Words and Photos by Thumpah
When I walk through the doors, I'm taken aback by the enormous space where this event is being held. It is in a room of 11,000 square meters (or about 33,000 square feet). I go for an aimless stroll, just to try to comprehend the layout.
I see many grow rooms ranging in all sizes, shapes, and styles from sheds to buckets and barrels and closets for the novice. The most impressive grow set-up is a large shipping container by the company Happy Gardens; a very popular product because you can bury it under ground. There is everything and anything you may need for growing, along with a wide variety of seed companies, hemp products, hemp foods, beers, wines, hemp, hemp, hemp...after all, it is a collection of international growers and seed companies to exchange knowledge and wares.
The Highlife team holds their awards ceremonies on the first day, when all the professional growers are present. The judging is all done behind closed doors by a jury of 15 well respected growers and connoisseurs. They were given about 120 samples in plastic bags two months before the Cup, giving them plenty of time to reach their decisions. They then give the weed and hash points for "appearance, taste, smell" while "high" gets double points. The different categories are Bio (grown in earth), hydro, outdoor, nederhash, and, new this year, Haze. Then the points are all added together to see who wins what category and the strain with the most points wins the overall Cup.
The awards ceremony starts with a fashion show and dance; then comes the actual giving away of awards. Since the event is primarily Dutch, the MC speaks in the local language, so it's a little difficult for me to follow all that is said. However, this much I was able to figure out...the winner of this year's Highlife Cup is Arjan from Greenhouse Seed Company with his Great White Shark which won the Cannabis Cup in 1997. Amazingly, this is his first time entering the Highlife Cup and he takes the grand prize along with best hydro. The awards ceremony ends with a female striptease and a man handcuffed to a throne (I guess you just HAD to be there).
Afterwards, I am sitting with the editors of Highlife as well as the publishers of Discover, with a copy of the DVD, "The King of Cannabis" Arjan says that if he is putting himself out like that and winning all these awards, then he must be doing something right. I ask the organizers some questions about the Fair, like if there were going to be big musical talents performing. They reply that it is better to have more emphasis on the trade aspect of growing and producing cannabis as well as its many, universal uses.
On the second day, I notice that in the back of the hall where the table soccer tournament is being held, there are many walls constructed for the dart tournament. I also notice that there are many more people than on the first day. Then a really big reality dawns on me; in this entire expo, you can't find one cannabis plant! I inquire with the organizers about this and they explain to me that it is all the fault of the Utrecht city council. The contract stated that there was a legal limit of only five grams per person permitted and anyone caught with more than the legal amount or caught giving cannabis to anyone, would be politely asked to leave. After the
event, I was told that only one person, who was caught vaporizing other people, was asked to leave.
On the main stage, there is another fashion show by Design Studio ’93, followed by pole dancing by Ashley Striptease. Later, around 4:20, is the awards ceremony for best product and best booth at the expo. This is followed by DJ Dr. Ska from Kink FM playing all kinds of cool reggae tracks. Back in the Buddha Lounge area there is a local band playing named 'Trust'; a very groovy, funk, rock, blues sound with this dynamite, female singer whose voice is ten times
On the third day, I finally find the area where I can get all my food and drinks for free, since I have a press pass. It is there that I meet with Boy, the chief organizer of the Highlife Fair who also works with Discover Publishing (which is responsible for Highlife, Highlife Guide, and Soft Secrets; a free newspaper dedicated for growing and published in five different countries and in five different languages). It is with him and Cliff, the editor of Soft Secrets UK, that I conduct my final interview for a proper evaluation of the Fair. They claim that this is the largest Hemp Fair with the biggest international turnout (a total of over 15,000 people) since they started eight years ago. This was also the first year that female entertainment is featured, which some people find quite sleazy. When I asked what they could do to improve the event for next year, they reply that they would have more musical acts, since many people complained about the lack of good music to listen to from the main stage. Also, Boy would like to expand it even more to create larger booths for the vendors. I'm a bit shocked to hear this, since the event is already so immense. I must say that I was very impressed by the professional quality of the organizers who operate behind the scenes to create such an incredible event such as this. In October they will be organizing the Highlife Hemp Fair in Barcelona, Spain, which I am told, is slightly larger than this one (last year they had a turnout of 20,000+), and perhaps, the largest in Europe. If anyone finds themselves in Spain come October, I highly recommend attending.