we’re speeding along the N4 to lock this party off once and for all”.

This was Myrtle’s second visit to the most conservative building in the Republic. She and our Safety Officer has been to the police station the day before to find out more about the venue being flagged and got a feeling of being absolutely despised by the officer in charge. This time in the office there was a photocopy of a screen grab of ‘Weedstock in the Cradle’, our original event from 7 weeks ago on the desk in front of her. Seven weeks ago? That was weird. It turns out, the police had arrested a known dealer at a trance party at the venue in November last year. They arrived, arrested the person and left. Nothing about a JOC, nothing about safety and security, and there were upwards of 600 people at the venue. So why couldn’t we get a low risk categorisation?

The Colonel refused to sign off the event because she was “acting on information” and besides, the document was addressed to someone else. It was clear “that information” was coming from higher up the food chain and the higher it got, the more despondent we were becoming. Higher up the food chain had been watching our every move. As we drove out of Bronkhorstspruit we couldn’t help thinking “what if we’d called the event ‘Brandewynfees’”?

The ‘someone else’ the document was addressed to was the Colonel in Johannesburg who had signed off two of our Johannesburg street parties. I remember him being a pleasant and fair man. We invited him to our 2014 street party to show him we had nothing to hide. He arrived in full uniform briefly to see what we were up to and I remember personally showing him around the exhibition space.

I rang him. Last ditch attempt. Unbelievably he answered. I explained who I was and was greeted by a barrage of Weedstock in the Cradle this, and Weedstock in the Cradle that. Weedstock in the Cradle? Wait a minute, that’s the original name from weeks ago.
It took me seconds to realise there was no way this party was going to happen. This wasn’t policing and protocols, this was a preconceived idea of what Weedstock was about and what it stood for. Just like in Calvinistic Bronkhorstspruit. The Colonel even denied all knowledge of being at our 2014 event. And anyway, we hadn’t applied for the event six months in advance.
Like a left hook to the temple we were floored. Six months? How come that didn’t come up 10 weeks ago when we first applied? Could it be that we’d been baited? Was this timed to inflict the maximum amount of damage? Was this how the seven week old screen grab fitted in? Was this the information the local cops were “acting on”? Was this the reason the road outside the original venue mysteriously went to medium risk?

We were broken. We wept on the car. We cancelled the event. Back at the office there was an email from the Colonel stating our event was an illegal gathering and we ran the risk of a R200k fine, 20 years in prison and confiscation of all our contractors equipment:

“In terms of the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act 2/2010, section 6 events that fall within the ambit of the Act must be submitted to the office of the National Commissioner of Police six months in advance for risk categorized. Section 6(3) Where an event—
(a) cannot, by virtue of its unforeseen nature, be planned to fall within the schedule of events referred to in subsection (1); and
(b) is scheduled to take place within the six months contemplated in that subsection or during the calendar year or season, the event organiser must upon initiating plans for the event forthwith submit the schedule for that event to enable the National Commissioner to make a risk categorisation.
The purpose of the Act is to provide measures to safeguard the physical well-being and safety of people and property at sports, recreational, religious, cultural, exhibitional, organizational or similar events held at stadiums, venues or along a route.
As the proses for risk categorization is not just a paper exercise, Section 6.3 application  is sent to various government departments for inputs and the process can take between 10-14 days.
In order for a categorization to be determined, factors referred to in Section 6 (7)(a-u) of the Act are taken into consideration.
Please keep in mind that should an event then be categorized as a medium risk an authorized member (Police Officer) must be appointed and the Officer must establish  an Event Safety and Security Planning committee (ESSPC).

This planning committee must then have ample time to plan the event in line with the purpose of the Act.
Due to the risk involved in short notice applications this Office will not entertain section 6.3 applications submitted within 20 working days of the event date.
To continue with this event will constitute a criminal offence, and will be dealt with accordingly.”

Our resources couldn’t have handled the risk of not cancelling the event. Confiscation of the gear would have crippled all concerned.
He was correct. It was an illegal event without that one signature.

