“Besides the concert and consumer aspects of the event, the B2B side allows growers and brands to show their products, in legally acceptable quantities, to curators, dispensary owners, and management, to start conversations”
The tens of thousands or perhaps even millions of people who know Gary Sohmers know that he throws a good party. The renowned vintage toy guru and 12-season Antiques Roadshow vet has hosted comic cons and collectible festivals for decades, always mining local musical talent as well as film and TV stars from then and now to ice the cake.
As one might speculate based on his chill demeanor, healthy mane, and animated outfits, Sohmers is also a fan of cannabis. His unapologetic advocacy traces all the way back to 50 years ago in Wisconsin, where he lived that ’70s show in real life, booking concerts and publishing indie and underground publications like this one.
Variegated experience considered, the upcoming HighLifeStyleShow in Boxborough (Oct. 7-9) was several generations in the making. As Sohmers describes the joint effort with NECANN, the event “will be a gathering of brands, dispensaries, distributors, growers, artists, performers and consumers to converge in the HighLifeStyle of B2B and B2C in a resort hotel conference setting with exhibitors, vendors, concerts, comedy, education, celebrities, socializing and networking.”
Plus the Wailers. And yes, you can actually consume cannabis on site. Imagine that.
We’ll be there as a sponsor as well. But first, we spoke with Sohmers about the upcoming festivities and the long road leading up to parties like the HighLifeStyleShow.
The first and most important question is obviously—how will consumption work? People want to know.
We are presenting an event at a hotel on private property, with a 21-plus admittance policy, so no one will be allowed on property under 21. We bought out the entire hotel, and control all of the rooms, so all bookings will also be handled by event management. Cannabis activities allowed on property Oct. 7-9 will be anything legal by Massachusetts laws. Attendees are allowed to carry a quantity that is legally allowed in Mass, and consume combustible cannabis on property outdoors. No THC products will be sold on premises although CBD and non-infused products will be.
Besides the concert and consumer aspects of the event, the B2B side allows growers and brands to show their products, in legally acceptable quantities, to curators, dispensary owners, and management, to start conversations about business that takes place off property. Making the connection and showing products, knowledge and skills will allow next-generation and legacy growers to find new paths to success.
So this event was originally planned for a few months ago, then rescheduled. What kinks had to be worked out?
The original holiday date around Independence day was not as conducive to exhibitors and participants as the October holiday. Perfect for leaf and bud peeping.
How did you go about building the event around this initial concept? What was important to incorporate? Music and food, for sure, but how are you specifically going about it?
The concept was initiated following the craft wine and craft beer movements, both regulated in a similar manner as cannabis. That model where brands are allowed (by law) to allow people to “taste” their products to build brand loyalty and let people try something prior to buying it, allowed smaller businesses to succeed into stores, bars, and restaurants because of consumer demand. We hope that the cannabis business can evolve in that direction and allow safe tasting events by law.
The theme of the event really is highly-functional people, an attempt to chip away at the stigma that people who use cannabis are all “Spicolli” or “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” stoners, but we are not. It takes highly-functional people to operate a cannabis business, or any business, to do math, science, art, music, sports, medicine, philosophy and even physics. People have been doing these jobs for years while using cannabis, but could not say it out loud, as it might get them fired, demoted, shamed or ridiculed needlessly.
I am currently putting together the programming panels for the weekend around that theme of highly-functional people and looking to connect with anyone who may feel “closeted” about their successes due to their cannabis use in their profession and would like to speak as part of a panel on any of these tracks. Science, medicine, sports, botany, written word, graphic arts, music, theater, film, TV, comedy, mathematics, philosophy, the law, physics, finance, space and/or climate. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You do a lot of events every year. What is particularly different about this one?
This event is different in the most part by being 21-plus when my other shows are family friendly comic cons and collectibles shows. The Boxboro Regency Hotel is especially suited for this type of an event because of its location, management team, and owners. The location is near the intersection of route 495 and route two in Boxborough, Mass, which makes it about a half hour from the Boston, Cambridge, Somerville area. It’s only a half hour from Worcester, and only 45 minutes from Providence and Manchester, New Hampshire.
You’ve also done a lot of events over the past several decades, many of which cannabis has no doubt played a big role in. But not by way of the promoters. What’s it like to operate in this interesting new world? Did you ever think this day would come?
Back in the mid-1970s, when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I was a cannabis consumer and businessman. I operated a record store, booked bands, produced and performed concerts, and was a founding member of the American Cannabis Society, producing numerous rallies at the Wisconsin state capital. While producing the Madcity Music Sheet magazine, in 1978, I met with High Times founder Tom Forcade and his Trans High Media was to become our new publisher and we would become his music magazine for national distribution. Two months later he had passed, and the shake up at Trans High left us in the dust. I have operated in this world for almost 50 years, and the fact it’s become like the tax-driven alcohol business does not surprise me.