High Bush Buds

Product manager Cody Kniceley plays guitar while budtender Eric Doucet holds the microphone at High Bush Buds in Soldotna. 

Walking into a cannabis shop can be pleasant experience for the senses. Customers’ noses, of course, quickly detect the goods on hand, while lighting and interior decor send visual signals. What greets the ears is equally important.

“Music is one of the aspects that people will absorb when they come into the shop. That’s one of your senses. Hearing. And the music, I feel, should be geared towards whatever the mood is in the shop for the day,” said Eric Riemer, owner of the Stoney Moose in Ketchikan. “If we’re just chilling, then we’re going to play some reggae. If it’s getting busy, then we’re going to switch it to some higher tempo music. A lot of it is at the discretion of the budtender.”

Shaun Tacke, CEO and chief financial officer at Good Titrations in Fairbanks, said the approach is similar in their shop, which also sports Alaska’s first onsite consumption cafe. “We read the room,” he said, emphasizing that they cater to customer input, especially in the cafe. “We get feedback from people, and if they have any special requests, or they want it to be changed to something, we accommodate.”

Between customer requests and budtender choices, the music heard in Alaska’s cannabis outlets can be as eclectic as the stores themselves. Robby Siefert, budtender and CBD sales representative at High Expeditions in Talkeetna said that “We always like to play a little mix of everything. I mainly play a lot country, a lot of new age country. My favorite playlist to play is always summer hits of the ‘90s.”

On the far western edge of the state, Micheal Shannon Blackketter, a budtender at Nome Grown, said “I like to play island reggae, it’s a nice weed vibe. And then I also like to play Latino music. It’s a nice beat that everybody likes who comes in, and most people dance to it.”

Mandi Zwick, lead budtender at Denali Grass Company in Healy, said the budtenders in the shop choose the music. Lately she’s been enjoying the Glass Animals Spotify station, which she said offers “really good vibes. They’re not all familiar songs, but it’s got a good beat, it’s the right mood.”

Sometimes the chosen music is tailored to the market. While urban sounds might prevail in Anchorage and Fairbanks shops, down in Juneau, where string bands are popular, both budtenders and customers alike enjoy hearing old time sounds over the systems in the shops.

“I’ve been playing a lot of bluegrass lately,” said Michael Rood, manager at Glacier Valley Shoppe in Juneau. “That jibes well with a lot of people in the Southeast here. There’s a big bluegrass culture here.”

This was echoed by Riemer in Ketchikan, who pointed out that “We’ve got a couple of guys in here who play in bands that are pretty popular. They’re down with bluegrass and kind of a ‘90s rock kind of thing.”

In Soldotna, Cody Kniceley, product manager at High Bush Buds, and budtender Eric Doucet have musical tastes that run in tandem and they stream their favorites over the sound system. Both enjoy rootsy country, but will also delve into metal, blues, or gangster rap if the feeling strikes them.

“When it’s me and Eric, it’s a lot of different stuff,” Kniceley said. “We usually work nights together. We get a lot of Colter Wall, Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson. You got to throw in a little Prince from time to time though.”

“We all have kind of a pretty eclectic taste of music,” Doucet added. “One thing the customers come in and comment on is, the music’s different every day of the year. It changes from morning shift to night shift.”

People in several of the shops said that the online streaming service Spotify is useful, since they can select the sort of sounds they want to hear and then let if flow. “We use Spotify in the shop a lot,” said Glacier Valley’s Rood, “so we can pick playlists for the day.”

Most shops try to avoid music that might be too abrasive for customers, but introducing people to new music is something many of Alaska’s budtenders and shop owners are passionate about. In Ketchikan, Riemer observed that “Customers often comment, like, ‘Damn, what is this? I haven’t heard this before.’ Or, ‘Man, I haven’t heard this song in a long time.’”

Siefert has heard similar responses in Talkeetna, he said. “We always get people coming in, bopping their head, and asking, ‘What playlist is this? What artists?”

Zwick, at Denali Grass, goes even further with finding new things to play.  “If something too familiar comes on the station, I actually thumbs down it,” she said, adding that this tends to elicit good feedback from customers. She seeks out music that may be new to customers but is also likely appeal to their tastes. Often, she said, they enjoy the sounds that greet their ears when they step through the door. “Some of the locals, they don’t quite know it, but it sounds like what should be playing in a pot shop. It’s just so chill. It’s like you want to sit there with a joint and bop your head.”

Whatever’s playing on the sound system, “Everybody loves the music when they come in,” Blackketter at Nome Grown said. “It’s not too loud, it’s not too angry. It’s got the island beat that everybody wants to go to the beach and smoke weed with.” 

Tacke, at Good Titrations, said a varied and constantly changing musical backdrop can go a long way toward increasing customer satisfaction. “I’ve got people who come in every single day to buy their one gram of flower to consume and have a coffee. So we don’t want it to be the same thing every day.”

Customer feedback on music is both important and appreciated, Glacier Valley’s Rood said. “We’ve gotten a few reviews on our weekly Google pages or online. ‘Great vibe in the store’ or ‘Always playing good music.’ I’ve seen that a few times in our reviews.”

At High Bush Buds, Kniceley said the music choices have even been financially rewarding. “We actually got a big tip from a dude the other day, and I quote, ‘Because of that kick-ass waltz you’ve got playing on the radio.’ That’s why he tipped.”

Music in the shops is part of what creates the pleasant atmosphere, and it’s important to both staff and customers. Weather can be a factor in selecting the station and mood, several people said, as can the time of day. Or it could just be what the budtender on duty wants to hear. Whatever is getting played, “We have fun with it,” Kniceley concluded.

David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.

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