HARMONY — She’s cowpunk. Country garage rock.

Her music is a hybrid sound that falls somewhere between Loretta Lynn and Joan Jett, and she’s got pedigree.

Raelyn Nelson — the granddaughter of county music icon Willie Nelson — took the stage this weekend for the 28th annual Hempstock marijuana festival on Carson Hill in the Somerset County town of Harmony.

Nelson, who has her own band, the Raelyn Nelson Band, hit the road with fellow Nashville musician and actress Hannah Fairlight as a duo they call mmhmm.

“Mmhmm,” loosely translated as a text message, means “Yes, sure, OK.”

The weekend performances were meant to promote the total legalization of marijuana — not just in Maine, but nationwide.


“We are obviously pro-cannabis and we come from a state where it’s not legal,” said Nelson, 34. “In Tennessee it’s not legal. We were (legal) for a little bit a couple of years ago when it was decriminalized in the county where we live, but only for about six or seven months. Then they repealed it.

“We weren’t criminals for a little bit; then all of a sudden we were.”

Nelson said they are involved in the Tennessee Cannabis Coalition — there is no medical marijuana law in that state, and no recreational use of marijuana. She said she heard about Hempstock and Maine Vocals founder Donnie Christen, who has advocated for marijuana legalization since 1991, and wanted to come to Maine.

“I want to follow in his footsteps,” Nelson said. “He has been locked up a couple of times — nine months was I think the longest — and he was on the courthouse steps giving out pot brownies. It sounds like he’s a freedom fighter, and I strive to be known as a freedom fighter as well.”

In Maine, medical marijuana has been legal for patients with medical marijuana cards from a doctor since 1999. Over the years, Maine legislators tinkered with pot laws to allow dispensary and caregiver sales. In 2016, Maine voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana. It took lawmakers another two years to approve a system to regulate adult-use sales, which most likely won’t kick in until 2019.

Christen, 64, of Starks, says state lawmakers have no jurisdiction, constitutionally, over marijuana use for any purposes. He said organizers who canceled a cannabis-themed foodie fair in Gray on Friday because state inspectors concluded it would violate state marijuana laws made their own decision.


He said the law doesn’t apply to him or the annual Hempstock festival, where weed is smoked openly and consumed in food products. He said he has not feared a shutdown of his festival since the first one was held 28 years ago in Starks with Harry Brown.

“We’re working to change the law. They can’t shut us down, not constitutionally,” he said. “They can write all the regulations they want to, but if it’s not constitutional, then they can’t force the issue. It’s not the will of the people. We operated under a law that it was completely illegal, prior. So what am I going to worry about now for? We’re grandfathered.”

Christen, a grandfather of four, said since the recreational marijuana law passed in 2016, he has seen a slight uptick in attendance at his festivals, but largely crowds have remained constant at 300 to 400 people each summer.

“Now they’re figuring out that legalization is just not what they conceived it to be. The war is not over yet. You can buy it legally, but I can’t sell it legally. It’s ridiculous. It hasn’t been worked out who can do what yet.”

Fairlight, 33, also has her own band, the Hannah Fairlight Group, and appeared in the film “Pitch Perfect 3,” as well as a local reality show in Nashville. She said a speech Christen gave to the crowd Friday night inspired her.

“We really liked the speech he gave last night, especially touching on ‘don’t just get crazy, don’t just go get stoned and party and be irresponsible — do the good things and handle yourself well,'” Fairlight said.


Nelson said she is a mother of three and Fairlight is the mother of a 2-year-old son, so it’s tough going on the road, making their music, mostly on weekends, and keeping family life intact. She said use of cannabis is one of the best ways to keep stress levels down, so that is why they are advocating for its total legalization.

Nelson said her band has opened for Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts and, of course, for her grandpa.

So what’s it’s like being the granddaughter of Willie Nelson, an American musical and cultural icon and founder of the Farm Aid concert series with John Mellencamp and Neil Young in 1985?

“He’s just always been my grandpa, on the road, working. Him and my Aunt Bobby, his sister, have been touring for over 40 years,” Nelson said. “But he went through Nashville a lot, because, you know, it’s Music City.”

She said the first time she realized it was “different” having Willie Nelson as her grandfather was when she was about 5 years old.

“I was with my dad and my mom and we were at a show, and people just bombarded my grandpa, all of a sudden and it was panic all around. It was an intense situation,” she said.


Nelson said she and Fairlight want to continue on with the music legacy of her grandfather, who at 85 is still touring.

“Hannah and I have been traveling together and writing a lot of songs,” she said. “We’re going to have a really good story at the end of this, and maybe that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s the journey and learning and meeting people and making people smile.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367



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