‘Hempstalk’ pleases patrons; but fest raises ire of neighbors

How many hippies can you crowd into Sellwood Riverfront Park? Take a look; you’ll see what happened at this year’s location of this annual cannabis fest

Samantha Buttler and Rebekah Calvert model some of the clothing on sale at the HempFest event.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Neighbors agree on this: Sellwood Riverside Park became a more colorful place in September, as patrons flooded in to visit this year’s “Hempstalk” festival.

The perimeter of the park is dotted with vendor tents. Promising to cure any case of the munchies, portable catering kitchens cook up everything from hot dogs to Thai dinners. Dominating the area is a stage presenting a dozen bands and a special appearance by genre icon, Tommy Chong of “Cheech & Chong” fame.

Andrew Hangerud, assistant director of the event, says it is important because “It’s time to reform ideas about cannabis and the use of hemp. It is a huge natural fiber resource. It can be used to produce clothing, food, fuel, medicine for people that otherwise would have to take deadly narcotics to deal with their diseases.”

The best thing about the event, Hangerud tells us, is it gives people the opportunity to speak freely about the topic of cannabis, and listen to an alternative view regarding it.

Appropriate music accompanied the two-day festival.

Security oversees behaving crowd
In addition to event security staff, officers from the Portland Police Bureau cruise through the crowd.

“Part of their agreement with the city is that they would hire off-duty police officers along with security,” says SE Precinct Neighborhood Enhancement Team Sgt. Larry Graham “So far it has been uneventful; people have been behaving themselves. If anyone is smoking dope, they’re not being obvious about it.”

Event draws 15,000
The event, originally slated for Tom McCall Waterfront Park, was canceled by Portland Parks & Recreation, organizers say, citing unspecified “problems” the city encountered with the event in the past two years there.

This colorful glassware from the Puffing Palace attract the attention of many passers by.

When a lawsuit of the city was threatened, the city offered the Expo site near the Columbia River, and the small Sellwood Riverfront Park at the foot of SE Tacoma Street. The neighborhood was informed of this only after the fact, and when Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood association wrote a letter of protest (because the park was too small for the planned crowd) instead of signing off on the event as would normally be required, the city allowed it there anyway.

“We only had about three weeks to get the event ready,” states Hangerud. “But we’ve had 7,000 people here today (Saturday) and expect the same tomorrow.”

Increased traffic the main complaint
“I live three blocks away,” complains neighbor Andrea Wilson. She says she’s walked down to the park to observe the event. “The streets are clogged up with traffic in every direction. Cars are parked, some illegally, taking all the parking spots in the neighborhood. When they leave, they dump food wrappers and trash.”

The “Wild Animus Girls” theatrically slink through the crowd promoting a CD featuring really odd and unlistenable music — whether sober or inebriated.

Another neighbor, Jack Pearson, adds “This area simply doesn’t have the capacity for an event of this size. I’m not against the festival, but this is the wrong place to put it.”

Folks at Oaks Park indicate they aren’t at all amused, either.

Their CEO, Joe Norling, tells us the Hempstalk organizers claimed, on their city park use application, that the amusement park agreed to allow public for the festival. “It’s simply not true. This is one of our season’s busiest weekends,” states Norling.

Whether dancing to the beat, or sitting on the grass, although neighbors weren’t thrilled with the event, people attending say Hempfest was “a gas”.

Officials won’t say whether or not 2008 Hempstalk will return to this location. The neighborhood association says the Expo site has the parking and the size to accommodate the event and that next year it should be held there.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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