A symphony performance next month in Denver is expected to be a first of its kind, ending on a high note as joints and pot brownies fill the hands of listeners who are expected to replace the wine-and-cheese crowd more typical of such a classy event.
Searching for a new audience and struggling through diminishing financial support, the Colorado Symphony plans to start selling $75 tickets Wednesday to what its calling "Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series."
"We think it's a great opportunity for the symphony to satisfy two of its needs: to reach a younger, more diverse audience and raise money," Jerome Kern, the symphony's chief executive, told the Los Angeles Times. "We’re not passing judgment on whether smoking marijuana is a good or bad thing."
Three fundraising parties to be held at an art gallery, with a capacity of about 250 people, will be bring-your-own-cannabis events. Attendees may smoke marijuana -- or regular cigarettes -- on an outdoor patio attached to the gallery.
Food and alcohol will be served, and guests are being encouraged to use Uber, taxis or public transit instead of driving themselves.
Event planner Jane West said the series came together quickly after some members of the symphony's fund-raising team happened to attend one of her upscale bring-your-own-marijuana events last month. They thought having some symphony ensembles play at one of these events would be perfect, West said.
Through her company Edible Events Co., West has sought to squash the image of marijuana as a drug only used by lazy teenagers. West said pot helps deliver better awareness of the tastes of food and the sounds of music.
Since recreational usage of marijuana became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, she's organized four events for people to consume tasty food and light up their joints in fancy settings. Those events maxed out at about 125 people each.
"My events are not really about just cannabis, they are sophisticated events," she said. "This all about promoting adult, responsible cannabis consumption."
For the symphony, which has had "Beethoven and Brews" fundraisers featuring craft brewers in the past, the idea of switching to something more like "Copland and Cannabis" was an easy one.
"We don't see ourselves as the arbiter of moral values," said Kern, the chief executive. "We play good music. Cannabis is legal. The industry is legal. The people we are dealing with comply with all the laws, and they will provide very large financial support."
Ideal 420 Soils, a New Hampshire-based supplier of pot-growing tools, is the lead sponsor for the symphony series. Two local dispensaries, the Farm and Gaia Plant-Based Medicine, have also signed on as sponsors. West called all of them "some of the more responsible business owners" in the marijuana community.
Kern said he's heard no criticism from the symphony's trustees or existing sponsors. But some symphony-goers expressed displeasure, saying that the symphony had sold out to the state's newest industry.
"Wow! The CSO just lost all my respect," Russ Schuett wrote on the symphony's Facebook page. "Sorry, but I won't be attending any more concerts after this season."
Public consumption of marijuana remains illegal under state law. The symphony said that the BYOC concerts were private parties being held on private property.
The first event, May 23, is described as a journey down the "Pan American Highway" with food such as chimchurri, arepas and Latin delights. The themes for the July 18 and Aug. 15 concerts are Southern-centric "Mississippi Blues Highway" and Asian-focused "Summer Monsoon."
The series will end with a concert at the 9,500-seat Red Rocks Amphitheater. Though smoking of any kind is banned at the facility, it's typical for musicians to notice the unmistakable scent of marijuana in the air, Kern said. At the concert, marijuana-related businesses will set up booths to educate attendees about the drug.
"They’re a new business, rapidly growing, becoming a large taxpayer and they are looking to legitimize their function," Kern said. "This fund-raising series will do better than anything we've done before."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found that 52% of Colorado voters say marijuana legalization has worked out during the first four months. Marijuana remains a sore spot for many seniors and Republicans, with about 63% of them saying legalization hasn't worked out.
State lawmakers are working to tightening up regulations about edible forms of marijuana as officials in other states monitor the ongoing debate in Colorado.