In 2013, Tamara Kaye Sellman sat down to study for her finals test for the sleep technology school she was attending, and found that although she could see the words on the page just fine, she couldn’t read them.
“It’s the weirdest thing to explain to people, but I suddenly had no comprehension,” she says. “I could look at the letters on the page, and I could not see them as words, I could just see them as shapes.”
She saw a doctor in Poulsbo who recommended that she get an MRI. Two days later, the radiologist contacted her to let her know that she may have Multiple Sclerosis, commonly referred to as MS. After extensive testing at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, the diagnosis was confirmed.
Sellman’s debut book, Intention Tremor: A Hybrid Collection, released by MoonPath Press in January of this year, is an exploration of life with Multiple Sclerosis told through a mix of prose and poetry. She recently donated all the proceeds from the book — $1,000m — to the Accelerated Cure Project, a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating MS research.
When Sellman first began writing the pieces that would become Intention Tremor, they consisted entirely of poetry. But that didn’t feel authentic, Sellman says.
“I’m actually originally a prose writer, and a journalist, so it felt wrong or disingenuous to only have poetry, because I write across genres,” she says. “So I gave myself permission to break the structure I had imposed — which was helpful to get me started, of course — and I decided to take some works that were poetry and turn them into prose pieces and then finish out the rest of the collection with some other prose … I decided to be more experimental, and to buck the idea that you have to do it all in one genre, and call it a hybrid collection.”
Sellman wrote most of the pieces in the book shortly after her 2013 diagnosis during a writing retreat in Port Townsend where she spent much of her time around campfires. “You might find there’s a lot of stars and a lot of fire subjects in this book, because they’re inspired by my surroundings,” she says.
When she was first diagnosed, Sellman said her first instinct was to turn to “Dr. Google” to learn more about the disease. With a background as a science writer, it wasn’t difficult for her to track down research studies or get data from her doctors. But finding personal stories about living with MS proved more difficult.
“I needed some ideas about how people dealt with this, and I went looking for books, either memoirs, or poetry, or short essays or whatever I could find, and I didn’t really find a lot,” she says.
I wanted to provide people some hope that you can still keep living your life. You’re going to have to make some changes, let’s be honest, but there’s a way around it and you can still be who you are in spite of it.
She said of writing the book, “Part of it is very therapeutic, because I turn to writing when I’m dealing with anything that’s above and beyond the normal day-to-day stress, so I started writing these things just for me to understand my path, or maybe to answer questions or to explore my feelings about the situation, to deal with some of the mysteries and the frustrations of working within the healthcare system.”
The book reads like a medical memoir because it’s based on her real experiences, she says. “The book really helped me to understand that whole journey and now I feel like I’m a veteran,” she says.
At the same time, she wanted to keep the book grounded, because she felt people with chronic illnesses shouldn’t feel pressured to be “superheroes” overcoming adversity. “I wanted to provide people some hope that you can still keep living your life,” she says. “You’re going to have to make some changes, let’s be honest, but there’s a way around it and you can still be who you are in spite of it.”
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. As the National MS Society puts it, MS is, “an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.” The damage caused by the disease can either completely inactivate nerves, or inhibit the signals they carry, Sellman explains.
“For instance, in the title of my book, Intention Tremor, the tremor is really the nerves that are associated with my hands, having a weird reaction in which they tremor, because I’m having this problem with the signals in my brain not being able to inform the muscles in my hands and my arms how to act,” She says. “So they falter and they shake.”
The level of disability a person with MS experiences depends a great deal on where the damage to the nerve fibers falls within their brain, Sellman says. “So for some people if they have more damage in their spinal column, they probably are going to have more problems with walking, because those nerves in the spinal column go to and from, and have a conversation with, the muscles in your legs and your feet and so forth,” she says. “But I don’t have any lesions in that area; I have them mostly in other parts of my brain.”
Although Sellman’s MS is being treated with medication, she still has symptoms, such as not being able to speak or finish sentences. “In my head I hear myself saying the sentences, but I don’t actually verbalize them,” she says. And her ears ring constantly, a symptom she’s become accustomed to but which was “terrible” at first. Fatigue is another symptom, and she sometimes has problems with balance and coordination.
Promoting the book during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, Sellman says. Although she hasn’t booked any in-person readings — bookstores largely aren’t hosting them on account of the pandemic — she’s done many virtual readings and podcast appearances. And the feedback she’s been getting about the book has been largely positive, she says.
“I think I’ve written the book that I wanted to read, based on what other people have said to me,” she says. “So yes, I’ve received really great responses from readers, and also the comments that people have made in the virtual readings, or on my website or sales pages. People have been leaving some really strong feedback that suggests that whatever I did, it’s working.”
For James Hunnicutt, music is less about any particular sound than it is about making a positive difference in the world.
To be sure, the sound is an important part of his music. Hunnicutt, a singer-songwriter based out of Port Orchard who’s headlining a show this Sunday at the Charleston, played in a variety of rock and rockabilly bands throughout his career. The spirit of ‘60s and ‘70s folk music is a major influence on his solo music, along with a dash of rock and country courtesy of artists like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
But since he became sober about 19 years ago, music became the medicine that kept him on the straight-and-narrow, he says.
“As the years went on, traveling and meeting wonderful people and having wonderful experiences all over the world with this [playing music], it really showed me how powerful and unifying — really transcendental — music can be as a language and medium to share with people,” he says. “Beyond the music style and artistic expression and influence, that’s the one core thing that is important to me, with this or anything else I do, is it has to have good energy in it.”
That was easier said than done over the past year as the country grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s been a crazy time for everyone that’s being honest with themselves and that wasn’t financially living in a very wealthy bubble prior to COVID,” he says. “Music has definitely been what helped to keep me sober and having a positive mindset. It’s been one of the biggest ingredients, and having performing live taken away during this time has been really rough.”
Yet, Hunnicutt insists silver linings have emerged from the pandemic. For one, the trials people have faced over the past year have forced them to grow. “It keeps you on your toes and makes you reassess where you’re at and walk your talk,” he says. “Because it’s easier to be happy when things are going easy. When they’re not, then you’ve got to dig a little deeper. It makes you grow. So it’s been hard, but I’m grateful for that.”
Another bright side: All the down time during the lockdowns gave Hunnicutt time to work on projects that had long sat on the backburner. He says he’s probably had 20 to 30 different album projects brewing over the last 30 years that he finally got a chance to sit down and work on. At this weekend’s show, he’s hoping to debut a song called “Our Time” being put out by the charity record label Piece of Pie Records. The song is about teen depression and suicide awareness, and proceeds will benefit the Jed Foundation, which works on teen suicide prevention.
It’s driven by compassion and empathy, and past the music stylings, that’s the most important ingredient to me
Hunnicutt started playing music when he was 12, starting his first band, called Aggressor, when he was 13. Since then he’s played in some 40-45 bands, he says, including Neutral Boy, the Swinos, Misery Seed, and Woodrot. He had a rockabilly band for a while called James Hunnicutt and the Revolvers, and played guitar for Texas-based musician Wayne Hancock and with the “metal-meets-bluegrass” band Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band.
He’s been performing his solo act for the past 25 years or so, and it’s become his main gig for about the past 15 years, he says. He’s toured the continental U.S. countless times, and also toured in Europe, he says.
In some ways, Hunnicutt’s act connects the dots between folk and punk music, he says, noting that his music is driven by social and political issues. He aims to write music that is constructive not just for him, but for the world around him. “That’s really what drives the lyrics today, whether it’s about addiction or loneliness or death — some real heavy, dark stuff,” he says. “But it’s driven by compassion and empathy, and past the music stylings, that’s the most important ingredient to me.”
Hunnicutt wouldn’t necessarily classify himself as “folk-punk,” though. “I’ve heard very little quote-unquote ‘folk punk’ that I’ve been exposed to that I cared for,” he says. “The theme behind it, the idea, though — I think I have a lot in common with that. … I’ve been labeled that and had people tell me they think what I do is folk-punk.”
There are certainly similarities — his music is acoustic and folky — but ultimately he thinks it’s his proclivity to write music that is constructive and makes people think that bridges the gap between the two genres. “To me, that’s what punk is supposed to be about,” he says.
James Hunnicutt headlines at 6 p.m., Aug. 8, at the Charleston, 333 N. Callow Ave., Bremerton, with Danny Attack and Seattle-based Phantom Pines.
Hunnicutt is also performing at 2:30 p.m., Aug. 8, at Port Gamble’s Summer Faire.
