The Cannabis Cup was hardly off the ground when High Times editor-in-chief Steve Hager tossed it in my direction. The year was 1992. It was not yet a public event. He told me to go over to Amsterdam and run it.
Hager organized the first three Cups, setting the stage for establishing a standard to determine the best Dutch marijuana strains. For the fourth Cup in 1991 he sent staffers Judy McGuire and Lou Stathis over. They contacted several coffeeshops and produced a small event. In 1992, Hager assigned myself and Cup photographer Andre Grossmann to pull the fifth Cup together. Andre had the coffeeshops contacts from the previous year. When we arrived, we rented bikes and ran around town collecting stinky-smelling entries. The three main competitors were Homegrown Fantasy, which won with Haze x Skunk, Sensi Seeds and the Bluebird. Our celebrity judges were Elvy Musikka, Dr. Eric Fromberg, Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbbruzzese, and members of the Britsh garage band The Stairs and the Dutch funk band Gotcha. We wanted to arrange for a concert but that never happened. I visited the Melkweg and nudged open a door that would be beneficial for the Cup in years to come. We held a dinner for about 30 people and announced the winners.
By the time I returned to the Cup five years later, Hager had opened it up to the public. There was an Expo in one location and concerts at the Melkweg, as I had suggested in '92. That Cup was a big one for me. As music/senior editor of High Times I'd built up a relationship with the Marley family. Hager decided to create a Hall of Fame and wanted Bob Marley to be the first inductee. We needed a Marley to accept. For several months I sent messages to the Marleys' representative, asking if Ziggy, Stephen or Rita could attend. Finally, just days before the start of the 10th Cup, I learned thet Rita would accept on Bob's behalf, which was a major coup.
The day she was supposed to arrive, I was escorted to Schiphol Airport by Arjan Roskam from the Green House. We waited and waited. No Rita. We retuned to the city with long faces. The next morning the phone rang in my hotel room. "It's Rita," the voice said cheerfully. "I'm at the airport." I made arrangements to meet her at her hotel at 5 pm. The plan was to take Rita to the Melkweg, where the Cannabis Cup Band were running through their set of Marley tunes to be played that night. We were all hoping that Rita would agree to join them on stage. She listened for a few minutes, shook her head affirmatively, walked up the steps and started singing with the band. Later that night, we presented the award and had a Marley tribute concert, which all went exceedingly well. Before Rita returned to Jamaica, we heard she had a little mishap in her room: She'd literally set something on fire. But fortunately there was no major damage and no one was hurt. Bob would've understood.
For the next eight Cups I was the backstage liaison for the bands. That included 311, Fishbone, George Clinton, Jefferson Starship, Patti Smith, Galactic, Steel Pulse, Kottonmouth Kings, Culture and many more. I was a celebrity judge - meaning I received my own stash of seed company entries - in '97. The other years we all shared the strains and hash, testing out the latest Dutch varieties.
Hager ran the Cup as an semi-improvisational event - part legitimate trade show, part psychedelic carnival. In addition to magazine staff, Hager had a handpicked crew he dubbed the Temple Dragons, which I was inducted to and then tossed out of within the course of a few years. The Dragons mostly shot video and did security.
The years pretty blend together for me, but 2003 stands out because that's the year Jack Herer was honored. He flew into New York from California and stayed with me until we departed for the Dam. This was after his stroke. That year George Clinton performed and I got sick the last day after hitting a huge communal spliff. Everyone usually came home with the Cannabis Cup cough, but that year I was socked with the flu as well. It was a rough flight back.
Visiting Amsterdam this time of the year - Thanksgiving Week - means you need to bundle up. Generally, if there's any sunlight, it disappears early in the day. Rule of thumb: Don't bother bringing sunglasses.
In addition to the awesome herb, Amsterdam is known for its beer, chocolate, cheese, herring, pea soup and an international selection of restaurants. The locals are friendly but hard to get to know. Both the men and women are tall and Nordic looking. Get around town on the trams or, if you're more adventurous, on a bike. The Dutch love to bike. The flat terrain makes for easy spinning, and bike lanes will get you almost anywhere in and out of town. Of course, Amsterdam is even more famous for its canals and museums - the Rikjsmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House are not to be missed. A nice boat ride is always a highlight.
Hager no longer runs the Cup. The magazine took the event over from him a couple of years ago and has branched out with numerous U.S. Cups spread around the country, mostly in the Western states. It's become a huge event, dwarfing the modest-sized Amsterdam Cup.
The problem I see with the U.S. Cups is there's no public judging of strains like in Amsterdam. Until High Times finds a way to do this in Denver, Seattle and other cities, they're just glorified Expos with panel discussions and a big Saturday night concert. And, until then, Amsterdam will remain the true Cannabis Cup.
I won't be attending this year - it begins Sun., Nov. 23 - but if High Times ever wants to invite back some of the event's pioneers, I'd head over in a New York minute.