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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Smoke Signals

I Stand Behind Every Gig!

by Jeff BerkleyNovember 2023

I stand behind every gig! I say it on stage sometimes. Like most things I do on stage, I started saying it at Java Joe’s. Some of you may not know Java Joe’s but it was a really great listening room in San Diego that produced an incredible songwriting scene with acts like Jewel, Jason Mraz, Steve Poltz, Gregory Page, Lisa Sanders, and Berkley Hart! It’s where I played my first open mic and probably the first time I ever smoked weed, out back, before a show. I think the first time I said it, it was “I stand behind Java Joe’s.”

When I first started standing behind Java Joe’s, I wasn’t actually behind it at all. Java Joe started out in Poway, which at the time was a very dangerous place to smoke cannabis outdoors. The cops out there took it as an insult.

So, it became safer to duck into a bathroom somewhere and take a puff. At least that’s how I thought it was at Java Joe’s. He kept some Lysol in the bathroom so I would just squirt that when I was done. I thought I was so smart. I was 19. I came out of the bathroom after one of these moments and must’ve smelled like I smoked Lysol. Java Joe was standing right there. He laughed and said, “Come on, dude, the back door is right here.” We went outside and stood behind Java Joe’s for the very first time. Together.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time behind gigs before, at the break, and afterward sometimes. It’s been an amazing education. I never would’ve suspected it. So many amazing relationships have been forged in those circles out back—so many funny moments, some of which I could never recount and print. But let me tell you about a few.

Before I go into it, I want to just spend a little time talking about drugs. Many different kinds of substances are grouped into the same categories. I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me which ones to not try. Instead, everyone said, all drugs are bad. so, when I found out, they lied about a couple of them. I figured they lied about all of them. Luckily, I found out the truth for myself without dying. Honestly, some of my friends were not as lucky. I do think if we would just be honest with each other about this stuff, we probably wouldn’t have so much confusion and mistrust around the subject.

Cannabis has been demonized by our governments and churches for hundreds of years. It’s only now starting to become apparent to folks that it isn’t the same as heroin or fentanyl or cocaine or crystal meth. It’s not as dangerous as alcohol. Smoking is never good for you.

The fact that cannabis was so threatening to law enforcement is what kept me popping out back at gigs. That, and a very respectful desire to not offend anyone kept me hiding out.

It’s always so cool when something positive comes from something that’s negative.

The thing is, I was sending up smoke signals! Quite literally, cannabis-flavored smoke signals! As people would arrive at the gig, the smoke would waft in through the door, and folks would immediately know what was happening out back. Slowly but surely audience members would mosey their way toward the smell. They would find me standing in back and start a conversation. Being a good pot smoker from Vista, I would offer them a puff. Some would say yes, and some would say no, but generally amazing conversations would ensue. At some venues, the management and employees would come join in. If there were other performers, they would join in. It was just a steady trickle of a couple folks at a time. Popping over to say hi. It still happens this way.

I’m not saying that it’s always a good thing. I’ve had to give a speech to folks that I don’t know. Something like, “You’re welcome to as much as you like but please just take one hit and wait 20 minutes before your next one.” People don’t understand that I’ve been training at the higher elevations, and I can handle more than they can. You will not be able to keep up with me, so don’t try.

This has been ignored over the years. There have been more than one house concert host to have ended up in the fetal position, in their bedroom, sucking their thumb, and waiting for people to leave their house. One guy coughed so hard that he passed out and another guy took one hit and soiled himself. To this day, a couple of my friends ask me how strong the weed is, and I tell them, “Well it’s not pant-crapping strong.”

Sometimes it can be used in our favor. For example, I was playing at a house concert as the percussionist in the band, and there was this guy in the front row being obnoxious and interrupting and telling jokes, I think he was drunk or just trying to show off for his date. The whole first set was kind of ruined for us, and everybody was bit pissy at that guy and trying to figure out what to do without offending the crowd as well. It’s always dicey to handle a heckler.

