It’s unfortunate how little video footage got captured during the first Whee! festival outside Eugene, Oregon. The entire adventure had begun as my plot to establish a Weed Woodstock. (Although, in truth, the original was funded almost entirely by weed money, and the event helped cement Woodstock as a weed distribution center.)
I remember taking the trustees to lunch at some five-star restaurant and saying, “You have to be committed to a new event for five years, because that’s how long it may take to break even.” But I assured them after five years, my Whee! fest would be as big if not bigger than Woodstock. And I believed this because the event was promoted as a prayer for world peace, a serious non-denominational ceremony recognizing cannabis as the sacrament of peace culture.
Of course, Whee! exploded immediately, drawing 20,000 to the event, most of whom got in for free and were fed free by a non-stop crew kitchen, and anyone could volunteer to be crew.
After the OM circle, someone handed a bottle of whiskey to Felipe and said he was done with this. Felipe and I did a bunch of powerful ceremonies together, and that was certainly one of the best.
But the day after the event ended, we invited the Pranksters to our motel room to celebrate and eat pizza. Only Ken Babbs showed up, and this is what transpired. The next day, we went to see Kesey, and he introduced me to non-linear video editing, just going prosumer. I had been a devoted follower of improvisational ritual theater as practiced by the Pranksters, and took this direction very seriously, devoting the rest of my life to capturing video of the ceremonies I was staging. Sure glad I kept these memories, and if you want to know what Hager ceremonies look and feel like, this will clue you in.
As soon as I got back to New York, the trustees informed me that Whee! had been a financial failure. Although I knew that was a lie. Through immense efforts I manage to resurrect one more Whee! at the same site the next year before my precious Whee! ceremony was cast to the winds, and thus ended my longstanding campaign for the recognition of spiritual rights for cannabis users.
As an infant, I was trained to get on my knees every night by the side of my bed, clasp my palms together with fingers extended upward and say the same prayer every night. Only I always had a queasy feeling about that prayer….”if I should die before I wake.” Why even bring up that concept? Something just didn’t feel right. I mean, don’t you get what you ask for?
Can you imagine if millions of kids went to bed every night in that same position across the world saying: “Now I lay me down for the night, I pray my friends will never fight, a day will come we’ll all live in peace, and all these negative energies will finally cease.”
How long would it take to manifest world peace if we got something like that going in a major way I wonder? I doubt many of the religious institutions will pick up on this idea, however, much less spread it to their congregations.
I was in the 6th or 7th grade when my older brother finally clued me into the fact our Lutheran upbringing was basically a Santa Claus story. I was absolutely furious. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me sooner?” I snarled. I felt like I’d been walking around acting a fool believing some white-haired dude lived in heaven and was watching over me? It shattered not only my religious faith, but also my faith in my parents to tell me the truth, although my mom was real sheepish about the whole fiasco when I confronted her and said she’d only pretended to go along to please my dad’s parents who’d grown up in south-eastern Kansas. They went to their graves believing in that white-haired dude in the clouds.
I didn’t deal much with religion or spirituality for a long time after that and was basically a punk for many years with no moral foundation. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the hill on Yasgur’s Farm that I finally got zapped. Probably Wavy Gravy helped that process since he was the main emcee and what a wonderful job he did.
But the 1970s was a terrible time for my generation, at least those of us that choose to fight against the establishment. We were herded off on a trail to nowhere, and gradually watched our entire scene diminish and fade away. But it didn’t fade away. Around 1990, I went to my first National Rainbow Family Gathering, and plugged back into that spirit I’d felt at Woodstock in 1969.
I went to a lot of gatherings after that and even organized many on my own, only I called mine the World Hemp Expo Extravaganjas (WHEE!). I had started the concept with the clinical “World Hemp Expo,” but Ken Babbs told me it would be a million times better with another “e” on the end so it sounded like fun. The fun vibe was my main trail at the time and always had been. Babbs and Wavy were both Pranksters, although Wavy just dropped in for a brief time before starting his own group, the Hog Farm.
When Abby from Daily Beast interviewed me, I started talking about the people I’ve known and studied under, a list that includes John Cage, Julian Beck, Jasper Grootveld, Ken Kesey, and Wavy Gravy. This is basically the whos-who of Improvisational Ritual Theater, the art form they pioneered and I struggle to keep alive even though most people don’t know it exists and a some people even claim I’m a fraud mouthing a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and have no art at all? Abby had never heard of Wavy Gravy, but I think she did recognize John Cage. Maybe not. Her interview has yet to appear, which makes me think the bosses on high killed her story on 420.
Anyway, after I started going to gatherings, I’d usually be the first one up on peace meditation day, often a Sunday, or in the case of the National, always on July 4th. There’d be silence throughout the camp that morning until noon. I’d be the one who got up before dawn, however, in order to be the first at the peace pole, so I could sit there for hours, burning incense, taking a few hits of pot every hour or so, but focused on one thought, please bring an end to violence and the suffering it creates, and keep that thought until the OM broke out at noon, followed by a big drum circle and dance.
I know both John Lennon and George Harrison approached meditation the same way. When they discovered it, they’d chant for hours until both lost their vocal cords and had to stop.
Does this meditation have any positive effect? Well, it always leaves me feeling cleansed and energized. I’m always very sad to leave the natural world after living in a forest as an environmental monk for a few weeks. And I look and act like a road dog for a few days before I morph back into my Babylon identity.