46th Annual Harvest Fest

A Preview of Madison's 46th Annual Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival
by Mike Huberty
September 2016

Demetrius Wainwright of Natty Nation

Demetrius Wainwright of Natty Nation

The first time I attended Harvest Fest was during my Freshman year of college at UW-Madison. I was walking down State Street when I noticed way more hippies and much more marijuana smell in the air than usual. In 1995 and my first year of living in Madison, hippies and open pot smoking was still kind of a novelty for me, so I figured it was some kind of holiday. People were marching down State Street just toking in the streets while police watched. I had to ask one of the passersby what the Hell was going on, did I walk into some kind of universe where the Drug War never existed?

“It’s Harvest Fest, man!” said the tie-dyed gentleman with the bloodshot eyes whom I asked. Alright then, man, it was Harvest Fest. The 25th Annual Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival to be precise and I had blundered directly onto their pro-legalization march on the Capitol. Well, 21 years later and Harvest Fest is now the longest running marijuana festival in the country. 

The political landscape has certainly changed in the past decade with three states legalizing across the board and almost two dozen more allowing for medicinal use, but Wisconsin’s stance hasn’t. While Dane Country doesn’t prosecute possession of marijuana as criminal under 25 grams, much of the rest of the state doesn’t follow suit.

And while in 1995, I thought it was just a hippie thing, I was wrong. This is a cause that affects everyone.  Regular people are going to prison for “crimes” that are perfectly legal in other parts of the country, lives are being destroyed and sick people aren’t getting access to natural medicine, and it’s all political reasons.

That’s part of what Harvest Fest is all about, spreading that message, but it’s also about the community and having fun. I spoke with Harvest Fest entertainment director Erik Riedasch (himself a local Madison musician with years in the scene) and he mentioned that he has a long history with the event.

“I first attended the Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in the late 80s”, Riedasch says, “and was overwhelmed with how big and awesome the event was back then.  Then I moved to Madison in the early 90s and with the War On Drugs the event had shrunk dramatically.  I got to know Ben Masel (ed note: Madison legend of marijuana law activism legend) and starting helping book bands and other festival planning and got us through some tough years.  Here we are many years later and I’ve been at it over 10 years now and feel the event is on the upswing. We’ve got more people, more interest, and now we are ranked in the top 10 Marijuana events in the nation!”

The entertainment kicks off Friday night with a party at the Harmony Bar and Grill on Atwood Ave. Jam bands Ifdakar and The Grasshoppers will be joined by bluegrass players, The Liver Killers, and spoken word jam artist, Flowpoetry.

Riesdasch is excited about the musicians playing at Library Mall over the weekend as well. “This year we had an opportunity to book a pretty big national band but opted to keep it local booking two of Madison’s premiere live bands Natty Nation and The People Brothers Band”, he says. “Not to mention nationally touring bluegrass band Feed the Dog and 12 other local Madison and regional acts from Milwaukee and Fox Valley ranging from Rock to Jam to Techno to Dub deejays playing real vinyl records.”

While the festival is featuring lots of entertainment there will be a couple of political speakers as well. Riedasch makes sure the main motivation isn’t overshadowed by the celebration aspect. “Chris Taylor and Melissa Sargent from the Wisconsin Assembly and other speakers from all over the nation (OR, NY, MI, CA) coming to town to help put focus on some very bad laws that still exist in our state.”

And of course he doesn’t forget the event which I bumped into over two decades ago now, he says, “I am always most excited about the parade (slash) protest (slash) celebration march from Library mall to the State Capitol steps on Sunday.  We have consistently drawn around two thousand people the last few years and the Packer game last year probably kept a few people home.  This year the Pack has no game on Sunday, so with decent weather we hope to see more people at the march than in recent years,  maybe three to five thousand!”

Harvest Fest is a very unique Madison tradition and features all the things that we love: standing up for something you believe in, live music, protesting, marches, and spending time outside! You can join in on this FREE event on Library Mall at the end of State Street, October 1st and 2nd.

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