The Highland Flames gets lit
It’s becoming quite clear that the UK is no longer just a spectator in the high-end cannabis events, but rather a contender in its own right, with The Highland Flames leading the charge. This fascinating gathering has become the melting pot, quite literally, of some of the most brilliant minds in the glassblowing industry from the UK, the US, and Europe. Here, artists don’t just share their innovative techniques but forge new art that is often ahead of its time.
The UK has become a hotbed for high-end cannabis events, and The Highland Flames is no exception. I took a journey from the bottom to the top of the UK to watch some of the most admired UK, US and European glassblowers melt their ideas together and create new art the world of glass might just not be ready for yet.
The Highland Flames is set in the stunning village of Aberfoyle. Home to just a few shops and an abundance of beautiful scenery. The population in 2021 was 790 which increased by another 50% over the weekend when art and cannabis enthusiasts made their annual pilgrimage to Scotland’s premier glass show.
As I walked down the long farmers’ driveway, a big white horse frolicked with a tiny pony in the field backed with glorious hillsides and pine trees growing all over it. The further you walked down the path, the louder the beat of the music could be heard. Hard house and techno were blaring out at extreme levels. I reached the festival area and was met with a huge open-front hay barn filled with talkative and laughing people.
The canteen-style benches filled the barns floor space and pilgrims laid a fine selection of holy grail-worthy rigs, pipes and bongs out on the tables in front of them for several hours of heady seshin’.
Around the edge of the barn were work benches hooked up with heavy-duty glass working torches and covered with tools, glass rods and lunch boxes filled with hundreds of intricately detailed millies and chips. A dozen artists exhibited their work and showed festival attendees how they made the work that was available to buy.
I looked at my phone screen and saw that it was 4:10, just in time to get one ready. With not a second to spare I was sparking up at the special time. I shouted “FOUR TWENTY” and got very little reaction…maybe the music was too loud or maybe my English accent was just in audible.
I caught up with Frank Odyseed aka Hive Glass and cofounder of the UK Glass group. Frank stared working the torch in 2012 and has made a name for himself in the glass scene, winning The European Functional Flame off in London, 2018 with his radioactive bee rig. We talked about how the glass scene has evolved in the UK and gained international recognition.
“Glassblowing has become hugely popular” he told me, explaining how UK Glass artists offer a service to come and blow glass live at events for a fee “we are great entertainment value as you can see here”. And he’s right, there were over 450 people at The Highland Flames this weekend. Twenty of them had the chance to grab a lesson over the weekend, with all proceeds going towards the UK Glass fundraiser.
Frank went on to tell me the plans for UK Glass. “We are running some fundraisers currently to buy more equipment to make the live shows easier. We are fighting for kiln space at the moment, we can only make a small amount of work with the kilns we have right now.”
“We have already bought one new Bluebird and are almost able to get a second, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” he said. “Once we have more of what we need, UK Glass Events will be educational and interactive demonstrations, giving more people the chance to get into the art hobby and potentially help grow the niche industry”.
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Over the course of the weekend, a vast array of artists from various parts of the UK and the world converged at The Highland Flames. Among the UK artists were Hive Glass, Glass Haze, Mellow Glass, Dok, Swann Glass, and Burtango. European representation came from Tothitibormas, Badabing, and Glashaus. From the US, we had Marty Preston, Mattaglass, Heliox, Solfire, Scolari, Sirenapparatus, Hiccdogg, Torchtress, Dan Hoffman, Amy Short, and Windstar.
Among these artists, Dan Hoffman stood out. Known for crafting intricate geometric and molecular structures, Hoffman’s creations are awe-inspiring. After studying chemistry at university, Hoffman attended a glassblowing school in Salem, NJ, where he honed his skills in both scientific and artistic glassblowing.
Meeting the Organisers
The Highland Flames is organised by Glasgow’s head shop and glass gallery, West End 710 and close friends Fresh Pressed Terps. I spoke to Charlie, Sweeney and Mo to get the low down from the high-ups.
“So, how do you feel the event is going this year, guys?” I asked them.
“Well, the worst thing that could happen has happened” Mo who runs the fresh fruit juice company, Fresh Pressed Terps told me. I was confused because everything looked to be going so well. “The police came and had a look and then left.” He told me how the event is in its fourth year now and has grown each year to the point they are thinking of holding the event bi-annually, “but it is still early days”.
I asked about the organisation and how long it took to plan a spectacle like this, and they told me it was over six months. “Charlie is the big driving force behind the flames, he chases the sponsors, gets the prizes in, keeps chasing things every day to make it happen. There’s a lot of work involved.” Mo said of his project pal.
Charlie’s enthusiasm for the competition was contagious. “We’ve gathered the best prizes of any glass show in Europe. This year, we have a Bethlehem torch, Firebug Tools, Puffco Peaks and Proxys. It’s all love and pure buzz up here,” he enthused.
Sweeney told me he was keen to see the event grow, “Do you know how groundbreaking it is for these US artists to be here?” he eagerly said to me. “They went out and got tattoos of The Highland Flames logo last night, they’re going to be back next year with more [artists], they love it so much.” at which point Charlie rolled up his sleeve and showed me the Glass Vegas tattoo he had on his shoulder to show the comradery with the Las Vegas glass show manager Amy Short who knows how to put on a glass show at scale.
The guys made an effort to bring much wanted attention to the show like never before. They reached out to Torch Talk curator Mike Mason and floated the idea of him coming out as a media partner and documenting history in the making. Has more than happy to take up the offer and could be seen working his way all around the show, capturing the magic moments. He even jumped on the torch at 11pm on Saturday night to join in on the multi artists millie collab orchestrated by Burtango Glass, who was absolutely stoked with the results when I spoke to him on Sunday Morning.
The Highland Flames wasn’t just about glass. There was a heady market with brands and businesses from all over the UK and Ireland exhibiting their products from tie-die tees to CBD chocolate and medicated iced teas. There are multiple raffles held over the weekend too. One for that pulls out the ticket stubs from all the entry sales, and then another raffle with traditional strip tickets out of a book. These fun activities really get the crowd involved and create a huge bonding experience for everyone there, all concentrating on the same thing at the same time, hoping their number gets drawn. Prizes included Dabrite temperature meter for essential dabbing accuracy, Highland Flames mood mats and loads of great merch from brands in the scene.
This year, the event introduced a competition element with four categories: Best Solo, Best Collab, Best Pendant, and Best overall. The anticipation built up as the crowd eagerly awaited the results.
The names of the winners rang out in the crisp evening air, prompting cheers and applause from the audience.
On Sunday evening, everyone gathered round and waited eagerly for the results to be read out.
The Highland Flames 2023 weekend is one I won’t be forgetting for a long time. The community spirit and uplifted nature of everyone that came has encouraged me to want to come back again for future events. The team behind the close nit and intimate size gathering in the breathtaking setting an hour outside Glasgow have created something worth being extremely proud of, and it sets an example of how entertaining 420 and Cannevents can be when the effort goes into it.
You can view more photos from the event here in our photoblog with photos by headyshots.uk
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Greg de Hoedt is founder of the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs and a cannabis writer based in Brighton, UK. He brings this expertise to the cannevents team as an events correspondent.