Monday felt like “A Willie Nelson Christmas” but it was another internationally recognized holiday that the country legend was celebrating with a six-hour live stream: 4/20.
For those who aren’t in the know, the date of April 20, along with the daily chime of 4:20 p.m., is code for stoners to spark up. Willie being the undisputed grand poobah of the marijuana movement, his “Come And Toke It” variety program drew a slew of noteworthy names to the webcast including Kacey Musgraves, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Smith, Jeff Bridges, Tommy Chong, Bill Maher, Beto O’Rourke, Toby Keith and Billy Ray Cyrus.
Doubling as a benefit for Last Prisoner Project (dedicated to restorative justice to aid those incarcerated based on outdated cannabis laws) and a promotional opportunity (to market Willie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy, a line of branded cannabis and hemp-based wellness products), as well as marking an early birthday party (Willie turns 87 on April 29), its format wasn’t all that different from other quarantine at-home shows — some rooms were messy, others intimate, nearly everyone sang to an acoustic guitar — but the vibe was worlds apart. “Come and Toke It” provided the sort of comfort viewing and of-the-same-mindedness we may be starting to forget, seeing as it’s been many weeks since most cannabis enthusiasts have shared a handshake never mind a joint.
In fact, 4/20 celebrations throughout the music world felt like much-needed medicine for a weary bunch who may be more accustomed to being homebound but still yearn for that connection. Wiz Khalifa’s live sessions, for instance, centered on simply partaking together. In something called the “Kush Up Challenge,” Wiz let fans join in on Instagram (first they had to post a “smoke signal” — or smoke emoji — in the chat indicating their willingness) to go toke-to-toke with the rapper. The goal: take 10 pulls without hacking up a lung in a digital dance of synchronized smoking. (Yes, at a 4/20 gathering, coughing isn’t thought of as the coming of the apocalypse, though it is viewed as a weakness.)
Others, like in-demand hip-hop producer Mike Dean (Travis Scott, Kanye West), who released an album of instrumentals called “4:20” in time for the holiday, just jammed in his studio (Jet Fuel OG is his preferred creativity strain, he revealed). Flag-waving stoner Jenny Lewis also took a mellow approach, regaling fans with songs and stories, including one in which Nelson himself requested she sing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” at a private dinner and, no thanks to a few hits of Willie’s Reserve, she “got freaked” and barely pulled it together. “It was a disaster,” confessed Lewis, wearing — appropriately — a Death Row Records shirt. Others who hosted or participated in 4/20 streams included Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Ty Dolla $ign.
No two live streams were the same but Willie’s was special. From a dimly-lit bunker deep within the Nelson family ranch in Luck, Texas, Willie and son Lukas played affable hosts to a wide circle of friends and family all of whom, dare we say, looked genuinely happy — coronavirus panic put on pause.
That was partly due to the multitude of good tunes, courtesy of the likes of Kacey Musgraves’ “Slow Burn,” which stung like an anthem to our century so far; Ziggy Marley, bringing a soft touch to his father’s iconic “One Love,” and Shakey Graves, who delivered a nuanced rendition of Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Sin City.” Also impressive were lesser-known artists Waylon Payne and Kevin Morby in addition to Nelson sons Lukas and Micah.
Elevating the livestream even more were a series of tutorials related to cannabis, from farmers explaining harvesting a sizable grow to glass makers showing how to clean your wares at home to Margo Price demonstrating how to make an apple pipe (helpful!). Interstitials served as munchie breaks for cooking demonstrations, with Chef Spike Mendelsohn among those offering his 420 take on menu items like plant burgers as well as a bucket of sin called “potatoes fried in kief oil.” Even Mrs. Nelson got into the kitchen game demonstrating how she makes coffee for the brood.
And then there’s Willie, our host with the most quips, zingers and hearing-challenged one-liners — what a hoot to listen in on. Conversations veered between playful and serious, bad jokes were aplenty and Willie’s manner unpredictable at each turn. If ever one of us civilians were lucky enough to receive the coveted invitation to come onto Willie’s tour bus, this is what it might be like. And with “Come and Toke It,” it felt like we were virtually there.
So thank you, Willie Nelson, for the chance to exhale this 4/20. But listen to Kacey when it comes to inhaling.
Shirley Halperin is a former editor at High Times Magazine and has written two books on marijuana: 2008’s “Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life” and 2010’s “Reefer Movie Madness: The Ultimate Stoner Film Guide.”