Danny attempted to brand his high school friend “Matt Attack,” thinking it sounded cool. It didn’t stick, and Danny decided to adopt the “Attack” moniker for himself. When he started playing solo shows as a singer-songwriter, he toyed around with different names for the act — Whispers in Reverse, Bad Wolf, Fear Frequency — before deciding to make his nickname the official name of the act.
When Danny Attack takes the stage at the Charleston this Sunday, it won’t be Danny Attack’s first time there, having performed at the theater in the past with one of his other bands. It will, however, be his first time performing in Bremerton under his solo act.
Based in Florida, which has loosened many of its COVID-19 restrictions earlier than other states, Danny’s been able to play shows around his home state for a while now, he says. But he recently kicked off a nationwide tour, his first since the pandemic forced widespread closures of music venues.
“I feel like I’m having to play catch-up again, because COVID started in March 2020,” he says. “I felt like I was ramping up a little bit — I was actually in Europe, in the UK, when all the COVID stuff was happening. So I had to cut a tour short while I was out there to get back here, because they were closing borders and stuff.”
He took the year to work on content, record an album, and shoot some new music videos. “Now it’s all catch-up,” he says. “I have to build up this momentum again and I’m hoping this tour helps that.” He has a UK tour scheduled in October as well.
Although he’s an independent artist, one could be forgiven for thinking he was signed to a label, given the polished graphics that adorn his album art and merch, and his professionally produced music videos. Danny credits his media team at Rozu Creative with adding that extra polish.
“I don’t put ‘Danny Attack’ on any of my merch,” he noted. “It’s only just ‘Attack.’” The idea is to make his merch accessible even to people who aren’t yet fans of his music. “I want to give people the option to buy it even if they don’t know who I am. People will buy art or anything visually appealing to them if they think it’s cool, if they like it. I don’t see that happening if it says ‘Danny’ on there.”
Being independent gives Danny more creative freedom. He’s not averse to the idea of signing with a label someday, but he’s done so much work with his past bands — booking shows and tours, for example — that he can handle a lot of what a label would do himself.
If I don’t make my music and play it out, and send it to people or tour as much as I can, no one’s going to hear it
“A lot of times when you are signed and have management and things like that, there’s a lot of stuff you have to go through before you can get stuff done,” he says. “A lot of the big labels, they want their hand in it of course, because they want to make sure it’s commercial enough, they want to make sure it sells. That’s the business. That’s what they’re supposed to do.”
That drive to commercialize the music often conflicts with the values of alternative bands, Danny says, and although it’s not a particular concern for him personally, he sees value in the do-it-yourself attitude: “I’m doing it for myself because if I don’t do it myself, it’s not going to get done,” he says. “And I’m not one to wait on, ‘Well, I’m just going to sit here and write my music and hopefully someone’s going to sign me and then I can do it all.’ I’m more of a, ‘if I don’t make my music and play it out, and send it to people or tour as much as I can, no one’s going to hear it.'”
It’s difficult to pin down a single genre or theme to describe Danny Attack. Songs range from dark folk tales about murder and mayhem, to lighter pop-punk-inspired fare, to twangy Americana.
“I write to what I like or what I want to sing to, so it’s all over the map,” he says. “I can’t really put it in a particular genre. … I think one I heard was alt-folk, alternative-folk. As a wide range, that might be something I fit in, but I couldn’t say that I belong to any particular one, just because each song is different across the board.”
Having played for various bands of different genres has given him a diverse fan base as well.
“I have metal fans that like my stuff, I have country people that are my fans, and things like that, so it’s a pretty wide range of fans and I think that’s because I write across genres,” he says. “One of my metal fans may not like too much some of the slower stuff I do, but they might enjoy more of the murder-folk, more of the heavier folk stuff that I do. But it keeps them around because they know I’m going to keep writing stuff like that at some point.”
Danny says he’s looking forward to Sunday’s show and that it should be fun. “I hope everyone comes out,” he says.
Danny Attack opens for Port Orchard-based James Hunnicutt (check out our interview with him here), along with Seattle-based Phantom Pines, 6 p.m., Aug. 8, at the Charleston, 333 N. Callow Ave., Bremerton.
COVID-19 restrictions brought challenges to planning this year’s Kitsap Pride event, but working through those challenges has created an opportunity to try something new.
The 25th annual Kitsap Pride festival is 4-9 p.m., July 31, at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds (a change from the event’s typical location at Evergreen Rotary Park). This year’s event features a “Coming Out Concert” starting at 7 p.m. and headlined by the Kim Archer Band, with DJ Dana Dub and drag performances offering entertainment earlier in the evening.
Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kitsap Pride put on a drive-thru event, featuring decorated cars, free swag, and “Pride in a Box” kits people ordered in advance.
Things are getting somewhat back to normal this year, but as the event was being planned, a number of COVID-19 restrictions were still in place and outdoor gatherings were limited to 400 people, said Kitsap Pride President Michael Goodnow. With those restrictions in mind, the group planned an outdoor concert.
Now that restrictions have loosened, there is no limit on the number of attendees, and the event will feature many elements from past Pride festivals: a beer garden, more than 40 vendors (including artisans, local businesses and nonprofits, and more), and a teen space and other youth activities hosted by the Boys and Girls Club.
One benefit of holding the event at the fairgrounds is that it can accommodate a greater number of people at one time; the parking capacity alone is a benefit, Goodnow said. “We’re certainly excited to see how this works,” he said.
Everything will be outdoors, and the event will follow any COVID-19 restrictions or guidelines in place once the event rolls around.
“We are asking folks who participate that if they are not fully vaccinated to wear a mask,” Goodnow said. The Kitsap Public Health District will be onsite to administer COVID-19 vaccines to those who would like one, but people receiving vaccines at the event will still need to wear a mask since it takes two weeks to develop antibodies. The health district will also offer HIV testing and provide info on PrEP, medication that prevents HIV.
People are sometimes confused by the fact that Kitsap Pride takes place in July rather than June, which is Pride Month. Goodnow noted that Pride isn’t limited to a single month. “Pride happens absolutely around the calendar, and around the globe,” he said, later adding, “It’s not like we’re late to the game.” Kitsap Pride has always taken place the third weekend of July until this year, because the fairgrounds weren’t available that weekend.
Kitsap Pride has always had a different feel to it than larger events in cities like Seattle. “The scale of it’s smaller, but we estimate that we get almost 4,000 people in the festival throughout the day … We try to offer a lot of the same things, just on a scale that feels more like Kitsap,” Goodnow said.
Kitsap Pride’s first priority is bringing the community together, Goodnow said. “If we can’t connect as a community, then it’s harder to connect for advocacy,” he said. The organization has tried to offer events throughout the year to keep people connected. “For a long time here in Kitsap I would maybe meet someone at Pride who would say, ‘It’s my first time coming here,’ and then I always felt like, what am I going to say? ‘OK, see you next year!’? So we try to do some stuff throughout the year to keep people connected.”
The organization is all-volunteer, so although it doesn’t currently have the capacity to offer services such as counseling, it’s able to direct people to available services in the community.
Get more info on Kitsap Pride and stay up to date on upcoming events at kitsappride.org/.
Featured Photo: Rainbow flags fly at Evergreen Rotary Park during the 2016 Kitsap Pride festival (Kitsap Scene File Photo)
UPDATE: David Olivas came out with a new music video for his song “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed.” Check it out:
Adam Sandler’s new Netflix comedy special is titled “100% Fresh.” But detractors are saying the special — or at least one particular part of it — is actually quite rotten.
David Olivas, 33, of Bremerton, has been rapping since he was 13. He’s not blowing up the music charts, but over the years he’s carved a place for himself in the local rap and hip-hop scene.
Olivas is finding himself in the national spotlight recently, however, thanks to Sandler’s new special, which included the performance of a comedic song called “Phone, Wallet, Keys.” The only problem? The song bore a striking similarity to Olivas’s song “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed,” originally released in 2015 — a full three years before Sandler’s special hit Netflix.
Here’s Sandler’s performance:
And here’s Olivas’s song:
This has led Olivas’s fans to ask: Did Adam Sandler rip off David Olivas? Some of Olivas’s most devoted fans have bombarded Netflix’s social media accounts to point out the uncanny similarity between the two songs. They’ve even contacted journalists across the country in an effort to ensure Olivas gets credit where they believe it’s due.
A couple days before the controversy broke, Olivas’s wife started watching the Netflix special, but turned it off before Sandler’s rendition of the song came on. A couple days later, Olivas was working his day job at Bremerton cannabis retailer The Reef when his wife texted him, telling him that Adam Sandler had, as she put it, “jacked his song.”
