When Colorado legalized pot this year, millions of music fans fantasized about the far-out musical experiences that will take place in the "Mile High" city of Denver. Now, the Colorado Symphony may have answered their wishes. In a bid to attract a new and younger audience, the Denver-based orchestra has announced "Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series," four pot-themed fundraising concerts from May through September.
The orchestra has partnered with Edible Events Co., a Denver pot promoter, for three shows of chamber music at a downtown gallery. The series culminates with a concert at Red Rocks, an amphitheater outside Denver where the symphony and pop and rock groups play. Each concert, which is open to audiences 21 and over, will have a special themed program.
Ray Mark Rinaldi, the fine arts critic at the Denver Post, says in this podcast that the orchestra's initiative is less desperate than obvious. "Pot is big money here," said Rinaldi, who broke the story. "For the symphony, which has been struggling, it's a pretty smart move."
Colorado's pot industry has been touted as a significant revenue source for the state, expected to generate $98 million in tax income in the upcoming fiscal year, and helping to balance its budget. The Colorado Symphony is selling sponsorships to marijuana-related companies; in return, they get to enjoy the legitimacy of being associated with the state's only full-time orchestra.
There is also the prospect of luring new audiences, particularly fans of art rock or jam bands who are looking to explore a new musical genre.
But Rinaldi believes that many classical music fans are already marijuana users. "I saw some people getting stoned at the symphony concert last weekend," he noted. "They're already out there." He adds that the Colorado Symphony has previously played concerts at Red Rocks where musicians detected the scent of marijuana smoke wafting in from the audience.
It remains to be seen whether other Colorado classical music organizations follow suit. A local youth orchestra is reportedly pondering a marijuana-themed gala benefit in place of a traditional wine tasting this spring. But so far, blue-chip music festivals, including Aspen and Vail, are keeping their distance: A spokesman for the Bravo! Vail festival told WQXR that "we don't have any plans to reach the marijuana user segment."
Rinaldi says he's currently assembling a "stoner playlist" for the Denver Post. Selections may include Mahler ("his music is such a journey"), Dvorak ("where you can pick out all of those ethnic melodies") and maybe some Chopin ("for the mellow high") or Scriabin ("now that could be a good time"). WQXR listeners have also suggested a few possibilities on Twitter (see below).
Listen to the full podcast and tell us what you think of the Colorado Symphony series in the comments box below.