By Caleb Calhoun
June 20, 2015: The Sonic Bloom Festival in Colorado, a smorgasbord of heady candy for they eyes, the ears, and the soul. This particular edition is so incredible that even Phillip Emma of Grateful Web calls it “The most difficult thing to describe that I have ever seen.” Day three of total madness.
The headliner tonight is The String Cheese Incident and they come through with a stellar performance. The crowd heads back to their campsites riding a wave of love and inspiration. The ones with medicine still in their system sit around their fires drinking PBR and smoking joints.
It is nearly four-o’clock in the morning and near the stage, something is stirring. A figure emerges, and then another, and then another. Spun, muttering unintelligibly, and covered in hair, these beasts stumble in overlapping, drunken zig-zags among the wreckage near the stage.
These are the fabled wooks (short for wookie), a nickname for music fans who may be all or some of the following: Broke, strung-out, and looking to ground-score. They’re dread-locked and they wander music festivals and puff American Spirits. Here, they wander unnoticed under the Colorado moon.
Find wooks and you’ll also likely find wook hunters, those looking to snap candid shots of wooks in the wild and share those photos online. Getting a good photo means someone has “bagged” and “tagged” a so-called wook. Hunters post their photos, and the stories that go with them, to a two-year-old private Facebook group called Colorado Big Game Trophy Wook Hunters. It’s like the People of Walmart phenomenon, only with more tie-die and dreads.
Back at the campsite, a pair of friends sitting by a campfire ponder the situation.
“We were talking about how there were probably packs of wooks roaming the ground like sharks. We thought that if we started setting out traps we could probably catch ourselves a trophy wook,” says Ian, a co-founder of Coloardo Big Game Trophy Wook Hunters.
“We went down to this creek and there was this kid in there smearing mud all over his face and wearing a ‘D.A.R.E… to suck it!’ shirt. He was hollering about how he took some drugs from a dude in the Porta-John and couldn’t feel his legs,” Ian continues.
“I took a photo and like a week or so after that I uploaded it and made a Facebook group. Like two weeks later there were already 300 members.”
As of the writing of this piece, that number has swelled to more than 73,000 members. What started as a small inside joke among friends has become an online sensation.
“The funny thing,” co-founder Derrick tells me, “is that it was never supposed to be taken seriously by anyone.”
Of course, this is 2017. Give people free lemonade and they will sue you for contributing to tooth decay. Most of the visitors to the site understand that it should be all in good fun, but, just in case, both what is posted on the timeline as well as in the comments is closely monitored to ensure for a friendly, safe environment. The hunters who post pieces to the Facebook page sometimes offer a partly fictional, writerly account of how they bagged and tagged their prey. They poke fun at the crystal-, aura-loving hippies while supporting back-to-the-nature basics. The CBGTWH group also supports Colorado charities.
“The majority of our time is spent just maintaining and keeping the group where we want it to be,” Ian explains. “We want it to be lighthearted, not to embarrass people. We just like talking shit and laughing.”
Still, among users there seem to be several topics that are hotly debated, perhaps none quite so much as the concept of poaching. There are folks out there that will tell you that Widespread Panic on Halloween, or Bassnectar on 4/20, or any other number of stocked ponds, should be considered off-limits to hunters.
I’m happy to, according to the founders of C.B.G.T.W.H., clarify this for the general public. Ian makes it abundantly clear. “There is no poaching,” he says emphatically. “The only place in the world that we won’t post pictures from is Sanchos.”
Another concept that seems to concern members is whether it is appropriate for wooks to bag-and-tag their own species. Does this constitute some form of cannibalism? Is it a breach of trust to the community? Is it wook-on-wook crime at it’s very most debaucherous and depraved?
Alas though, who among us has never bummed an American Spirit in the parking lot of a show. Which of us has never ordered one drink too many, or taped a crystal to our forehead, or passed out during a particularly long rendition of Stella Blue?
Long-time Asheville resident, seasoned wook, and man who just happens to be named Hunter puts it this way:
“One should not be allowed the opportunity to be considered a wook hunter if one has never been in a position to be bagged-and-tagged by another hunter.”
And, truth be told, in some ways, it is a bit of an honor to be bagged and tagged. It’s the true weekend warriors, the one’s out there every Friday, Saturday, and even Thursday night, that find their way onto C.B.G.T.W.H. I myself, the author of this piece, wearing a dog-leash as a head-band and a dress slit up to my waist, was once bagged-and-tagged.
Founding member Derrick claims that probably more than 50 percent of bag-and-tags are made by friends. The “friends” who bagged me fit Hunter’s description to a tee. Recovering wooks themselves, the tag was nonetheless legal, the bag professional, and I could do nothing but smile.
Smile and resolve that the next time I saw Joe Russo’s Almost Dead with those two, I would make sure I had my camera-finger ready.