Olivas laughed it off at first, thinking she was joking. He kept getting tagged in Facebook posts, but couldn’t check them out while working. Finally, he took a break so he could see what all the fuss was about — by this point, he’d received 20-30 notifications from people tagging him in the comment thread of Sandler’s “Phone, Wallet, Keys” video.
More Than a Coincidence?
At first, Olivas thought it was a coincidence.
“My jaw dropped when I first saw it. I was a little speechless at first.”
“As people have been quick to point out, there’s half a dozen songs floating around that have titles like that,” he says. “But then when you click on the song, it’s more than just the title or sharing a couple words of a chorus. My jaw kind of dropped, honestly, when I first saw it. I was a little speechless at first.”
Although “Phone, Wallet, Keys” was performed by Sandler, frequent Sandler collaborator Dan Bulla was credited as the writer. He also performed the song with Sandler in the special. When the Kitsap Sun reached out to Sandler’s press office for comment, they directed the paper to Bulla; he has yet to respond to the Sun’s request for comment on Twitter.
Olivas doesn’t have a particular bone to pick with Sandler or his team and says most of the fuss was raised on his behalf by a dedicated group of fans who felt Olivas should get some kind of recognition for coming up with the song first.
“People that are fans of my music really ran with it. A couple of them, Netflix blocked their posts and banned them after a minute,” he says. “They started emailing journalists and stuff who are covering it.”
Robert Bacon was one of the first to report on the controversy on his podcast. Bacon mashed up segments of the two songs side by side so people could gauge the similarity of the two songs for themselves. Listen for yourself:
In addition to Bacon’s podcast and the Kitsap Sun, the story has been picked up by XXL Magazine and HotNewHipHop, and Olivas has been contacted by a reporter from the Washington Post. The media attention has helped Olivas confirm that he’s not crazy: Other people recognize the similarity between the two songs.
“Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed” appears on Olivas’s December 2015 album, “We Thrive.” It was recorded earlier that year, but Olivas had been using the phrase as a mnemonic device years before that, he says.
Olivas was traveling to a show in Port Townsend with his friend Denon Jones. When they stopped to get gas, Olivas began reflecting on his upcoming album.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I have a lot of good songs on there, but I don’t know if there’s a real good, hyphy club song … I should just take that “phone, keys, wallet, weed” that I do to remember my stuff and just put it to a banger and make it kind of funny. But I think people would be into it.’”
Jones was onboard and encouraged Olivas to record the song, which was co-written with Chris Dean.
The song has always been popular, although Olivas says it’s not necessarily the best representation of his overall catalogue of music. Much of his music tackles more serious issues. “Reason to Live,” for example, is a song about suicide prevention awareness. “Blessed” is about appreciating what you have in life.
Olivas always had a knack for storytelling, even as far back as elementary school, where he gravitated toward creative writing assignments.
“My favorite stuff was when they would just give you a sentence … and be like, ‘Write a story with it.’ And I would just go off of that. So I always enjoyed writing and hip-hop just spoke to me.”
Olivas heard Tupac for the first time when he was 12 and a friend popped one of the rapper’s cassette tapes into the car stereo on the way back from a church camp. The music made an impression on him, due to “the way the beat hit with the bassline and the way it pumped you up and made you feel,” he recalled.
“Hip-hop sent shivers down your spine. It just got you through hard times and made you feel pumped up, like you could do anything.”
Hip-hop also appealed to him because it was a genre that encouraged storytelling. You could fit more lyrics into a rap song than you could in other genres. “It takes talent in most genres to get your point across in less words or whatever, but hip-hop, some of my favorite stuff was just the storytellers — Tupac and Biggie and Nas, who would just tell stories, take you somewhere. It was magical to me. It (sent) shivers down your spine and it just got you through hard times and made you feel pumped up, like you could do anything.”
Olivas was 13 when he constructed his first rhymes. But true art can’t survive in a bubble: He wanted to share his music with the world.
“When you talk about having a dream your whole life, I remember when I just wanted more than anything to have my own CD released and have the booklets and the credits and thank-yous on the inside,” he says. “I used to read those cover to cover.”
In high school, he attended Olympic College through the Running Start program. There, a man named Roger Nick helped Olivas operate the recording equipment in the college’s music studio. “(I) … made some pretty bad music that I thought was cool at the time and started passing out CDs,” he says.
He’d fulfilled his dream of making a CD, but ultimately, he was just a kid messing around. He’d eventually take his music making to the next level, but it may have never happened if not for an accident that changed his life.
In December 2005, Olivas and his fiancé, Lacey Castro, were driving back to Washington from Los Angeles. As they drove, the conversation turned to Olivas’s music. He told Lacey he was thinking of putting music on the backburner to focus more on work and making money. But she wasn’t having any of that:
She turned to him and said, with a sense of urgency in her voice, “You have to promise me you’ll keep making music.”
“Ehh, I don’t know, Lace,” he responded. “It takes a lot of time and I don’t know if I have the time and money to put into that and still pay bills.”
“No,” she insisted. “You have to promise me you’re not going to stop making music. It means a lot to people and you’re good at it.” He finally relented and told her he wouldn’t quit making music.
Four hours later, the couple found themselves in a car crash that injured Olivas and took Lacey’s life. In the wake of the life-changing accident, Lacey’s insistence that he promise to keep making music took on new significance for Olivas.
“I remember thinking it was kind of weird, the sense of urgency,” he recalls. “I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond that, besides to say it’s not something a lot of people could say, when the love of your life at the time dies in a pretty rough way and then hours before that, told you to never quit making music.”
“It was on me to do something, like God wasn’t done with me. I still had some work to do.”
He didn’t get back into the studio for another year. When he did, he recorded a song for Lacey and gave it to her family on the one-year anniversary of the accident. He formed a band with his guitar-playing roommate, a rap-rock outfit called Redemption City. From there, he found himself fronting another rap-rock band called Crush Proof Juicebox, before returning to pure hip-hop, forming the duo Endgame with another local rapper, Nik Fury. As Endgame, Olivas had the chance to tour locally, opening shows for such acts as Kottonmouth Kings, Tech N9ne and Geto Boys.
Hip-hop became a way for Olivas to fulfil his promise to Lacey, but it also proved to be therapeutic, a way to heal from the psychic trauma the accident had inflicted on him.
“It made me like, OK, if I didn’t die from that or become an alcoholic and give up — which I tried to do for a while — then it was on me to do something, like God wasn’t done with me,” he says. “I still had some work to do.”
The accident shaped much of his early music and still does, to an extent. “Now it’s been 13 years,” he says. “It’s not something I think about every day or anything, but it’s always been there and it’s something I’ll always feel a responsibility for, but in a good way. It’s not as if I’m like, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to make music now because I promised this girl.’ It was something that, because she said that to me and I remembered it, it got me through some hard times and really saved my life in a lot of ways in terms of being a form of therapy.”
A Local Scene
As Olivas honed his skills, he found support and fellowship in the local rap and hip-hop scene.
Kitsap County’s burgeoning scene is overflowing with talent, Olivas says. Although the scene is diverse, it’s also tight-knit, he says. “Like any scene, some people have their groups and some people run in different circles and everything, but … people from different camps come together and have great shows and the fans have a good time.”
At 33, Olivas says he’s an “older guy” in terms of the hip-hop scene. But he sees many of the younger musicians doing cool things. As an example, he points out Young Lew and Jordy Sam, a duo putting out “KUBE 93-ready” songs.
“There’s kids that were little guys when I was starting out that are doing some really cool things,” he says. “It may not be known on the level that a bigger city scene is, but … there’s a lot of talent whose story needs to be told.”
And that’s not to leave out many of the forebears who came before, including both musicians, labels and promoters, such as I-Gang, a duo that was active in the early 2000s; Doc and Wesley Blackwell of Noroc Records; Lions Den 360, and Hustle Style Entertainment.
“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of things,” Olivas says. “I could go on, but if I start naming too many names it’ll seem like I’m leaving somebody out.”
In the wake of the Adam Sandler controversy, the artists in the local scene have been a major source of support. “They feel like one of their own got a raw deal and are just trying to spread the word,” he says. “The support from both the artists and the fans in the community has been really overwhelming and amazing.”
As an artist, it’s never fun to feel like someone’s used your work without properly crediting you. But Olivas acknowledges there’s been an upside to the situation. It’s given him a national spotlight and pumped his music into more ears than ever before.
