The news took less time to filter through the crowd of over 500 than the spark from a spliff filled with Bell Springs Blue Dream picked up by the cool afternoon breezes that meander through the coastal canyons of Mendocino County.
The place: Area 101, about ten miles north of Laytonville on Highway 101. The proprietor, celebrated and notorious marijuana icon Tim Blake rented his multi-acre campground and event center to the Stilldream Collective, a Sierra-foothills based organization putting on a ten-year reunion and music party featuring a stellar lineup of what some would call some call the “sickest” music on the underground electronic music scene. The event drew fans, friends and family from across the country and the Pond — hardcore devotees of a music and culture not usually encountered in provincial Mendo.
It was early in the evening on Friday. Attendees were pulling off Highway 101 into the parking area to register and unload. The event's chieftain of security, a formidable woman from Oakland who cut her teeth travelling the world in the military, was firmly in command, keeping the continuous stream of incoming revelers moving through the registration process despite the presence of several large trucks pulled hastily alongside the turnout area, creating a slightly confusing point of entry for the arriving guests.
Standing alongside their trucks were a handful of very large, mostly bald, uniformed Department of Justice personnel including Bob Nishiyama of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force. They were bedecked in black, sporting combat boots, weapons, bulletproof vests and all the accoutrements of a serious swat-style engagement.
Teddy Muth was on hand for the festival and had been sitting around the campfire area with friends. Bong in hand, he was primed for a weekend of music and chillin’. Teddy is known to everyone in the neighborhood. Quiet, hardworking, mesomorphic and with a face that is not easy to forget, he embodies and understands the life of the outsider. When you see Teddy, you know certain doors will be closed for him. But Tim Blake’s door has and will always been open. The son of his best friend, Blake has known Teddy from the day he was born. Of course Teddy smokes cannabis medicinally. Compared to many young men his age, whose idea of a good time is careening down 101 hopped up on Monster drinks, meth, tobacco and Budweiser, Teddy seems distinctly less of a threat to public safety.
“I was sitting by the fire pit, talking and smoking with a couple of friends,” says Muth. “This chick came up to me, bugging me about selling pot. She said she didn't have any bud for her ride home."
Muth ignored her the first, second and third time. “I kept saying to her, it's not my thing. I don't sell pot.”
If Muth ran the world, he would provide cannabis free to anyone who needed it. To be equated to a “drug dealer” when cannabis is as much part of his psychological and spiritual integrity as Wellbutrin for someone suffering from endogenous depression is beyond repugnant. For this crew, getting stoned isn't “getting high.” It's “getting right.”
When the girl harangued him for the fourth time, Teddy relented -- half-tossing, half handing her a nug of Mendo's Finest.
“Finally I handed her a single bud,” says Teddy, methodically. “Less than five minutes later I was in handcuffs.”
“YOU!” thundered one of the very large men in uniform as they pushed aside one of Muth’s friends and descended upon the startled group. “DROP THE BONG!”
The phalanx of men swamped 300-pound Muth and he was forced to the ground and cuffed. “We're taking you to the front. Walk faster,” they growled. “I'm like, God damn,” sighs Teddy.
They hoisted Teddy atop the roof of the truck. Wearing nothing but his shorts in the 97-degree heat, Teddy was duly apprised of his rights and the requisite series of forms and paperwork began to flow.
“Teddy, do you remember them dragging you?” says Simon -- another friend of the family who stopped by the venue just as the arrest was unfolding.
Simon ran to catch up with the officers and Teddy as they walked to their truck. “I asked the uniformed officer behind the men dragging Teddy what happened. He immediately responded by commanding me to get back,” says Simon. “He's my friend's son -- he's like a family member. Can you tell me what happened?”
“He's got drugs,” responds an officer. “He's being arrested for drugs. We're taking him to jail.”
An officer responded in a take-all-prisoners tone. “You're not allowed to sell it or give it away. You know the rules.”
None of this was new for event coordinator Paul Plescov, who has headed up the Stilldream events and many more for over ten years. This event was considerably smaller than many shows Plescov produces, but he has learned how to manage the underground festival scene. Regardless of the show size, he hires high end medical and security teams staffed by professionals, many from urban areas who are comfortable handling serious situations that occasionally require the assistance of law enforcement.
“After the arrests, our staff spoke directly with the police,” says Plescov. “We were told by the officer in charge that the reason they were here was that they had gotten an anonymous tip a month ago that the owner was going to be dosing the staff at the event.” Neither Plescov nor Blake could determine if Nishiyama was referring to the “owner” of Area 101 or someone from the Stilldream crew. “We’re going to be watching to make sure that you are doing what is supposed to be done,” said Nishiyama to Plescov.
Plescov indicated that the DOJ team marched into the event and proceeded to the main stage about 200 yards from the highway without seeking out event staff. “In all my years of doing shows, I’ve never seen police just march through the front gate without checking with staff.”
One lad who drove all night from Ogden, Utah was checking in at the registration desk as the bust went down. “I know you guys had a bad deal with the cops back there, but you gotta realize in my state the cops would be camped right in here with you. No disrespect or anything.”
The image of these beefy men rustlin' up some tri-tip on the grill surrounded by the likes of Teddy was no more ludicrous than the charges brought against him. “It says on my paper that I'm being charged with felony transportation and sales.” Teddy had a total of $2.00 in his pockets. Minus the gram of marijuana he reluctantly passed to the informant, Muth estimates he had less than an ounce of marijuana.
