HighLifeStyle Show Aims Even Higher, Adds Tattoo Hall, Dead Tribute

Last year’s HighLifeStyle Show in Boxborough was one of the first Massachusetts events where social consumption of cannabis was permitted and advertised, with brand ambassadors offering samples. It was also an enormous undertaking, with appearances by Cheech Marin and the Wailers among others. 

The event is the brainchild of Bay State (counter)culture icon Gary Sohmers, a renowned vintage toy guru and Antiques Roadshow vet who has hosted concerts, comic cons, and collectible festivals for decades. He has a major vision, which has expanded in scope for the second HighLifeStyle installment coming up from Sept. 22-24.

I asked Sohmers about changes, additions like a parallel tattoo convention, and of course the show’s approach to social consumption during a purgatory period prior to state regulators actually putting rules in place for public puffing.

Pictured: Jimmy Young of Pro Cannabis Media interviews Cheech Marin at the 2022 HighLifeStyle Show

Before moving into year two, what would you say was the highlight of the first show? Cheech comes to mind. 

The highlight for me was the smooth production. Everyone was having a great time consuming herbs, grooving to the music and talking cannabis with fellow enthusiasts … Nothing went wrong, no police calls, no arrests, no fines, no outside interference from authoritarian figures raining on the parade and a vibe was created showing that cannabis businesses and consumers can get together at a fan convention for cannabis. Oh yeah, smoking weed with Cheech was pretty awesome too.

In planning for a second HighLifeStyle Show, what are some of the biggest changes your team has in play?

In year one, in a partnership with my good friend Marc Shepard and NECANN, the goal was to prove the model that an open consumption upscale event can happen without anything bad happening—so mission accomplished. This year, producing it alone without NECANN’s support or involvement, I’ve moved deeper into the consumer’s interests such as brand and dispensary loyalty, the home grower’s needs for education and camaraderie, along with programming for craft bud growers with a keynote and discussion about the future of the craft bud movement with former CCC commissioner Shalene Title.

The perspectives have changed but the mission is the same—entertain, educate, and enjoy the high lifestyle.

What’s the overall theme? Aside from the parallel tattoo show, which I’ll get to, what is the unique mark of this show? Or is it a festival? There’s also a hotel right on site that people can stay in, so …

The opportunity to have a social consumption, networking, marketing, education, and entertainment event in a resort-style hotel just outside of Boston instead of in a farmer’s field or fairgrounds elevates the show from being just another sesh with bands. We bring in entertainment by artists and musicians who are cannabis advocates, filling each day with a variety of programming including comedy shows, magic, keynote addresses, panels, and craft bud seminars along with our evening after parties. The exhibitors include dispensaries, cannabis brands, seed sellers, accessories, pipes, pottery, art, books, vintage vinyl records, posters, and other accouterments of the cannabis culture. 

What’s the trick to having an event that works for people trying to do business as well as potential consumers of the products that those businesses are selling?

The merging of B2B and B2C in cannabis is new to the public, the CCC, and the businesses. With all the restrictions about the flower, its uses and distribution, there is no clear consensus on how businesses can “legally” grow their business, so the small businesses like micro growers, home growers, and small dispensaries are losing out on the opportunity to be in the business.

By offering an alternative to traditional gray market events, we are trying to set the tone and model of open consumption marketing events. Being on private property at the hotel, we are able to consume cannabis everywhere on the grounds by permission of the building management. The local police will be protecting us from the outside world, although still very available if needed for anything illegal that could happen, none of which happened last year and we don’t expect any issues this year either. The venue is not a dispensary and no THC sales are permitted on property, but consumption and sharing and gifting are all legal by Massachuseets state laws so there will be a lot of that happening.

We believe that someday an event like this can happen at other locations around the state. The future of craft bud will hopefully eventually include craft “budderies” like there currently are wineries and breweries where small businesses can have their roadside stand or stadium-sized venue allowing open consumption, along with the sale of their products, food, and drink.

Give us a rundown of the music and entertainment you’re lining up.