The day after the controversy began erupting online, “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed,” garnered a couple thousand listens overnight. Although Olivas’s music has generated thousands of listens over time between Spotify, iTunes and other platforms, getting that kind of traffic over the course of a single day was unusual. The traffic continued to increase, and by the next day, the YouTube video alone had racked up 5,000 views. At the time of this writing, the video has more than 28,000 views.
But the circumstances for the extra attention have seemed surreal.
“Do I think Adam Sandler is up late at night looking for obscure people to rip off? Probably not. But my song has been on the internet for a while and I don’t know what could have (happened) or how somebody could have come across it, but it’s just odd. At this point, thousands of people agree that it seems oddly similar.”
It’s possible, Olivas says, that it’s a case of unintentional plagiarism.
“Most songwriters have had that experience where you start to write something … and then you realize halfway through, ‘Aww man, I’m taking this from …’” he says. “I’m not an unreasonable person and I’m not going to say, ‘Yep, this is what happened. This guy heard it, and he ripped me off and rubbed his hands together and was like, ‘Ha ha, I’m going to screw this guy!’ I don’t know any of that … I don’t know for sure what happened and I don’t want to level any accusations of definite wrongdoing.”
“I’m not angry. I’m just kind of a guy that is dealing with it as it comes day by day.”
But that doesn’t mean Olivas isn’t considering all his options, including the possibility of legal action. In the meantime, though, he’s focusing on the positives.
“I’m not out here angrily shaking my fist or anything,” he says. “A lot of people have said, ‘You should be thankful if Sandler ripped your song off,’ … and I’m like, I get it; I am thankful for the attention and the opportunity and the platform, not just with this song, but to try to promote in general what I’m about, which is taking care of your fellow man and really trying to let and let live if you can. … I’m definitely not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m just kind of a guy that is dealing with it as it comes day by day.”
There is one way Olivas says Sandler could make it up to him, however.
“If we could just make Little Nicky 2, and then maybe I could be in it for like 30 seconds or something, I’d be good with that,” he says with a laugh. “You can’t have Rodney Dangerfield anymore, may he rest in peace. But I’d be down for Little Nicky 2. Let’s do it, Adam.”
The genre boomed in the ‘80s, then waned in the wake of overexposure. Right now, some would say stand-up is booming, in no small part due to Netflix’s deluge of stand-up specials featuring popular comedians such as Louis C.K., Dave Chapelle and Maria Bamford.
Stand-up isn’t just booming nationwide. It’s booming right here in Kitsap County. Suquamish Clearwater Casino regularly hosts comedy nights. Bremerton’s Admiral Theater is no stranger to comedy, either. The theater hosted comedian and Movin’ 92.5 FM DJ Jubal Flagg last year, and has hosted parts of the Seattle International Comedy Competition for years.
Stand-up comedy isn’t new to Kitsap, though. The county has hosted comedy shows in some form since at least the ‘80s — iconic comedian Mitch Hedberg has even performed in Kitsap— but in recent years, new comedic forces have joined old stalwarts to create a burgeoning comedy scene in our own backyard.
New Kids on the Block
Joseph Rogers hosts a comedy show at Slaughter County Brewing in Port Orchard. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
Growing up, Bremerton comedian Joseph Rogers was a fan of the big names in comedy. Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and George Carlin were three of his favorites.
But he never saw himself getting up on a stage and telling jokes — not until he attended a comedy show during a trip to Santa Monica, California about five or six years ago. The show was was one of many regularly held in someone’s garage; the shows would attract anywhere from 150 to 300 people, Rogers says.
That experience planted a seed in Rogers’ mind. He began toying with the idea of producing comedy shows, while performing as a comedian at the same time.
Over the past several years, he’s done just that, producing shows under the name “Comedy in Kitsap,” often participating as one of the acts. Rogers produces shows throughout Kitsap County, although regularly-used venues include both Mobster Mike’s and Cookies in Bremerton, and Slaughter County Brewing in Port Orchard.
“I’ve got a couple kids, and so for me to travel outside of Kitsap to do comedy isn’t all that realistic,” Rogers says. “I’m bringing the comedy to Kitsap, and also putting myself on the tickets as well, as added practice. But I try to always make sure that I put on a good show, so that way I’m not just putting myself on because I can.”
The shows Rogers produces feature comedians from a variety of locales. Touring comedians from out of state make appearances, though many of the comedians are from nearby Seattle. There’s also a smattering of local talent — up-and-comers from Kitsap who got their start participating in open mics.
Bremerton comedian Sean Pickering is one of them. Pickering says he has been a fan of stand-up comedy his entire life. Sometime in 2012, he saw a documentary about comedians on Netflix and it inspired him to search for open mics in the area. The closest one he found was in Tacoma.
“I did it for about eight months or so and then I really wasn’t getting any better,” he says. “There’s a lot of really good comedians in Tacoma and it was pretty intimidating, I guess. When Bremerton started doing it, it was like the local comedy scene, everybody was really cool and supportive — not that they’re not in Tacoma, It was just sort of, ‘I get to hang out with these guys.’”
Though the comedy scene fostered by Rogers is still relatively small, it’s growing every day, Pickering says.
“We get new comedians coming to the open mics and everything, and some of the new guys that come in are just heads and tails above what I was when I started,” he says.
Cris Larsen — also known by his stage name, The Great Cris — first flirted with comedy watching cartoons as a kid, and first tasted the thrill of performing for an audience in a kindergarten play about nutrition.
“I got to play the lead potato,” he says. When he tripped on his costume, he stood back up, waved his arms and shouted, “Ta-da!” eliciting laughs from the audience. It was a moment that hinted at the comedian that would emerge years later.
Cris Larsen hosts a comedy show at the Clover Leaf Tavern in Bremerton. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
When he was older, Larsen got involved in community theater, including acting in plays at Bremerton Community Theatre.
He recalled playing District Attorney Tom Davenport in the play “Inherit the Wind,” which tells the story of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. He lamented the fact that, at the end of every show, his character lost. So he rewrote the final scene so that the DA won, and showed it to two other actors, who agreed it was hilarious.
Those kinds of humorous endeavors prompted Larsen’s friends to encourage him to write his own material. And in the 1980s, he began doing so, performing in stand-up comedy clubs like Jackson’s in Yakima.
“In that period of time, there was a huge comedy boom,” Larsen recalled. “There were shows everywhere. Clubs were looking for talent.”
Kitsap County was not immune to the comedy boom. Bremerton’s Clover Leaf Tavern has put on comedy shows since the 1980s, Larsen says. The clubhouses at McCormick Woods and White Horse golf courses in Port Orchard and Kingston, respectively, have been other reliable places over the years to catch a comedy show.
Building a Community
Forming communities is a central part of comedy, whether it’s fostering a local comedy scene, or forging connections with charitable endeavors.
Rogers is focused more on building a homegrown comedy community, and says doing so is important to encourage local comedians who are mostly performing comedy as a hobby.
“I’ve been in Bremerton for 16 years now and for a long time all my friends would be like, ‘Oh, Bremerton’s so lame. There’s nothing to do, blah blah blah,’” he says. “So when I was down in Santa Monica checking out those shows, I thought, ‘Man, Kitsap could really use a solid, regular comedy scene.’ Not only would it be something fun to do, but this isn’t a bad area, geographically, because we’re a ferry ride away from Seattle. I’ve got a couple comedians tonight that took the ferry to come over here. It’s really cool.”
For Larsen, “community” goes beyond the comedy community. He’s heavily involved with a variety of community causes, from the Rotary Club to the VFW. And he uses his gift of gab and promoting skills to support charitable causes throughout Kitsap County. Larsen specializes in putting on comedy shows as fundraisers. Many are held at the Cloverleaf Sports Ball and Grill in Bremerton.
“Most weekends we’re doing four shows” at the Cloverleaf, Larsen says. “Two on Friday, two on Saturday. This last 12 months, just around $300,000 has been raised — for PeeWees, for Soroptimists, for Relay for Life. Though we still do a few private comedy shows there, like for companies and the shipyard and stuff. I want to say we probably do a dozen or more of those.”
People can find out more about fundraising through Larsen’s comedy shows on his website.
Speaking at the end of last year, Larsen says he’d put on more than 500 shows in 2016.
Comedy, like most entertainment-based industries, isn’t like your typical 9-5 job. There are no training programs for comedians — at least, no formal ones, although there are classes for aspiring stand-up comedians, such as this one offered by Tacoma Comedy Club.