I simply asked him if he wanted to smoke a bowl outside. I loaded my strongest into the chamber and handed it to him. He didn’t even make it through the first song of the second set before he looked at his date and said let’s go. They were gone…and the rest of the show was magic!

I remember standing out back at a show one time, and a young gentleman came out and asked if he could have a little bit of what I was smoking. I said sure thing, no problem. We talked for a little while. He said he was there with his wife to see the show, and that they were very excited. I was honored by that and handed him back the bowl. He said, “No, thanks one little hit is plenty. By the way, if you happen to meet my wife later, please don’t tell her that I smoked any.” “Of course,” I said. I didn’t even know who his wife was but I didn’t think I would probably go and tell anyone that he had smoked any pot, so I felt safe with his secret. He went back into the show and sat down. About five minutes later, a young lady came out to find out what that smell was all about. She introduced herself and said that she and her husband were there to see the show, and that they were very excited! I was extremely honored by this and thanked her very much. She asked for a hit of what I was smoking, and I said sure! Of course, I gave her my speech as I had given the young gentleman the same speech before. She took one puff and thanked me profusely. As she walked away, she said, “If you happen to meet my husband later, please don’t tell him that I smoked.” I wanted so badly to talk about them on stage and out them to each other in front of the audience, but I didn’t. That would’ve been unbelievably fun for everybody but them.

Sometimes heated discussions will come up. People will say something that reveals their politics or religious beliefs to each other, and someone will disagree and there will be a discussion. Cannabis knocks down inhibitions and definitely allows folks to say what they feel sometimes. It also allows folks to hear each other. That’s not to say that we all won’t forget all of it but that’s mostly a joke. Some of those conversations helped shape my own beliefs and understandings of others.

One of the other aspects of being very forthcoming about my cannabis use is that I’m able to dispel some of the but still palpable misunderstanding and judgment that surrounds the weed. Folks presume a lot about who I am and how I am based on their own experience with cannabis. Why wouldn’t they? I don’t blame them, but I also have dealt with a lot of judgment and presumption. It’s actually not so bad. People don’t expect a lot and I’m able to confound their expectations, I guess. That’s actually a pretty good place to start as an independent artist. Almost anything you do will blow their minds! That’s only partly a joke.

I wish that I could explain, in some real way, the profound positive effects that cannabis has had on my life. I am naturally hyperactive. At least that’s the term teachers used to describe me in the ’70s. I think they have new terms for that now. I honestly never felt truly relaxed and able to sort my thoughts until I discovered cannabis and mushrooms, which keep my brain noise in check. They help keep my heart open to others even though it’s been stomped on over and over again, just like everyone else. It keeps my eyes and ears open and feeds my empathy for others in a positive way. Yes, there are negative effects. That can be said about all sorts of things. Is that a rationalization? Probably. It really comes down to choosing to balance positive positive and negative. Trying to have the positive outweigh the negative is the key to life. It’s no different with cannabis or mushrooms. Balance is the key. That balancing point is different for everybody. Lots of folks shouldn’t do drugs or drink at all. I don’t believe that cannabis is bad for everyone, and it feels like the culture is headed that way as well. When I go to dispensaries, I see people of all ages. I see people of all races and sexes. I see construction workers and office workers, financial advisors and surveyors, doctors and nurses, clergy members, firefighters and cops! All in line together. That is a miracle in itself.

I’m extremely thankful for cannabis and mushrooms. They’ve made a huge difference in my life.

What’s my point? I still stand behind every gig I do. I still use this gift of nature like my predecessors before me. Dylan, McCartney, Lennon, Miles, Armstrong, Monk, Bird, Garcia, etc….. Cannabis can pull away the obstacles put in place by everyday life. They pull down barriers and inhibitions that keep us from truth and power in performance. They close our hearts off to audiences and other musicians. Cannabis opens up those channels! Find a way to let them in however you can. Audiences want to know you and they need what flows through you to survive. You need what flows through them too. Stay open y’all!

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