Had we just been played? We know we made some weak decisions on the fly based on the information we had been given all along, but hey, we knew from past experience, putting on an event for an illegal substance always has its challenges.
Was it the name? Was ‘Weedstock’ too far ahead of it’s time and we should have called it something a bit more benign? Was its popularity on social media its downfall with the usual overinflated number of ‘maybes’ and ‘goings’ freaking the authorities out?
In the end, we’d sold 548 online tickets – more than anticipated. We don’t do at all well selling tickets online. Our 2015 street party maxed out at 3600 with less than 200 online tickets sold.

We feverishly pulled the equipment out. The last marquee poles were being loaded when 14 of Bronkhorstspruit’s finest in flak jackets arrived as threatened on the Friday evening. There were still canine roadblocks on the Sunday morning, trying to catch out the few stoner stragglers who hadn’t heard the bad news of the cancellation. It was the Weed in Weedstock that did it.  A red rag to a bull.

We’ve got so many questions and what if’s. As far as we were aware, in the eyes of the law, we had an illegal event on our hands if there were more than 2000 people at the gathering, but every public event we’ve ever had has been illegal until hours into the start of the proceedings. Last year in Jozi it took two hours to get the final signature on site….that’s how we thought things worked. Safety checks, engineers and electricians all on the day. Something was always different for Weedstock and we were constantly on the back foot dealing with a couple more hoops to jump through. At the last hour when we were ringing every contact we had in the JHB metro offices for help, they reported a total blank and stonewalling concerning the event.
Surely the job of the police or the municipality should be to advise us to change the date if it were within six months of original application which ours was?. We’ve since been told the new law has apparently abolished that ‘2000 people’ statistic and now the rules have changed based on the square meterage of the venue, including schools, church gatherings and sports events.

We wondered if it was some sort of tit for tat from on high to inflict the maximum amount of damage to all involved for all the warning letters we’ve sent to the SAPS in recent weeks demanding they stop aerial spraying the Eastern Cape Dagga fields. Could be. We could only speculate. Not one of the numerous weekend events the venue had hosted in the past had ever run into such red tape.

We were hit by a rarely enforced 2012 law sneakily introduced whilst everyone was on leave in December 2015. We now know of festivals in the W. Cape, big established annual events that have had to postpone in 2016 because of this same law.

We wonder if we would have got away with it if we’d called it something generic like “music by the dam”, but we couldn’t because Weedstock pushed the boundaries of people’s imaginations, for better or worse, and it’s just a really catchy in your face yet subtle name. That’s the fine line of this kind of activism.

There is fallout. The usual trolls and naysayers are venting their spleens on social media. It’s funny how the loudest of them hadn’t even purchased a ticket or were even planning on attending. Some people thrive on our failures. Their theory is there never was a Weedstock; it’s all a scam to take everyone’s money. Well, there was a Weedstock and there will still be a Weedstock that will open is gates to the public in a safe orderly and legal way.
We’ve got 20 grands worth of branding we haven’t used yet and we’ve got someone dissecting the new law to make sure none of this happens again the way it did.

To the artists that stood by us and offered their time and energy for incredibly discounted rates – we thank you and we’re really sore that you put so much time and effort into preparing your sets and performances for this special event. You’ve all been personally contacted by now with our apologies.

To the crew of over 200 who offered their time and energy for all those weeks and weeks of preparation – we’re sorry we let you down. It was never our intention for it to be this way. We did what we did, when we did it with the advice we received and we blew it. Plain and simple.

Maybe next time we’ll call it ‘Carols by Candlelight’ just to be on the safe side.

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About the Author: Jules Stobbs

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6 Comments

  1. Tommie March 22, 2016 at 1:59 am - Reply

    We are all very disappointed that Weedstock was cancelled but now we are even more determined to get our freedom from this ridiculous prohibition.
    I had an awesome weekend in any case with friends and family.
    MoFAYA
    OneLOVE

  2. Sherwin Sunker March 16, 2016 at 10:07 am - Reply

    Hi,

    I would just like to find out if there will be a hosting of the 420 (Dagga Day) event this year?
    I must say that this even has been taking off really well and grew incredibly over the past 3 years.

    Regards
    Sherwin Sunker

    • Jules Stobbs March 29, 2016 at 7:11 am - Reply

      Saturday 16th April. Carfax

  3. Serge March 9, 2016 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Love you guys.

    • Jacki May 12, 2016 at 4:01 am - Reply

      Pleasing you should think of sonmehitg like that

  4. Sarah Brown March 8, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Wonderful article and it explains everything.

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