Comedy, by and large, is a mentorship industry, as Tacoma comedian Susan Jones says. She should know. She’s Rogers’ mentor.
“My mom and her were good friends,” Rogers says, noting that he’s known Jones since he was 15. “So when she was starting comedy, I was a teenager and I got to see her start out.” When he told her he was doing comedy, she gave him a list of comedians in the area who would be interested in booking shows at Kitsap venues, which helped him start producing shows.
Jones started her career broadcasting as a club DJ, before she got into the now-defunct Crossroads Comedy Club working as a host on the weekends. She ended up managing the club full-time for years, she says.
Jones says one of the first pieces of advice she gives to new comedians is to be a joke teller, not a joke asker. “Confidence is 95 percent of it,” she says.
Jones notes that although comedy is an art or a craft, there’s a commercial aspect to it — if comedians want to put food on the table and pay the bills, they have to sell themselves. But, even so, it’s a rewarding career if it’s what you love to do.
“I make people laugh for a living,” she says. “That’s just a stupid thing to say. I can’t believe they pay us to do this shit.”
Rogers credits Jones with teaching him the importance of crafting good jokes, rather than merely shocking ones.
“She’ll watch me and teach me what I’m doing wrong or what I could be doing better,” Rogers mused. “As far as my maturing in comedy, it’s been a slower process because I’m one of the typical comedians that, when I started, I just talked about dirty jokes, lots of sex, lots of stuff like that. And my mentor, she pretty much taught me that you don’t have to get rid of the dirty jokes altogether. You just have to replace the bad words with words that imply that word.”
Although different audiences appreciate different kinds of jokes, in general, audiences appreciate the craft of comedy more than pure vulgarity, Rogers says.
“It’s far more demanding to be creative and craft (jokes), and I think that’s why the turnover rate for comedians is so high, that they’ll try it out for a couple years but then they’ll just quit, because it’s not until two to three years into it, at times, that you realize how difficult it really is to maintain. And four years into it, I still feel like I’m six years away from actually doing good enough comedy to get noticed in Seattle and Tacoma and the rest of the state.”
Larsen says one of his early mentors was comedian George Miller — a regular on the late night talk show circuit — who came out of Seattle.
“Very early on, he picked me up, and was really, really cool to me, and introduced me to an amazing amount of people,” Larsen recalled. Miller was unique among comics, Larsen says, in that he never craved more time on the mic — he always wanted less time so others could have a chance in the spotlight.
It’s never too early for comedians to begin passing on the knowledge they’ve gained. Pickering noted that although he’s still learning his craft, he has opportunities to support budding comedians just getting turned on to the Kitsap comedy scene.
“I just try to be nice to these guys coming in,” he says. “We had another comedian that moved to California last year — Kevin Wendell. He was really outgoing and open and I just try to do that whenever I see a new guy; just try to shake his hand and say, ‘Hey, welcome,’ and help him feel at home.”
Rogers, also, has had opportunities to bestow his knowledge to new comedians.
“Because I have been doing it longer, I’m usually older than most of the new comedians in this area,” Rogers says. “I tell them all the time, I say, ‘Hey, I’m not trying to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. I’m no pro, but I’m going to pass you down knowledge that’s been passed on to me by my mentor, that’s been passed down to her from her mentor, over the last 50 years.
“It’s all been knowledge and the craft that’s been passed down from comedian to comedian,” he adds. “Not all comedians are willing to set aside the time to try to mentor or help others, but I’m absolutely all about it.”
Kitsap’s Comedy Boom
Rogers’ first show was in his backyard. He held a barbecue, bought a couple kegs, and invited some friends to come out and support him. Then, he started reaching out to local bar owners to see if any were interested in hosting shows. After about a year, he started the Comedy in Kitsap Facebook and Twitter profiles, realizing he needed to start marketing to people outside of his circle of friends.
“My goal when I started the (Comedy in Kitsap) page was not only to announce my shows, but announce any comedy that’s going on in the area,” Rogers says. “I’m not biased. I don’t see other people that produce comedy as competition, because I feel like I view these things for the sake of comedy. I think that the more comedy we have, the better.”
While comedy has long had a presence in Kitsap, it seems like comedy has seen a resurgence. And while in larger cities, it’s probably possible to see a comedy show on any day of the week, it seems like Kitsap County is getting more than its fair share of comedy shows for a county its size. In addition to the variety of venues where Rogers and Larsen put on shows, the Admiral Theater and Suquamish Clearwater Casino are other reliable places to find comedians (with Larsen booking shows at the latter).
Rogers says it seems to him the supply of comedy ebbs and flows with the economy.
“I think Bremerton, they’ve done a lot downtown to revamp this area and to make it more entertainment-friendly, whether it be music or comedy,” he says. “But I believe that right now we’re just in an up time where the economy’s OK here in Bremerton, and I think if you can just plug away with comedy here and people show up, that’s great. I think that the Admiral and these other casinos, they’ve been doing comedy awhile, but they have been producing more shows (lately) over a shorter period of time.”
Larsen agrees that comedy is in the midst of another boom.
“Right now in Seattle, I think you could do at least three shows a night every night of the week in Seattle,” he says. “Some nights you could do five shows on a Tuesday. So there’s a plethora of work [for comedians] right now.”
But, like with all things in Seattle, the overflow spills out into surrounding areas, including Kitsap County.
“Just right here, in our own back yard … I can’t keep up with it,” he says.
One of the nice things about Kitsap is that there’s opportunities for different levels, Larsen says. When he books comedy acts at the Clearwater Casino, they “give me the availability and the budget that I’m able to fly guys from Last Comic Standing, the guys from HBO, that kind of stuff,” he says.
Seattle comedians that Larsen brings to intimate Kitsap venues like the Cloverleaf or McCormick Woods are normally out playing huge theaters, he says. “You look at their tour schedules, they play some pretty small places for me and that comes from years and years of relationships and stuff,” he says. “And boy do they have fun in those rooms, you know? And the people are like, ‘Wow. We saw an unbelievable show.’”
The bottom line, Larsen says, is that if people want to keep having something to do, they need to show up.
“There’s live entertainment going on in your backyard,” he says. “You don’t have to go to Tacoma or Seattle. We’re bringing it here for you.”
Past and Future
Earlier in his career, Larsen took his dad with him while he was performing. They would send audio cassette tapes back home to his mom, who has since passed away from cancer.
Larsen remembers playing at the George Burns Theater in Michigan.
“It’s one of these classic venues that I can’t believe that they tore down,” he says. “But backstage was this wall about three feet by about 80 or 100 feet, and there’s autographs from Smothers Brothers, Milton Berle — anybody and everybody that’s even been in comedy had signed the wall. And I’m looking at that going, ‘Wow.’”
Larsen came in on Wednesday night, and the manager told him that if he performed well on Saturday, he could sign the wall.
“I’m thinking, ‘There’s Jerry Lewis, there’s — my God. There’s just everybody.’ And so with dad next to me, Saturday night comes up and [the manager] has got this box. And inside is one of those big sharpies. And he goes, ‘We really enjoyed you and we’d like you to sign the wall.’ In front of dad. Mine was right up there next to Howie Mandell.”
After his mother passed away, Larsen’s dad sent him one of the audio tapes they’d sent her. Larsen wasn’t sure why his dad was so insistent that he listen to the tape — after all, he says, they’d been together when they recorded the tape and sent it back home. Nevertheless, he entertained his father.
“It was him, later that night, on the flip side of the tape and he goes … ‘These people like our kid. I know we’re both kind of scared about this stuff, but they like him,’” Larsen recalls. “That’s my goal, you know what I mean? Approval from parents and that kind of stuff. To have that confidence with me at all times makes it easier to get over whatever. The rest of it doesn’t matter … The highs and lows of a career, none of it matters. Mom and dad are proud. That’s as good as it gets, man. So yeah: I’ve been blessed in this career.”
While Larsen has had the chance to travel across the country doing comedy, Rogers is still looking forward to the future, eyeing a career that may someday take him across the country telling jokes.
“I’ve already decided that I’m going to be doing comedy for the rest of my life,” he says. Rogers’ goal is that by the time his youngest son, who is 9, graduates from high school, he will be able to hit the road.
“I think that if I have 10 more years to perfect that craft, I think that will be plenty of time to be good enough,” he says. “As far as producing and performing at the same time, it can be a little demanding at times, because when you put energy and time into producing, that’s energy and time that’s being almost taken away from writing and improving yourself, even though I’m bringing more time to myself out here. If I were to focus just on my own comedy, I might be able to get out from time to time, take the boat over to Seattle and get over to an open mic, stuff like that.”
