Extravaganja vs. Blarney Blowout:


Amplified music, beer bottles being tossed, and couches set on fire; a scene pulled straight out of “Animal House.” This is Blarney Blowout; a rowdy Saint Patrick’s Day celebration started by two thousand UMass students gathering at the Townhouse Apartments in Amherst, Mass., on March 9. This is very different from the peaceful gathering of stoners at Extravaganja, an annually planed Festival held on the Amherst Commons.

In recent years, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has sought ways to diminish the “ZooMass” reputation the campus has developed over the years.

Every Spring, UMass has two events that cover the gamut. One, the chaotic drinking binge party, Blarney Blowout, and the other, a festival for stoners called Extravaganja. However, there is a clear distinction between events like Blarney Blowout and Extravaganja. Most noticeably being that while the Townhouse parties required a strong police force, the Extravaganja Festival has been a consistently peaceful event.

David Lenson, a UMass professor of comparative literature and speaker at this years Extravaganja festival, said the distinction between the two events can be attributed to the differences between alcohol and marijuana. “It has to do with the cultural differences between beer culture and pot culture,” said Lenson.

Lenson explained that he sees the ways in which the two events overlap, “…but a gathering of pot smokers is likely to be peaceful.”

While Blarney Blowout and Extravaganja are inherently similar events, they are seen by the University and by the Amherst community at large as distinctly unrelated. The Amherst bars that began the tradition of Blarney Blowout have never encouraged binge drinking, and the Cannabis Reform Coalition responsible for putting on Extravaganja has never encouraged smoking marijuana at the event. However, every year during Blarney Blowout students drink alcohol in excess, and every year during Extravaganja students smoke marijuana in excess. While consuming alcohol is legal for those over the age of 21, marijuana use, while decriminalized, is still illegal for anyone without a medical marijuana card.

The Blarney Blowout partying moved from its traditional location at the downtown Amherst bars to the Townhouse Apartments and required a strong police force, resulting in six arrests.

Only weeks later, the Cannabis Reform Coalition, a UMass Registered Student Organization, put on the annual Extravaganja Festival in downtown Amherst.

The CRC, a political organization within the University that advocates the legalization of cannabis for all uses, has a rich history in the Amherst community and is in fact the oldest student organized cannabis reform group in the world. On April 20, the 22nd annual Extravaganja festival took place on the Amherst Commons. While this festival did not encourage the use of cannabis, the event certainly did not have as strong police force to control illegal activities, as was seen at Blarney Blowout. Extravaganja joined bands, speakers, food vendors, and artisans with thousands of students and families from the Amherst area to support ending the Drug War and legalizing marijuana.

This year Extravaganja attracted about 6,000 people to the town common, while Blarney attracted an estimated 2,000 students to the quad of the off-campus Townhouse apartment complex. However, while Blarney Blowout attracted a third as many people as Extravaganja, three times as many arrests were made. Six men were arrested at the Blarney Blowout party on March 9; two were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, three with rioting and other charges, one on rioting, disorderly conduct, and attempting to burn personal property. During the April 20th Extravaganja festival a dozen people were issued citations for less than an ounce of marijuana but only two men were arrested; one charged with destruction of property over $250, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer, and the other with a Holyoke District court warrant for receiving a stolen motor vehicle and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

UMass Amherst senior Jeff Alexander attended this year’s Extravaganja festival. Alexander had met a perspective student stopping by the festival after taking a tour of UMass.

“She said that stumbling by the festival actually made her want to go to UMass more. But I understand why UMass wouldn’t use Extravaganja as a marketing took, parents of potential students may see it and think less of UMass.”

Alexander attended both events, but noticed the clear difference between the two.

“I think that it’s just the nature of marijuana verse alcohol that really makes events like Blarney Blowout have a lot more arrests then Extravaganja,” said Alexander.

UMass student Ilana Maimon attended Blarney Blowout at the Townhouse Apartments and has been to Extravaganja three times now.

Maimon said, “Blarney Blowout is more of a social construct of widespread day binge drinking than a coordinated event like Extravaganja. I don’t think that UMass would utilize an event such as Extravaganja as a marketing tool because it would portray the school in a specific light that aids a ‘party-on’ perception that the school has been working hard to squash.”

Patrick Mund is a UMass student and the treasurer of the Cannabis Reform Coalition, and works closely with the organization on the funding of Extravaganja.

“For the University, Extravaganja is just another RSO event…however, since we do not hold this event on campus, the UMass police does not get involved with our event and so it is not on the University to enforce the laws. We work very closely with the Amherst police department in ensuring the safety of our attendees and the success of our political event,” Mund said.

Many students, professors, attorneys, and police officials respect the aims of the Extravaganja festival.

UMass comparative literature professor David Lenson spoke at this year’s Extravaganja festival. “When I published my 1995 book On Drugs I essentially outed myself and decided to become publicly involved. I began speaking at Extravaganja. It’s not at odds with my scholarly interests,” he said. However, when asked if the University should endorsed the festival or use it as a marketing tool, Lenson replied, “Not yet.”

While the University does not promote or advocate Extravaganja in any way, Lenson does believe that the event reflects on the University. “UMass has been a beacon of anti-prohibition for over forty years. Now, as public opinion swells for legalization, CRC and UMass emerge as civil rights pioneers,” Lenson said.