Friday, Sept. 22 is Grateful Dead tribute day, opening at 4 pm to the vendors, celebrity guests, and the tattoo artists. Brett Wilson and members of Roots of Creation will perform their Grateful Dub, a reggae inspired tribute to the Dead, set beginning at 5 pm and the vendors area will close after they finish at 8 pm. The hotel afterparty with DeadBeat will begin at 8 pm in the hotel courtyard and play until 11 pm. Tickets are currently on sale for only $35 advance purchase for all of Friday’s programming, or only $20 advance for the DeadBeat hotel afterparty.

Saturday, Sept. 23 will open the vendors and artists areas at 10 am, with music starting at 10:30 with DJ Stenny and DJ Slim. The music continues on the main stage at noon with Mighty Mystic and the headliner at 2:30 will be the reggae rocker Fortunate Youth. There will be a Saturday night hotel after party with a special guest to be announced included in VIP admission and for hotel guests.

Sunday, Sept. 24, I’m pleased to present NRBQ, preceded by Girl With A Hawk, followed by the new supergroup of guitar titans, The Good, The Bag & The Butcher featuring Cliff Goodwin, Sal Baglio, and Jon Butcher.

There will also be Brian O’Halloran, “Dante” of the Clerks movies appearing to meet fans, sign autographs, take photos, and probably smoke some cannabis. Other guests include the Toking With The Dead authors Ben and Jeff, the Addicted Animal Series books author Sam Miserendino, and Godzilla artist Bob Eggleton, among others.

Pictured: Sohmers with Tara Reid at one of his fan expos

How about the weed festivities? There’s joint rolling competitions and taste testing and other attractions. What’s been your approach in curating everything, mixing vendors with a lot of entertainment that you’re bringing in. What’s the glue holding it all together?

I believe the glue is the fact that we all feel that cannabis should be treated like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, or tomatoes, allowed to be grown, sold, traded and consumed for the pleasure of the consumer, for medicine and for creativity.

All participants, whether performing, speaking or exhibiting, believe that there is a place for cannabis safely and healthily in modern society. We all see a future where events like this are regular. There are many events that hold competitions where judges give prizes for production of quality products, but our model is to let the consumer judge the quality of your product by offering sampling, just like craft wine or craft beer. Offer a sample, capture a customer, get feedback, build brand loyalty. 

As for the actual weed …. What are the rules specifically regarding what the vendors can and can’t sell and can and can’t give away?

Our model follows the path of craft wine and craft beer events, although no one gets drunk and drives. The model is to schedule and offer tastings so that attendees can try new products, give the company or grower valuable feedback, and become a consumer of that product in a legal way at their favorite dispensary. We expect there to be scheduled samplings each day at several booths. The Craft Bud Alliance will be working with micro growers and home growers to allow sampling of new products in order to get consumer products that may not be on the market currently. Like craft wine, only so many bottles produced during a grow, and craft beer only so many barrels, with craft bud there are only so many buds, and some may never make it to market.

Sales of THC products on property are not allowed, but gifting and sharing is allowed.

How about any rules about what people can and can’t bring in on their own cannabis wise?

Attendees can bring as much cannabis as is legal for one person to carry, and share as much as they choose. Again, no selling. 

Your location is pretty close to the New Hampshire border. From the looks of things, it could be forever until they figure out adult use up there. How much of your crowd do you see as coming in from the Granite State?

Last year we drew from all six New England states. As a hotel show we are the more sophisticated consumer’s choice for an event. 

And finally, the cherry on top and a big change from last year, is you’re combining the show with a tattoo con. In addition to bringing a bigger crowd, how do you see the tie in with weed playing out, other than a whole lot of 710 and 420 tattoos?

As a 21+ to enter event, in a 50,000 square-foot venue, we wanted to fill the space with things that cannabis enthusiasts might be interested in, and tattoos proved to be the perfect add-on. I have been producing art events for years, but not body art until now. The dozen artists we have lined up are incredible and have been curated for quality by tattoonow.com so I feel that the art will be fabulous and worthy of our event.

Get more info at highlifestyleshow.com and purchase tickets here.