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Chalice California

(13 Jul 2014: NOS Events Center — San Bernardino, CA)

STS9 caps historic Chalice competition with triumphant set

SAN BERNARDINO, CA - When Chuck Berry popularized the song about getting his kicks on Route 66 (including in /San Bernardino), he probably never imagined a scene quite like this. The pioneering rock ‘n’ roller got his share of kicks no doubt, but the dabbing playground for aficionados of marijuana concentrates at Chalice California was somewhat mindblowing even for those who might think they’ve just about seen it all.


Presented by Hitman Glass, Chalice California was billed as “Music Glass Hash History”, featuring a medical marijuana concentrate competition and showcase that seemed to be the primary attraction for most attendees. The electronic dance music from a lineup of DJs at the stage and glassblowing area was a secondary consideration for most of the day, in large part due to the near triple digit heat in the Inland Empire. The focus would shift in the evening after the sun went down to create a balmy setting for great performances from Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang and STS9 to close out the historic event. But the star of the day was the booming business of marijuana concentrates.


The afternoon saw most people hanging out in the “Prop 215” medical marijuana areas where a dizzying array of over 100 vendors pitched their wares, with a many also offering free dabs to all. It was like almost like a Willy Wonka factory tour for dabs and counterculture goods. For those not yet hip to the hottest trend in the cannabis movement, a dab is a hit of concentrated marijuana through a glass pipe rig requiring a blowtorch to heat the intake area so that the concentrate will be converted to smoke. It’s kind of like a turbo-charged bong hit. The concentrates can also be puffed through personal vaporizer pens like those from Cloud Penz, which naturally had a table at the event. But most attendees were all about the dabs, with many carrying their own little dab kits around the event and its air-conditioned lounges.


One of the most colorful groups on hand was the 420 Nurses, a Los Angeles-based modeling and marketing agency featuring ladies who adore marijuana in sexy outfits demonstrating their affection. The 420 Nurses were tabling along with the Cali Natural Collective and Vader Concentrates, and of course offering free dabs of the acclaimed Paris OG strain. The Hedi Council from Denver was on hand as well, featuring shirts in tribute to popular strains like Strawberry Cough, Yoda OG and the trending Stardog. STS9 drummer Zach Velmer was even photographed at their booth, earning The Hedi Council even more heady points.


There were also tablers with a political component such as the Brownie Mary Democratic Club from Riverside County, which works within the California Democratic Party to protect medical marijuana patients and repeal marijuana prohibition. Then there was C.A.R.E. (Cannabis Awareness Research & Economics), a non-profit dedicated to enriching society by raising awareness about the benefits of cannabis. Also of note was the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, a campaign to re-legalize hemp and marijuana in California, pursuing the vision of famed cannabis activist Jack Herer.


Cannabis Now magazine from Berkeley was present as well, one of the top publications covering developments in the booming cannabis industry. There were also pro vendors like SC Labs out of Santa Cruz, a leader in quality assurance and safety testing for the medical cannabis industry. They passed out a “Budtender’s Guide to Cannabinoids” with an ailment chart indicating which cannabinoids help to best alleviate particular medical conditions, demonstrating the serious nature of the medical marijuana industry.


But the majority of vendors present were those focused on production of the cannabis concentrates being judged in the Chalice competition, such as Humboldt Honey which had one of the best deals at the event with loaded vape pens for just $25. It was interesting to observe that almost all the vendors were only offering indica concentrates, with sativa strains seemingly absent. One vendor said this was because indicas are stronger and therefore provide a more powerful buzz. Those who prefer the more cerebral effect of sativas had a challenge on their hands to find it, but could eventually score with a Sour Diesel crumble from the local Crown Collective out of Mira Loma.


Judges in the competition had their work cut out for them with around 40 samples to try over the two-day event, enough to challenge even the hardiest stoner. One judge queried guessed that 85 percent of the samples were derivative of an OG Kush, suggesting a disappointing lack of variety. But he praised the overall winner as “an amazing tangie cut that literally tasted like biting into a handful of orange zest”. This was the Blood Orange blend from Panacea, a mixture of the Agent Orange, Tangie, Cali-O and Afwreck strains.


