Ohio Hempfest set the grass of South Oval ablaze with hemp activism for the first time in five years this weekend, though its attendance was lackluster compared to past inceptions.
The free music festival lasted from noon to approximately 11:15 p.m. on Saturday, short of its original slated end time of midnight.
There were 15 musical performances in the Browning Amphitheater as well as 13 pro-hemp speakers and 16 vendors including one selling food and five selling glass pipes. One musical performance and two speeches were cut when attendance dwindled late in the night.
“I was expecting a lot of hippies and a lot of students, but it was very slim on both sides,” Tyler Williams said.
Williams was one of the vendors at the event, selling wire-wrapped jewelry that he made, as well as glass pipes.
“I’m surprised they didn’t f—–’ promote the s— out of it,” Williams said.
Others were more optimistic about the turnout.
“I thought it was successful. It was a rebuilding year. Put on a show, had a crowd and the vendors did well,” said Derek Koenig, president of For a Better Ohio, the student organization that organized the event this year.
Koenig, a fourth-year in political science and public affairs, was counting the number of people he saw at the event and said approximately 2,000 people came throughout the day.
Not all of the festival-goers were there for the entire time, with many coming and going.
Koenig said that he and his student organization put up 325 posters in OSU dorms, and that he himself had spent approximately 500 hours planning and organizing the event over the past 18 months.
“With the amount of resources we had, we did our best,” Koenig said.
There were never more than about 100 people in the Browning Amphitheater at any time during the event, with the crowd growing to that size by 4 p.m. and the largest crowds being drawn in by the rapper Ronald “Ron E Polo” Shelton and the Grateful Dead tribute band, 710 Ashbury.
People of all ages attended Hempfest, including elderly people and families with young children.
Small groups of people danced in front of the Browning Amphitheater stage when 710 Ashbury played Grateful Dead songs, such as “Loose Lucy,” “Cumberland Blues” and “Friend Of The Devil.”
The music at Hempfest was what indicated to some people that it was going on.
“I was just walking to a meeting that I had, and I heard the music, so I came over,” said Laura Hoffman, a fourth-year in forestry, fisheries and wildlife.
Hoffman said she had not seen any ads for Hempfest before the event, but supports the legalization and recreational usage of cannabis.
“We love this school, so sitting out here on a beautiful afternoon and playing music is key to us,” said Brant Gipson, banjo player and vocalist for Fox Valley Harvest, one of the bands that performed at Hempfest. Brant said he graduated from OSU in the class of 1998 and currently works in the field of computer science along with his musical endeavors.
“Personally, I’m excited about hemp products and the way it can contribute to our forest products industry,” Gipson said.
“More and more people are on board with legalization,” said one of Gipson’s bandmates, guitarist and vocalist Mark Hixson.
Hixon said that he and Gipson played in the Hempfest show in 1997, when they were in a band called Uncle Sam’s Dream Machine.
University Police Lieutenant George Spence said that this year’s Hempfest was nothing compared other campus concerts, or even past Hempfests.
“This compared to a concert, this isn’t even a concert, this is nothing,” Spence said.
Spence said that he worked as security at Hempfest every year since it started in the 1980s, and in the Hempfest’s original run, there were an average of 10 arrests each year as well as numerous advisements against illegal activity.
“I think that’s what created the downfall of the event, the open smoking and the drug violations,” Spence said.
There was a report of drug abuse at Browning Amphitheater at 7:32 p.m. Saturday and the case was closed without an arrest, according to the daily crime log on the University Police website.
The smaller size of the event compared with previous years didn’t phase all of the vendors.
“I really wanted to come just to do education,” said Jeremy Koosed, one of the vendors at the event.
Koosed is a member of the Ohio-based bakery company Plant Kingdom, and he was selling edible hemp products, including snack bars made with hemp seeds and hemp oil, all of which lacked drug properties because of their lack of THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a “high” feeling.
He said he was somewhat disappointed in the amount of people at Hempfest, but that disappointment was curbed because he felt like a part of the cannibis community.
“It just tickles peoples’ hearts having the event again,” Koenig said.