I read with amusement Drew Philp’s article about the lack of University student attendance at this year’s Ann Arbor Hash Bash (Hash Bash invades Ann Arbor, 04/03/2006). In it, he quotes organizer Josh Soper, who speculates that students don’t attend the annual rally because there are too many “older people” from “out of town.” He says that as a result, the festival now “kind of has that image,” apparently scaring students away.

As an alum who grew up in Ann Arbor and attended the Ann Arbor Hash Bash while still at Community High School, I can tell you that Josh Soper is dead wrong.

Today’s Hash Bash does not attract students because it is held at a time when students are not on campus. For those who don’t know, the Hash Bash is always held the first Saturday after April 1 at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at 11 a.m.? Trust me, this is a bad time for students, especially students in this particular constituency group! The Martin Luther King Day Parade used to draw thousands of students, faculty and staff to campus until the University finally caved and declared it an official holiday. Now the campus is deserted on MLK day. I’m told that last year’s MLK parade drew 50 people, and most of them were probably “out-of-towners.”

In the 1970s, Hash Bash was held on April 1 – April Fools Day (get it?). This guaranteed that the festival would usually fall on a weekday, just before Spring Break, and right in the middle of a typical University lunch hour. There was always a sizable crowd (young and old), and the streets were clogged at rush hour with revelers who enjoyed a lively rally, petitioners, street performers, musicians, group hugs and huge drum circles of 100 people or more!

My father told me that when he taught at the University, it was not uncommon for the more “progressive” professors to dismiss their classes to the Diag on this special day. And some of these profs were even known to join their students in a collective act of “peaceful civil disobedience.” Then, as now, the crusade to legalize marijuana was considered noble, as it was tied to the greater defense of civil liberties and intellectual freedom. Previous festivals, however, involved the entire University community at all levels, and the debates and teach-ins that occurred in the surrounding classroom buildings were an important part of the tradition. Sadly, those voices are missing from today’s rallies partly because festival organizers choose to hold their event when the campus is asleep.

By formalizing the holiday and pandering to the work schedules of the “older hippies” and the “out-of-towners,” the festival has lost much of its electricity and a good deal of its intellectual grounding.

If Ann Arborites want to preserve this festival as some kind of museum piece for future generations to enjoy, they need to make changes to keep it alive. A flower can’t survive without water and sunlight. Similarly, the Hash Bash can’t survive without throngs of University students and a few supportive faculty. Return the date of the festival to a time when students and faculty can attend (April Fools Day), and you will breathe new life into an old tradition. Believe me, the “old hippies” and “out-of-towners” will make it.

Durrance is a University alum.
He currently resides in Dexter.

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