Until then, Rogers benefits from living in a city and a county where comedy is thriving. For that matter, so do Larsen, Pickering, and other comedians who call Kitsap County home. Kitsap’s comedy scene is more than just a scene. It’s a community. A family. And anyone who has a funny bone can benefit.
“The whole comedy scene is really building here in Bremerton,” Pickering says. “Everybody’s welcome if anybody wants to come in and tell jokes.”
Comedy in Kitsap – Comedy Showcase. 7 p.m. tonight, May 19, at Dog Days Brewing, 260 4th St., Bremerton. $5 cover.
Comedy in Kitsap Comedy Crawl, 7 p.m. June 10. Starts at Dog Days Brewing, ends at LoveCraft Brewing, 275 5th St., No. 101, Bremerton.
Comedy in Kitsap presents Sam Miller. 9 p.m. June 24 at Slaughter County Brewing, 1307 Bay St., Port Orchard.
Leif Skyving. 7 p.m. May 23 at Clearwater Suquamish Casino, 15347 Suquamish Way NE, Suquamish. Free admission. 21+
Dean Oleson. 7 p.m. June 13 at Clearwater Suquamish Casino, 15347 Suquamish Way NE, Suquamish. Free admission. 21+.
Disclosure: Joseph Rogers, one of the comedians featured in this story, is in a relationship with reporter Steven Wyble’s cousin. (Although he didn’t realize that when he first reached out to Rogers for the story. Small world!)
Featured Photos: Cris Larsen, left, and Joseph Rogers, right, are integral parts of Kitsap County’s burgeoning comedy scene. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene).
Around four years ago, Kitsap County resident Erica Thomas became addicted to OxyContin after a doctor prescribed the drug to her during a visit to the emergency room.
She eventually sought help, and doctors prescribed Thomas, now 22, methadone to help fight the addiction. But methadone is itself addictive and it didn’t help, she said.
Then, around two years ago, Thomas discovered kratom.
Kratom is the leaf of Mitragyna speciosa, a tree native to Southeast Asia that — though it doesn’t have any approved medical uses — can manage chronic pain and cure addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, according to the plant’s adherents. In small doses, the plant acts as a stimulant, and in high doses, it acts as a sedative.
Despite many people’s anecdotal claims that kratom has freed them from opioid addiction or alleviated their chronic pain, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to ban the drug, placing it in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act – the federal government’s most restrictive schedule and one kratom will share with MDMA, heroin, bath salts and, as ridiculous as it sounds, marijuana. The agency also decided to purposefully forgo public comment before instating the ban.
Packs of kratom for sale at The Green Room on Callow Avenue in Bremerton. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
The ban was originally slated to go into effect as early as today, Heavy.com reported yesterday that, while the DEA still plans to ban kratom, the ban will be enacted at a later date.
“I don’t have a timetable,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told the Pain News Network. “It could be this week, could be in the future, I just don’t know.”
The DEA says drugs placed in Schedule I have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use, and are unsafe to use under medical supervision. Marijuana activists have been questioning the veracity of the schedule for years. Just weeks before the DEA announced it planned to add kratom to the schedule, the agency announced it would keep marijuana a Schedule I drug – meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use,” even though half of the states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
The DEA cites increased complaints about kratom to poison control centers, and a small number of deaths in which kratom was implicated – but never found to be the cause of death – as evidence that it poses an imminent hazard to the public, and should be banned.
But proponents of the drug insist kratom is safe and that the DEA is twisting facts to make kratom appear more dangerous than it really is. And whatever minor side effects there may be, they say, the benefits far outweigh any risks.
Though the evidence is largely anecdotal, scores of people echo Thomas’s claim that kratom has life-changing medical uses. And while the DEA has acknowledged the anecdotal reports it’s received since announcing the ban, it has made no move to back down.
‘It Completely Changed My Life’
When Thomas first heard of kratom, she didn’t know much about it. “I never really knew what its affects were or anything, so I didn’t really want to give it a try,” she said.
But as she researched the drug online and read how it’s used to heal a host of ailments, including opioid addiction, she decided to give it a try after all.
“I start taking it and I realize, I’m not having cravings,” she said. “I’m not having the withdrawals. It completely eradicated any withdrawal symptoms whatsoever. Not only that, but I could function and I could work and do my school work. It was amazing. It completely changed my life. It completely changed my life.”
While it’s not known exactly how kratom works on the brain, the plant contains a number of alkaloids, including mitragynine, which is believed to cause most of its effects. Mitragynine is an opioid agonist, and is attracted to the opioid receptors in the brain, but delivers effects and side effects less powerful than more common opiates.
Since using kratom, Thomas hasn’t touched opiates, and in fact, she has become something of a kratom disciple, singing its praises to family members and friends who were also struggling with addiction.
“My family members and my friends started taking it and it just changed all of our lives all at the same time,” she said. “It’s really crazy. That’s why I’m so hurt to find out that the DEA would just ban it.”
One of the people who benefitted most from Thomas’s proselyting was her mother, Nicole, who has rheumatoid arthritis and, possibly, stomach lupus (which is difficult to diagnose with certainty, she said).
The conditions come with chronic pain, for which doctors prescribed Percocet, an opioid. But opioids are problematic for her: They make her nauseated; she experiences withdrawal symptoms each month when her prescription runs out; and more than once, she’s even accidentally overdosed on them, she said.
Nicole hasn’t been able to completely eliminate her opioid use, but kratom has allowed her to reduce the amount of opiates she needs to manage her pain, and helps her manage her depression, she said.
“It relieves my pain and gives me opioid-like effects when I take it, but without the side effects of addiction or withdrawals,” she said.
Nicole said she thinks it’s terrible that the DEA is banning kratom.
“I don’t understand it,” she said. “From what I’ve studied and talked to people and seen and felt, it’s done nothing but good for people. I don’t know where this is all coming from. It’s definitely helped people with addictions to heroin and other opioids and helped people come off those drugs. And as far as I know, it’s completely safe – definitely a lot safer than heroin and opioids are.”
“I’ve seen how it helps my daughter and it’s been … life-saving,” she added. “She was down a pretty dark path of opioid dependence and it’s night and day with her. She’s feeling release from the kratom for her issues and not going broke trying to buy opioids and also all the harmful side effects that go with those. It’s been a complete miracle.”
Kings of Kratom
Tim Mitchell, 37, and his wife Rozalynn Mitchell, 38, may be the largest kratom distributors in Kitsap County.
Rozalynn and Tim Mitchell pose at their store, The Green Room, in Bremerton. The Mitchells are also the owners of kratom distributor Kratom Kings. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
The couple has run a head shop in Tacoma since the late ‘90s, and a little more than three years ago, Tim began receiving samples of kratom in the mail from distributors. He tried it for himself and, to his surprise, found that it relieved the pain of an old back injury better than the high-CBD marijuana he’d used previously, and without the mental haze associated with marijuana.
Rozalynn, who said she has never taken any drugs except for kratom (which she doesn’t consider a drug, preferring to call it a supplement instead) used the plant to manage pain during childbirth.
The couple formed Kratom Kings, a company that imports kratom and sells it through the Mitchell’s head shops in Tacoma and Bremerton, and through a handful of third-party retailers.
The Mitchells say they’re less concerned about what the ban would mean for their business than what it would mean for their customers. Many of their customers use kratom to stave off opiate cravings, and the couple is fearful they will relapse en masse if they’re unable to obtain kratom.
The Mitchells estimate they’re helping more than 1,000 people – perhaps even a couple thousand – with addiction or chronic pain management. Their customers range from as old as 70 to as young as 20.
“I looked at it like I was helping people, taking people off of all this synthetic garbage and pills,” Tim said.
“We’ve gotten people off of heroin, we’ve gotten people off of Suboxone (a medication for treating opioid addiction), we’ve gotten people off of Percocet,” Rozalynn added. “And they’re so scared that they’re going to turn back to that once kratom’s gone.”
A pastor came into the couple’s store asking about kratom. His son had been addicted to heroin for years and relapsed twice, he said, according to the Mitchells.
“We got his son off of heroin in a month” with kratom, Rozalynn said. “And he’s been clean since.”
The couple isn’t opposed to the government regulating kratom, they say. Tim said he’d welcome regulations that would ensure the kratom that customers buy is pure and not laced with other substances. But prohibiting kratom completely will do more harm than good, they argue.
