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Live Review: Korn Dominates at Cypress Hill SmokeOut

A powerful performance by reinvigorated rockers lead a beat-heavy SmokeOut in San Bernardino.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

Whether they came for the variety of acts on the bill or the ceremony of finding skunk-leaf common ground in a public setting, the 5th annual Cypress Hill SmokeOut Festival was a massive, if understated, success this past weekend at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, CA. Guerilla Union, you've done it again.

Featuring a collage of acts with varying followings, mainstage closers Korn were preceded by surprisingly powerful sets from Wiz Khalifa and Cypress Hill, as well as Sublime with Rome. On the indoor stage, named the Massive Stoned Garden for the smoking revelers, saw the likes of Thievery Corporation, MSTRKRFT and show-closer Rusko, who brought out a few all-star guests to end the night on a marathon high note.

While the SmokeOut offered more than enough musical goods to satisfy a standard mini-festival crowd, another feature of the festival drew just as much enthusiasm as the music: cannabis. As in previous years, a separate "Patient Area" within the festival grounds was designated for festivalgoers with medical marijuana cards to "medicate" openly. While an appreciated offering, the heavily secured Patient Area was a reminder of how far we still have to go for widespread cannabis approval. Nevertheless, the first thing I heard upon entering the festival was someone bellowing from the stage: "Who here smokes weed every day?" The roar of the crowd was indicative that I had arrived in a uniquely permissive setting for the skunky-funk.

Two days before the festival, Cypress Hill’s B-Real joined about 150 people on a march to L.A.'s City Hall to protest recent crackdowns on medical marijuana and pot dispensaries by both the city and the Department of Justice, who are actively cracking down on state-permitted dispensaries, despite President Obama's pledge to leave states to their own policy with regards to cannabis.

Rap star Wiz Khalifa played to the crowd with stoner-friendly beats and a good dose of his new Mac and Devin Go to High School soundtrack with Snoop Dogg, while his fiancee Amber Rose looked on from the side of the stage.

In supremely high spirits, Khalifa cracked all kinds of jokes. "You know how you get real high and think you can sing?" he asked after improvising a big mid-song. "Yeah, fuck that," he said with a laugh.

Sublime with Rome walked a fine line between live karaoke and cool island breeze, though their professionalism can't be slighted. Bassist Eric Wilson — the only remaining original member, since drummer Bud Gaugh has departed – largely kept to himself onstage despite massive crowd reaction to old hits "Smoke Two Joints" and "Date Rape". Replacement frontman Rome Ramirez did his best to build on the legacy with new originals like “Panic” and “Take It or Leave It," which were met with lukewarm crowd response. 

For those in a more low-end groove mood headed to the Massive Stoned Garden for Thievery Corporation‘s fantastic 95-minute set of intricate, entrancing sitar and bass grooves. Watching the lightspinners and feeling the full effects of the herbal ritual in the darkness to the sounds, a peak of positive experience unfolded as Thievery Corporation melted one track into the next in seamless rhythm.

Festival curators Cypress Hill then commanded all attention on the main stage, ripping through an extended, hypnotic dub intro before effortless versions of “Hand on the Pump,” “When the Sh*t Goes Down” and a particularly bouncy & ferocious “How I Could Just Kill a Man”.

There was a token amount of sermonizing for medical marijuana, under fire recently by both state and federal legislators, but overall B-Real and Sen Dog let the music speak for the cause. There was no need to sell their audience on the cause, as evidenced by the thick clouds of brownish smoke wafting through the crowd.

Somewhat amazingly, Korn essentially blew everything else out of the water. Frontman Jonathan Davis came out in fighting form, free of the excess weight that's dogged him for years and in full vocal command. Previously, Davis expressed unwavering support of longtime friends and festival namesakes: "If there was no Cypress Hill there’d be no Korn. They were a huge influence on the first Korn record," he told Rolling Stone.

"I think it’s everyone’s right to smoke, it should be legalized," he said. "[Pot] lets people get high and laugh, that’s about the extent of it. There are no fucking hangovers, no crazy fistfights, no drama like alcohol causes, so I’ve always been a firm believer in marijuana rights and the medicinal rights. Let motherf*ckers get high if they want to, it’s not hurting nobody."

Korn closed out the main stage with a genre-leaping rage-fest in front of blinding LED screens. New dubstep-laced songs including “Narcissistic Cannibal” and “Get Up!” from their latest album The Path of Totality translated with pulsing juggernaut spirit, while beefed up and beat-overdosed versions of “Blind” and “Freak on a Leash” breathed new life into old classics. New lacings of electronica and a focus on beats made what many expected to be a tired run of hits become an actually impressively evolved performance.

The event also marked the official live debut of Cypress Hill’s collaboration with Rusko, though the two did join forces on stage in L.A. last year for one track. Rusko, who closed out the bill on the Massive Stoned Garden, went all in with set that ran over two hours and featured hyped appearances from Cypress Hill frontman B-Real and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, a ferocious beatkeeper.

Heading back to the sea of cars in the parking lot (which was free, thank you very much Guerilla Union and Cypress), the general fan reaction was one of enthusiasm with a side of surprise, mostly at how impressive the Korn and Thievery Corporation sets were. The strength of performance as well as an expertly selected lineup made for another fantastic success at the Cypress Hill SmokeOut Festival. If you missed this year's fest, don't fret: if B-Real is to be believed, you'll have plenty more chances to catch the SmokeOut in the coming years.

All photos by Johnny Firecloud