“I worry about all this traffic,” said Nishiyama to the staff. “The last thing we want is someone high on LSD getting hit by a car.” Shades of black and white films shown in the 70’s with “stoned out” hippies jumping off three-story buildings come to mind. “In the history of this place there has not been one accident or incident at Area 101,” notes Blake. Once Plescov and Nishiyama talked, things seemed to calm down. “The police were really aggressive at first,” said Plescov. Then as we talked he became calmer.” The DOJ chief seemed satisfied for the moment that the organizers were capable of keeping matters under control.
Even faster than the news of Teddy’s arrest went the alarm that four undercover informants were on scene. It took only minutes before the covers at least three of the informants had been compromised.
Stilldream staff received numerous reports of several men walking through the grounds who didn’t seem to fit in. “They were very tunnel vision,” said one attendee. “They went up to this guy’s tent. There was a jar of weed on the table. They asked the guy, is that your weed? We want to search your bag.” Others reported having police grab their personal stash of cannabis, dump it on the ground and grind it into the dirt.
Another man approached a suspected undercover cop wearing earbuds. “Hey, what are you listening to?” he asked the man. “My iPod,” he responded. “I asked this guy directly if he was a cop. My father is a police officer so I know the rules,” explained the man. “He’s supposed to answer. He got really pissed, laughed at me and walked away.”
Another person approached one of the suspected undercover cops. “I said, Dude, you dropped your badge. He literally looked down -- all over the ground. Then he saw me watching and split,” he noted.
Simon was at the event to help out his friend Blake. At 53 years old, he considers himself an elder and wanted to be on hand to help out. “A bunch of kids pointed out the informants,” says Simon. “I decided I’d try to go talk to one of the guys.”
Simon described the alleged undercover officers as looking like “Mexican nationals. Older, big and buff. This was mostly a pretty white crowd, so they totally stuck out. I went up to the guys. I asked them directly if they were cops. One guy wheeled around and pushed his shoulder into me. Hard.”
“Are you disrespecting me?” said the man to Simon. “I’ve lived in Garberville for 35 years!” roared the man -- his face only inches from Simon’s. “Look at my partner. He’s smoking weed,” said the man.
“I think we all know that police have been known to smoke weed,” said Simon -- still waiting for the men to answer his initial question.
“STEP THE FUCK OFF!” roared the alleged informant. He proceeded to grab his crotch. “I just want some X!” he said.
“Can’t help you there,” said Simon.
“What about some pussy? I want some pussy!” said the man. At this point Simon became angry. “Hey dude -- there are young girls here. These are people’s kids. We’re trying to provide a safe place for them. Why are you so aggravated?” he asked the men.
“You are fucking disrespecting me!” he responded.
“They never answered my question directly,” said Simon. “It’s a tactic known as verbal judo. Many law enforcement personnel are trained in this kind of thing. I told them that all the kids know who they are. They left the event shortly after.”
Meanwhile, Muth had been transferred to a van parked down the road. “I was in that van for five hours. It was pretty hot in there. They brought in a couple of other people. Then we drove around by Branscomb and the officers chit-chatted behind the auto shop for a while. We picked up a couple of people off Covelo Road and then we headed to Ukiah to the drunk tank for the next 14 hours,” said Muth.
Other media have reported the event to be a “rave.” Perhaps. Were illegal drugs being consumed and sold? No doubt. Another individual who was arrested with Teddy was charged with selling Ecstasy. “Besides that guy, they took this other guy in because he was getting a freakin’ light show,” said Teddy.
For the uninitiated, a “light show” is a nighttime game where the “giver” is outfitted with glowing colored lights on the fingertips. People practice manipulating the streams of colored light, making patterns and shapes in the air for observers. Perhaps the effects are enhanced under the influence of certain controlled substances, but on a cool summer evening, with big, fat beats pulsing through the canyons, dancers spinning blazing chains of fire in remarkable symmetry with the music, sitting at one’s campsite giving a light show seems about as threatening as spinning the glowing red tip from your toasted marshmallow stick at the family campout.
The crowd seemed civil and relaxed despite the heat and close quarters -- a unique blend of 100 percent organophiles decked out in dreads and hemp mingling with chain-smoking city dwellers wearing $1000 glasses frames and tragically hip t-shirts featuring logos and insignia only recognizable to the initiated. When not socializing at their campsites, most of the guests wandered between the indoor and outdoor stages, staying for a set by their favorite DJ and retreating back to their campsites until the next act.
No alcohol was sold at the event. Blake was delighted with the net on food sales. By Monday morning the larder was almost bare. The medical staff reported only one incident for the entire weekend -- a gentlemen who was overcome by heat on Saturday and required additional medical attention.
Whether a Civil War Re-enactment or Burning Man, any time groups come together for a common purpose, a few get out of control and professionals are called in to help. Organizers were puzzled that the DOJ would deploy this much money and manpower for what resulted in a fairly minor haul. “People live for these events,” notes Muth. “It’s the only bit of fun some people have in their entire lives. The only thing that isn’t controlled 100% by the government or anyone else. Nobody has prejudice towards one another here.”
On Sunday night Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputy Toovin and another officer came to Area 101 and chatted with the security and medical staff. He was not familiar with Teddy’s bust. “Geez, we find a lot more weed than that on routine traffic stops,” he said. “I stopped these two guys a while back. They had some really bad weed in the car. I said, you didn’t buy that stuff, did you? They said they bought it in Humboldt,” laughed Toovin, and so did everyone else.
Teddy did drop his bong, and Simon prevented the police from confiscating it. “As soon as I got out of jail, I hitchhiked back to Area 101,” Muth explains. “I actually got picked up by someone I knew who drove 100 miles out of his way to take me back.”
Bail for Teddy Muth was set at $15,000.