“They can’t take this away from the people that are using it for the pain and using it to stay off of the synthetics and stuff like that,” Rozalynn said. “It’s just wrong, and all of our customers are panicking, because they’re like, ‘I don’t want to go back to the heroin,’ or, ‘I don’t want to take the OxyConton anymore.’”
While they’re hoping for a last-minute miracle, such as the DEA completely reversing its decision, the Mitchells say they’re also looking into alternative products that may help opioid addicts.
The ban would have a local economic impact as well.
Kratom sales account for about half of the couple’s business, with the other half coming from the sale of pipes and other accessories at their head shops. With kratom banned, they will likely have to lay off three of their six full-time employees.
Behind the Ban
Thomas says she thinks the DEA’s ban is motivated by money. If people are using kratom to wean themselves off addictive drugs, then people aren’t buying prescription medications that make pharmaceutical companies loads of cash, the argument goes.
Some critics have pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry is using kratom alkaloids to manufacture synthetic opioids, and speculate that the DEA’s ban is meant to help pharmaceutical companies create a monopoly. It’s sounds like a conspiracy theory, and perhaps it is a bit hyperbolic, but given that the DEA had a chance to reclassify marijuana – another all-natural drug that competes with costly pharmaceutical painkillers – it doesn’t seem prudent to discount the criticism altogether.
The DEA cites an imminent hazard to the public as its primary reason for banning kratom.
But by contrast, more than 4,000 people in the U.S. died from methadone poisoning in 2011. Despite that, methadone is legal. But kratom won’t be for long.
Additionally, none of those deaths were caused by kratom alone, but rather from other substances mixed with kratom.
The DEA also points out that kratom-related calls to poison control centers shot from two calls between 2000 and 2005, to 660 calls between 2010 and 2015. That sounds like a big number. But, as Forbes points out, just in the first seven months of 2016, there were 6,843 calls to poison control centers of young children ingesting single-load laundry pods – and those, of course, are not illegal.
The DEA also lists kratom’s potential side effects in its case against the drug, which it says can include agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension. It also lists health risks found in “kratom abusers,” including hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death (see the previous paragraph regarding so-called kratom deaths).
The DEA isn’t the only organization speaking out against Kratom. The substance has its fair share of critics, particularly amongst anti-drug organizations.
Drugabuse.org says kratom is “a substance that should not be taken lightly.”
“While it may have proven helpful in a handful of cases, for the vast majority, it’s proving to be nothing more than an exchange of one addictive habit for another,” the website states.
To be sure, some kratom users believe they are addicted to the plant, as evidenced by the subreddit /r/quittingkratom.
Erica Thomas said while there’s some addictive potential with kratom, in her experience, it isn’t addictive.
“Based on my experience, I’m not addicted to kratom,” she said. “I will go weeks without it, and I’m fine. And then I’ll take it and I’m fine.”
Rozalynn Mitchell, and many other proponents of kratom, dispute that the plant is addictive or at the very least claim that it’s far less addictive than heroin or prescription painkillers.
“People will say, ‘Gosh, I didn’t take my kratom for like three days, and I feel great,’” she said. “It’s related to the coffee plant. Are they going to ban coffee?”
The DEA has received tons of feedback since announcing its intention to ban kratom.
A petition to the White House asking President Barack Obama to reconsider the ban garnered more than 140,000 signatures since Aug. 30, well over the 100,000 signatures needed to prompt the president to respond.
Even lawmakers are asking the DEA to reconsider. Recently, 51 lawmakers signed a letter to the DEA urging them to reconsider the ban, stating that doing so would hinder research into kratom and make it harder for people to fight opioid addictions.
That’s one of the biggest catches to the whole debacle; the DEA cites a lack of research into kratom’s effectiveness for medical uses as a reason to ban it, yet by banning kratom, scientists will have far fewer opportunities to study it. It’s the same problem that has stymied scientists trying to study marijuana.
“If we could get the people to really do the research, get the government on board to find out what this tree can do, what this plant can do, I think there’s a lot more to it,” Tim Mitchell said. “I think we’ve only scratched the surface … I think we could get most people in the United States off of drugs and prescription pills.”
Erica Thomas said she thinks addiction and overdose deaths may double or even triple in the United States if kratom is banned.
“I wish that there weren’t this fear-mongering around this natural plant,” she said. “It hurts to live in a country where the people who are in charge are using fear to take control and to just be afraid of everything.”
Note: This story is definitely NOT safe for work. Photographs of women’s exposed breasts follow. Continue reading at your own risk. Scroll to the bottom of the story for a photo gallery of Sunday’s Go Topless protest in Bremerton.
Breasts are beautiful. But should women be allowed to expose their breasts in public? That debate played out in dramatic fashion in Bremerton on Sunday, as a group of protesters and counter-protesters gathered on either side of Wheaton Way near Riddell Road.
A man and woman, both topless, wave signs advocating equal topless rights for women at a protest in Bremerton on Sunday. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
The original protest advocated “equal topless rights,” allowing women to go topless and bare their breasts in public, just as men are allowed to do. The protest coincided with Go Topless Day, a national event featuring protests all across the country, including in nearby Seattle.
(Go Topless Day is somewhat controversial [even more than it already is] given its ties to the Raelian Movement, which some people characterize as a UFO cult — although the issue of equal topless rights goes beyond one’s belief in UFOs).
Around 1 p.m., the topless-rights crowd was about 20 people strong, including both topless men and women, some wearing pasties, holding signs with slogans like, “Free Your Boobs, Free Your Mind,” “Topless Rights For All or None,” and “Normalize, Don’t Sexualize.”
Meanwhile, the counter-protesters had about seven people on their side of the street, holding signs that said, “Wear Your Dignity; Free Shirts,” and, apparently paraphrasing Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Modest Again.”
Carl Wiegand, who organized the topless protest with his wife, Marci Wiegand, said around 1 p.m. that the event was going well. Participants were being respectful, refraining from vulgar or disruptive activities, and there were no arrests, he said, adding that the police even drove by and waved.
Drivers passed by and waved or honked, Marci Wiegand said. She even felt the counter protest was helping their cause; every time the counter-protesters spoke into their loudspeaker, more people came to join the topless protest, she said.
“Breasts are for feeding children. They’re not obscene, they’re not sexual. They are a source of food for our babies.” — Graycie Usher, Topless Protester
“And I’m not the only topless woman out here,” she said, sounding relieved. “I was worried I was going to be.”
Graycie Usher, 26, of Bremerton, said she first heard of the protest after she saw a poster advertising it near the Bremerton ferry terminal.
“It’s just ridiculous that we’re treated differently because our breast tissue is larger than men’s. Everybody has breasts, everybody has nipples. And the fact that we are constantly censored because of our biology, even when in the 14th amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) it says that no one gender, no one sex, can be arrested for something the other gender can’t be (arrested for). I just think there’s something not right about that. It’s hot; we should be able to take our shirts off just like men.”
Usher said her interest in topless rights started out as advocacy for breastfeeding mothers.
“Women are ostracized and harassed viciously for breastfeeding their children in public, when that’s what our breasts are for,” she said. “They are for feeding children. They’re not obscene, they’re not sexual. They are a source of food for our babies.”
“You show off the bodies of show pigs on a farm. Not women.” — Anonymous Counter-protester
Megan McKenzie, 32, of Mason County, said she found out about the event on Facebook. She’s been a women’s rights advocate for 15 years, she said.
“My take is that women still don’t have equal protection under the law,” she said, later adding, “We need women like this to speak out and we all need to stand together.”
Tuan Nguyen, 33, of Bremerton, held a sign reading, “Breasts Are Family Friendly.” He meant it: His wife — Amber Nguyen, 32 — and son, Swayze Nguyen, 1, attended the event as well.
Amber said she breastfed all three of her children, despite her family’s belief that doing so was “disgusting” because it exposed her breasts. But Amber says she believes women have a right to expose their breasts if they choose to do so.
“I’m one of the people who feels like, to each his own,” she said. “And we’re not hurting anybody doing this … Why should men or anybody get upset that we’re going topless? It’s not hurting anyone. I know someone said earlier people were afraid of their kids coming out of Shari’s (restaurant, which was right next to the protest site) and seeing all these women’s breasts, but I feel like as a parent, that’s your problem. You sexualized them, you didn’t explain it to your family or to your children, so now they’re sexualized because of it, because you made it that bad, you made it taboo.”
Counter-protesters wave signs imploring people to “Make America Modeset Again” on Wheaton Way in Bremerton on Sunday. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
The counter-protesters stood across the street, often taking turns shouting through a loudspeaker, imploring the topless women across the street to cover up.