But a person can only get so high from dabs before music is needed to get to another level. By the time Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang hit the stage at 8:30, the sun was down and the weather was perfect. Claypool said this was his just for fun project and he was clearly getting his kicks playing for this audience. He’s got one of the greatest bass tones in music history and it sounded sensational here with Claypool and guitarist Bryan Kehoe playing on stools in front of a faux campfire. Primus hits like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” roused the audience into a pleasing reverie, as did numbers like the South Park theme song and a funky take on the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”.  The biggest jam occurred on “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”, with Claypool throwing in a tasty tease on Jimi Hendrix’ “Third Stone From the Sun”.


The setbreak saw announcement of the competition’s top awards, while anticipation increased for STS9’s first Southern California appearance of the year. The instrumental quintet shocked the music world in January by announcing the departure of bassist and co-founding member David Murphy, which necessitated cancellation of a lengthy winter tour. But the band has been back in the saddle over the past four months playing a series of lauded festival gigs with new bassist Alana Rocklin. It’s an intriguing new era for the band with a bassist who now spends 100 percent of the show rocking the bass, rather than splitting time on synths and sequencers.


Pulling in STS9 to headline the event was a major coup for Chalice organizers, as the band provided an elite level musical counterculture treat to cap off the festivities. The existence of a Facebook group called “The Church of STS9” demonstrates the transcendent spiritual quality that many fans associate with the band’s music, making for a fitting match with an event featuring the sacraments that Chalice was all about.Two of the band members reportedly participated as judges in the Chalice competition as well, but they clearly know how to keep their wits about them because the quintet was on fire throughout their two-hour set.


An early ride through the tight syncopated groove of “Ramone & Emiglio” saw the quintet firing on all cylinders as Rocklin’s bass thumped with a bright punch. The energy continued to surge on the new “World Go Round”, showing a band that’s still turning out vibrant new material. The uplifting tune kicked the dance party into full swing as the audience reveled in getting down with the band in the balmy desert air (while many also continued to fire up the dabs.) Organizers also earned extra props by bringing in local beer vendor Hangar 24 from Redlands to serve up their refreshing Orange Wheat alongside the corporate beer options.


The appearance of the rare and coveted “Gobnugget” was akin to finding that Sour Diesel in a field of indicas, providing a special treat to punctuate the setlist. The monster groove ignited the night while also serving as the unofficial Chalice anthem. Rocklin, drummer Zach Velmer and percussionist Jeffree Lerner were dialed in like a groove machine, while guitarist Hunter Brown and keyboardist David Phipps provided ultra-funky accents before the band moved into the transcendent bridge section that took the crowd to a cloud. A pairing with the uplifting “Golden Gate” provided a brilliant thematic segue, as Lerner’s ace percussion blended with chiming melodies to conjure the feeling that medical marijuana could indeed help lift humanity into a new golden age.


The band’s renewed vitality surfaced again during “Grow”, with a fresh jam section that took the tune to heights not seen in years. “That was my fifth show I’ve seen with Alana and I thought it was the most patient and explorative one yet”, said one hardcore STS9er after the show. “It’s really refreshing to see Zach and Hunter really stepping up and taking control of the flow and not fighting with Murph on stage.”


“New Dawn New Day” seemed to put an exclamation point on the sentiment about the band’s revitalization. The new song features an infectious crowd pleasing groove where Brown’s lead guitar seemed to dance over the surging rhythms provided by Velmer and Rocklin, while Phipps and Lerner added the extra layers that generate STS9’s unique sonic landscape. In the end, the band’s dynamic performance showed that STS9 has rebounded magnificently from the setback of Murphy’s sudden departure and that the best may well still be to come. The triumphant set served as a climactic finale to the Chalice event and there’s no doubt that Chalice provided the grooviest kicks seen along old Route 66 in some time.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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