NILES — On Saturday, the first-ever Niles Cannabis Music Festival will serve as a test. As five local and regional bands play on stage, ticket holders to the all-day event will buy and use marijuana products on site at Riverfront South Park while they also play games and sample local food trucks.
The city council had voted unanimously in June that, if all of the “rules and conditions” are followed at this fest, then the festival’s Lansing-based organizers could pursue a larger event at the park on Sept. 25.
The city and organizers have capped Saturday at no more than 500 ticket holders at any one time, while the fall event could potentially admit up to 2,000.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Mel Spencley, one of four owners of a company that are running the festival, said about Saturday. “Everybody feels really good about where it is now.”
She said people in six other Michigan cities have asked about bringing such a festival, but, Spencley said, “It’s a wait-and-see to see how it goes with Niles.”
Niles Police Chief Jim Millin said that, with such a new event, “there are a lot of unknowns to us.” To gauge how well it goes, he’ll watch to be sure there isn’t an excessive need for law enforcement, either at the park or elsewhere in the community where participants may go afterward.
After several meetings with organizers, he said, the event seems to be “pretty well planned.”
Spencley said that company co-owner Germaine Redding has hired a security firm to provide 30 guards at theCevent site, a firm that he’s used at marijuana festivals elsewhere in Michigan. Redding refused to provide any specific details.
Millin said police will be posted at the roads and trails leading into the park to keep out anyone who doesn’t have a ticket or isn’t involved. He said Niles city police officers will work overtime shifts — and organizers will reimburse the city for the expense — along with help from county and state officers.
A few plainclothes officers will pass through the park to monitor operations, he said.
Unlike other events held in the parks, the public won’t be allowed to even view it unless they are ticket holders, volunteers, staff or vendors. Millin said Michigan laws allow a community to provide space for a marijuana event, but the use of marijuana products must be kept out of public view. There will be designated tents for consumption.
The park’s remote location helps. It’s in a large grassy and wooded area along Bond Street next to the French Paper Co. dam on the St. Joseph River.
To cap the crowd at 500, organizers are providing up to 400 tickets for each of two time slots — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 4 to 10 p.m. — and then 100 VIP tickets that offer access all day. No alcohol and no one younger than 21 will be permitted.
Tickets cost $250 to $100. There won’t be any ticket sales at the event, to avoid unpredictable numbers of people lining up.
Spencley said she has also provided tickets to local marijuana dispensaries to give out as promotions, along with tickets to community organizations such as the Greater Niles Senior Center.
Seven of the local dispensaries will have booths. Dispensaries must bring their goods in in locked boxes on Saturday — and they must be the exact kinds of goods and quantities that they’d specified earlier, per state regulations, Spencley said.
“It will give us great exposure; we’ll become more recognized,” said Dustan Craig, store manager for NOBO Goods, a Colorado-based dispensary that opened in February in Edwardsburg.
He will stay at the store Saturday while two employees manage the booth, selling vapes, gummies, pre-rolled joints and prepackaged cannabis flowers.
Rick Paniagua said the Buchanan-based dispensary that he opened 1½ years ago, Cannavista Wellness, will be at the festival to sponsor and “support the normalization and broader acceptance of cannabis in general.”
But he decided last week against selling products, saying the limited number of attendees won’t be worth the cost and logistics of being there. He said marijuana vendors have to pay a licensed service company to transport the locked-up products to the event, per state regulations. He’d also have to decide which of his 2,000 product items to bring.
Paniagua said Cannavista focuses on the “mature, responsible” use of marijuana products, with customers who mostly come for wellness. Granted, recreational use will be part of the festival. Asked if this will be a responsible event, he said, “I hope so, if it’s done right.”
Spencley said there will be a gaming area with Jenga, Connect 4, a photo booth and a sumo dance-off to “give people something to do.”
Five bands will perform a range of country, jazz, blues and rock through the day, including Bethany & Low, the Anival Fausto Band and Big Papa and the Wayward Children, all from South Bend and surrounding areas. Also, Brenden Monroe will come from Grand Rapids and, to close out the event, The Crown Jewels — A Tribute to Queen will come from Minneapolis.
Between bands, local dispensaries will speak for 10 minutes, and local stand-up comics will do bits with host Maxwell Tidey, owner of The Drop Comedy Club in South Bend.
Spencley said the musicians were selected out of more than 35 bands who’d sought to perform. For Sept. 25, she’s already pledged a spot to The Santana Project, a southeast Michigan band headed by a Niles native, that wasn’t able to swing this Saturday because they’re playing at the Niles Riverfest a week later.
Niles Cannabis Music Festival
• When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Riverfront South Park, Front Street, Niles
• Cost: $250-$100; no sales at the gate
• For more information and tickets: Visit https://floatpresents.com.
Contact reporter Joseph Dits at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-235-6158.