Like cannabis, classical music faces certain stigmas that make it seem less accessible. But when a professional trio of cellist, pianist and violinist commenced Beethoven's "Ghost" piano trio at the Live At HiFi Farms event with Groupmuse last Friday, just as the high from my Nelson & Co. Organics Cherry Kush joint set in, it became clear that combining the two makes a lot of sense. In fact, the pair counterbalances their stereotypes.
This classical concert-meets-house party elevated the stoner pastime of listening to music in your friend's living room and created a chill, approachable environment for classical music, defining what a grown-up kickback should look like in post-legalization Portland.
And it makes sense for HiFi Farms, headed by Lee Henderson, which was founded with music in mind in 2014. "We're all big music fans, and that became our thing," says Henderson. "We saw what a lot of other companies were doing, and we wanted to be different. A music-themed brand."
The Live At HiFi Farms concert series takes place at the McCormick Mansion, a legendary old home in Southeast Portland where Henderson and his wife Sarah now live. Musicians like Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers and Justin Townes Earle have made appearances. They also host variety shows called "LoFi," which include anything from spoken word to poetry readings and short films. Through the LoFi events, HiFi raised over $6,000 for local nonprofits like Street Roots and the YWCA in 2017.
High off the success of last February's concert, where Kyle O'Quin of Portugal The Man played piano, Henderson was intrigued to pursue this pairing of classical music and cannabis. He reached out to Groupmuse after reading about the DIY classical music house party organization.
The idea is to find people who are willing to host a small concert in their home, and Groupmuse takes care of curating a performance from the local artists on their roster. The musicians get paid, and attendees are directed to BYOB and be cool with possibly sitting on a living room floor.
"Much like [Groupmuse] has a keen interest in demystifying classical music for a new generation," says Henderson, "HiFi continues to have an interest in demystifying cannabis for people who don't know how to feel about it."
The crowd of 120 or so people, more comfortable after a solid hour of chatting over shared joints on the wrap-around porch, were seated cozily throughout the couches and hardwood floors of the large, warmly-lit living room. The musicians worked together seamlessly through dynamic trios by Haydn, Brahms and Mendelssohn, the whole audience utterly hypnotized by the rich harmonies nearly vibrating the floorboards.
As defiant chords reached a crescendo, the silent crowd would erupt in awe-inspired hollers and rowdy applause. For these professional performers, that enthusiasm was refreshing.
"The fun part of chamber music is collaboration and community," commented Susan, on piano. "That's really what this event is about as well. We can play perfectly in a room together but the audience makes the performance fun, and this one was so appreciative."
During intermission, people wandered the main floor of the beautiful historic home. When asked if he worries about being bothered by regulators, Henderson points out that, to his knowledge, this is a legal way to have friends over and enjoy cannabis at the same time.
"It's my house. If I hosted a political fundraiser, it'd be normal to serve alcohol. It's BYOB, BYOC, and people are mellow," he says. "It's always been a word of mouth kind of thing. I love the idea of hosting a sort of salon-styled party with all kinds of people from different walks of life."
Censorship has a funny way of guiding creativity. Forcing people to gather at private residences has actually brought out the best in the cannabis-consuming community, with everyone extra conscious of the generosity and trust required by the host. Ten house shows deep, Sarah Henderson has zero regrets.
"Why do I bring all these strangers into my home multiple times a year? It makes me feel good," she says. "It makes me feel good to meet good people, see them have a good time together, and feel that good energy buzzing in my house."