Erykah Badu hit high notes at the most entertaining 4:20 countdown yet at Hippie Hill, as what appeared to be 20,000 happy stoners blazed up a gargantuan cloud of marijuana smoke for a blissed-out 4/20 celebration.
We’re still following reports that shots were fired near Golden Gate Park during Thursday afternoon’ s 4/20 celebrations. That certainly sounds concerning, but as of Friday morning, there are no reported injuries from that suspected gunfire, and there is currently no apparent connection between those alleged shots and the proceedings of the annual 4/20 massive outdoor weed-dispensary-slash-Grateful Dead-parking-lot bacchanalia on Hippie Hill.
In years past, that 4/20 Hippie Hill celebration had a highly problematic reputation for rampant illegal alcohol vending, generating treasuries of YouTube bro-fight videos, and leaving behind more than 20,000 pounds of trash. But this year’s 4/20 was a well-organized and peaceful event, it appeared to draw the expected 20,000 people in full, and the 2023 edition with Erykah Badu as the headline act brought the most deliriously happy 4:20 countdown and unreasonably enormous cloud of marijuana smoke this event has seen since it added a main stage in 2017.
Badu handled the 4:20 countdown with aplomb, and more people smoked more marijuana because she kept instigating them to keep smoking more. This effective stagecraft stands in contrast to last year’s fumbling of the countdown to the magic moment of 4:20 p.m., when rapper Berner seemed to not even realize it was 4:20.
“I’ve been smoking weed since I was three years old,” Badu bellowed to the crowd, one of many extremely off-color jokes in her 40-minute set that started after the 4:20 countdown. She also played her old hit “Back in the Day,” and did her own take on Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”
Yes there was legal weed being sold at authorized and permitted dispensary booths. There were also unauthorized dealers along all the pedestrian corridors selling bags of weed in the most popular denominations, plus plenty of vendors hawking high-octane Rice Krispie treats and mushroom gummies.
But the event effectively kept the alcohol out, which is why there was a huge bottleneck to get in. Everyone was scanned with a metal detector, and bags were thoroughly checked for alcohol. That of course resulted in people shotgunning large volumes of booze before they got to security where their alcohol would be otherwise confiscated.
Still, it worked. The lack of access to large volumes of alcohol resulted in people only having their weed to smoke, and helped maintain a mellow vibe despite a very, very large crowd.
As we all know, people behave differently when they’re just smoking pot all day instead of getting drunk as hell all day.
Corporate weed branding was everywhere you looked, but that’s just necessary for this event to remain free while requiring large-scale security and logistics. A few non-cannabis brands were also on hand, and clearly Zippo lighters’ investment in their 4/20 booth was money well spent.
We will critique that this year’s crowd was a little more haphazard in leaving trash on the lawn, though it was nowhere near as bad as this festival’s early years. And Rec and Parks had an army of cleanup personnel dispatched at 5 p.m. to ensure the park was left spotless.
Illegal vending ran completely amok in the eastern end of the park outside the event’s entrance gates; I have never before seen such a high concentration of bacon-wrapped hot dog carts in a one-acre radius. Countless other vendors were shouting the availability of cocktails, cold beer, joints, eighths, and quarter-pounds galore.
The western end of Haight Street was not as clogged with post-event traffic as it was in some of those previous disastrous 4/20 years, but the street vending is getting more brazen and organized. These trucks had highly efficient food and apparel sales operations going on inside, and one beverage stand next to them was selling “Shroom Juice” that promised to “calm/stimulate the mind.”
These are minor problems. Overall, the 4/20 event has successfully pulled off an unlikely transformation from a sketchy free-for-all menace to a well-managed music festival with a smooth and peaceful vibe where people just get too high to cause trouble. That’s largely thanks to the organizing efforts of the event’s manager Sounds Bazaar, who’ve tightened enough screws to keep large-scale volumes of alcohol outside the festival grounds. And that kept California’s biggest free cannabis event primarily just a cannabis event.
Images: Joe Kukura