Death, Weed, and Cellos

Celebrate marijuana’s biggest day in San Francisco by reflecting on mortality.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis in California now fully in effect, it was only a matter of time before pot culture made a drastic leap forward as well.

April 20 has long been celebrated as a stoner holiday. There are reggae concerts and organized smoke-outs on college campuses and a massive gathering at San Francisco’s Hippie Hill. While activists have always been part of the proceedings, 4/20 has mostly been an exercise in indulgence.

While the current political cannabis landscape leaves plenty of crucial questions in need of definitive answers, the expanding demographics of pot users have provided a renewed interest in redefining April 20 as more than simply a smoke-happy get together. In San Francisco, Cynthia Boedihardjo and Jessica Sharp are challenging themselves to do just that with the launch of NEW ERA, which aims to create inclusive community events with an added cannabis element.

NEWERA’s inaugural 4/20 event, which will be held at a private residence yet to be disclosed, features acclaimed local cellist Joshua McClain and will operate alongside ReImagine End of Life Festival‘s weeklong series of events focused on death. The festival consists of more than 100 separate events all designed to help participants engage with the concepts and ramifications of life’s ultimate conclusion. While the cannabis component of NEWERA’s event prohibited them from being an official part of ReImagine, their 4/20 offering will nonetheless embrace the spirit of the festival. At the center is McClain, who will perform his latest album, Coming Home, which Boedihardjo describes as a “hero’s journey through a spiritual death.” 

“We’ll have two canvasses, one that’s for death and one that’s for birth,” Sharp explains. “You’ll have little cards and you can put up things that you’d like to let go of in your life and things you’d like to reintroduce as well.”

While Sharp says she intends to bury her addiction to sugar and possibly rebirth an interest in vegetables, she notes that attendees are welcome to engage at whatever depth feels comfortable, acknowledging there are a lot of symbolic and literal deaths to consider at the moment.

“We are experiencing the death of the patriarchy,” she says. “We are experiencing the death of stigmatization surrounding cannabis. We are experiencing the death of organized religion. We are definitely experiencing collective societal death.”

NEW ERA has partnered with the online delivery service Sava for the cannabis component of its event. Patrons can order care packages through Sava, which will be delivered the day of to the private home where the 4/20 event is set to occur. 

“So you’re buying products and having them delivered,” Sharp explains, “and then we just happen to have a gathering that you’re welcome to join if you would like to.”

Keeping with the recent trend of combining cannabis with everything from yoga to wine tastings, Boedihardjo and Sharp don’t see marijuana as the focus of their 4/20 event, but rather one additional component available to enhance the experience.

They also plan to offer on-site education to anyone interested, which could be necessary given that Boedihardjo estimates up to 50 percent of attendees will be new to cannabis.

“We’re not just going to give you a joint,” Sharp says. “It’s totally optional, and we’ll always educate you.”

“We’re definitely more geared towards low-dosage,” Boedihardjo adds. “We want you to check in versus checking out, and we’ll provide the space for you to learn what you’re consuming, whether it’s the strain or the different terpenes, and how it’s going to affect you.”

While the April 20 event will mark the official launch of NEW ERA, it will in fact be the company’s fourth offering. Most recently, in December, they hosted an elevated crafting night in partnership with San Francisco’s Maker Studio that included 3D printing and LED paper circuit cards that light up. Both NEW ERA founders bring a ton of shared experience to their new endeavour together.

Boedihardjo is not a newcomer to organizing events. Before combining forces with Sharp, Boedihardjo worked for Google, assisting the company with high-profile live streams of events like Coachella and Bonnaroo. She also co-founded the Mission event space The Laundry, and previously worked on a number of immersive experiences. Sharp’s most recent tenure saw her working in a variety of areas for Bay Area behemoth Salesforce, where her focuses included getting involved with employee resource groups. She also sat on the board of Salesforce’s Women’s Network for a number of years, and now hopes that NEW ERA will be a bastion for inclusive, inventive cannabis-themed events.

“Everyone feeling welcome is something that’s really important to us,” Sharp says. “We’re not going around saying this is ‘women-centric’ or ‘women-only,’ because that’s divisive language. What we’re really looking to do is just create this space where anyone and everyone can feel really empowered and safe and comfortable to just show up as themselves.”

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

The Birth of a NEWERA, Friday, Apr. 20, 7 p.m. Location to be disclosed; $35-$45;

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