When asked for their names, the counter-protesters, who said they live in Kitsap County, declined to identify themselves. “We don’t want to be affiliated with any church or organization,” one man said. “We think it’s important to get the message across.”
He said he first learned of the event from its flyers.
“They posted some little signs of some kind of an anime girl or something, topless,” he said. “The signs are inappropriate, first of all. So we decided we should come down here. You know, there are Americans who still believe that modesty is important.”
“Look,” said another man. “You show off the bodies of show pigs on a farm. Not women. They deserve more dignity than that.”
The counter-protesters brought free T-shirts they said they wanted to give the topless women.
“It should be a human right to have a T-shirt,” the first man said. “Everybody should be able to have a T-shirt. If it takes us buying them and giving them away, that’s what we’ll do.”
A woman chimed in that any T-shirts that weren’t given away would be donated to a local homeless shelter.
Be prepared to see lots of nipples in Bremerton next month. Female ones.
Bremerton couple Carl and Marci Wiegand are taking to the streets, along with whoever will join them, as part of Go Topless Day, which is just what it sounds like: A national day of protest for people who want to legalize female, above-the-waist nudity in public, just as it’s legal for men.
The protest is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 at Wheaton Way and Riddell Road in Bremerton.
Go Topless Day was started in 2007 by Go Topless, an organization founded in Nevada by Claude Vorilhon, a former French auto-racing journalist, who now goes by Rael and is the leader of the Raelian movement, a religion that believes life on earth was started by extraterrestrials. (Yes, really — although plenty of people who want to see women’s breasts de-eroticized aren’t motivated by UFOs).
The event is held annually on the Sunday closest to Aug. 26, Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the certification of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote.
Nadine Gary, the current president of Go Topless, said her organization’s fight is for equal rights. If men can be topless in public, then women should be allowed to as well. Likewise, if women are prohibited from being topless in public, then men should be prohibited from going topless as well, she said.
Gary said she grew up in France, where it isn’t a big deal for women to be topless in public areas, such as beaches. At French beaches, she said, children play right next to topless women, and nobody bats an eye.
“Why not in America?” she asked.
Well, partly because of the country’s ingrained Judeo-Christian values, she said, answering her own question. “But we have to change that,” she added. “Morals are not always right.” She cited the country’s history of discriminating against blacks as evidence that a country’s morals are not always right.
Freeing Nipples in Bremerton
The Wiegands first became interested in the issue of equal topless rights while camping last summer.
Carl and Marci Wiegand are planning a topless protest Aug. 28 in Bremerton. The couple argues that if men can be topless in public, women should be allowed to be topless in public as well. (Steven Wyble / Kitsap Scene)
“It was very warm last year, and we found that it was more comfortable for Marci to be topless up in the mountains,” Carl said. “And a lot of other people saw us up there and nobody ever really complained. And then we started thinking, well, why can’t we do this in town?”
Carl’s research led him to different groups and movements, such as Free the Nipple — an equal topless rights movement popularized by filmmaker Lina Esco’s 2014 documentary — and eventually to GoTopless.org. After showing Marci, she agreed the couple should stage their own Go Topless Day protest.
Many celebrities endorse the movement to allow women to go topless, such as Chrissy Teigen, Chelsea Handler and Scout Willis. Much of the controversy also stems from the perceived double standard on social media platforms; topless photos of men go unchallenged, while photos of topless women get removed.
It’s that double standard next month’s protest is designed to challenge. The Wiegands’ protest and one at Cal Anderson Park in Seattle are the only two scheduled for Washington state, according to GoTopless.org’s amusingly titled BoobMap. While Seattle hosted a topless protest last year, this will be the first one held in Bremerton.
Can Women Legally Go Topless in Washington?
Washington’s laws regarding women going topless are at least somewhat vague and ambiguous.
GoTopless.org has a map on its website showing each state’s “topless laws.” Washington is listed as orange, meaning it has “ambiguous state laws” on the matter:
GoTopless.org’s map showing each state’s topless laws. Green means “top freedom is in effect.” Orange means there are “amibiguous state laws on the matter.” Red means “the mere showing of the female breast in public is illegal according to state law.” (GoTopless.org)
In Washington, public nudity is covered by the state’s public indecency law, RCW 9A.88.010, which states that a person is guilty of indecent exposure if they make “any open and obscene exposure of his or her person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.” The law exempts breastfeeding.
Violating the indecent exposure law is a misdemeanor. It’s a gross misdemeanor if one exposes his or herself to someone under 14, and a felony if one has been previously convicted of indecent exposure, or has been convicted of a sexual offense.
In Washington state, a woman cannot be arrested simply for being topless in public, according to the Wiegands. For an arrest to occur, a member of the public must make a complaint and be willing to testify in court.
Police officers are exempt from being offended or alarmed by the sight of a woman’s breasts in public, the Wiegands said.
“They’re exempt from being offended or alarmed by seeing a nude body, because of their job description,” Carl said. “I had that confirmed by a lieutenant at the State Patrol and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.”
“In other words,” chimes in Marci, “if I’m walking topless … they can arrest you if they want, but they can’t just arrest me with no complaints, because they’re bothered by it. They can’t be shocked by it.”
Granted, it may not take much for law enforcement to receive a complaint during a public, highly-visible topless protest.
The Wiegands consulted with an attorney before planning the protest, and he encouraged them to go forward with it, they said.
“He was just like, ‘Go have your protest and have fun,’” Carl said.
The attorney pointed them toward Miller v. California, a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court developed a three-part test to determine obscenity. This includes applying community standards; whether sexual conduct or excretory functions are depicted in an “offensive way”; and whether the work or conduct, taken as a whole, “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
It’s that last prong that the Wiegands believe protects them from obscenity or indecency charges; because their event is a political protest, they believe it would be a stretch to argue the event doesn’t have “political” value.
“We could technically do this in the buff, because it’s a form of free speech and political protest,” Carl said. “There should be no difference between a woman being able to walk down the street without a shirt, when a guy can do it.”
However, Carl said when he contacted the Bremerton Police Department to inform them of the protest, a lieutenant told him he would arrest all the topless women, but not — without provocation — any topless men.
The couple is anticipating that police could arrest some people at August’s protest, but they don’t expect any of the charges to stick, Carl said. They stress that they’re only seeking participants who will follow the laws, eschewing obscene behavior and not blocking sidewalks or road traffic.
Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said his office is aware of the protest. The protest’s location straddles the line between the city of Bremerton and Kitsap County, and Wilson said if both agencies respond, only one will end up taking responsibility for the protest — probably the sheriff’s office, because it has jurisdiction anywhere in the county, he said.
People have a right to protest as long as it’s peaceful and not violent, he said. The sheriff’s office will monitor whether protesters engage in acts of public indecency, and will review the RCWs and county codes before responding, he said. In this case, he said he doesn’t believe there are first amendment protections that would allow women to be topless in public during the protest.
“We always like to get things done on a voluntary, compliance basis,” Wilson said. “There would be warnings issued, obviously: ‘Hey, you crossed the line from acceptable to unacceptable, so I’m going to ask you to cover up again,’ if that’s what it entails.”
“Back in the day, women couldn’t even have their legs uncovered. I think if they see it (topless women) more often, people will be less shocked by it.” — Marci Wiegand
If protesters don’t comply, the next step may include issuing an infraction or a court summons, or arresting protesters, Wilson said.
“I would hope not,” he said of the possibility of taking protesters to jail. “It doesn’t necessarily have to go that far ever, but who knows?”
Changing Minds — And Society
The couple has already heard from many people interested in attending. During an interview with the couple in late May, they said they’d heard from about 50 people interested in attending, including a tattoo artist who will offer body painting at the event.
And they’re ready for passersby who may not react kindly to the sight of topless women on the side of the road.
“We expect a lot of yelling and shouting, maybe somebody trying to throw water out of the window,” Carl said. “There’s some rude people out there that don’t want everybody to have equal rights.”
Carl argues that laws prohibiting women from being topless violate the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which contains the Equal Protection Clause. It states that no state shall deny citizens “the equal protection of the laws.” Laws can’t target a particular race under the amendment, so how can they target one gender? If a man can go out in public without a shirt on and not be charged with a crime, then a woman should be able to do the same, Carl said.
But even if the legal barriers were removed, how do you change a society that sees women’s breasts as inherently sexual and unacceptable for public view?
“Back in the day, women couldn’t even have their legs uncovered,” Marci said. “Over time, things develop. I think if they see it more often, like maybe if there’s regular protests, people will be less shocked by it.”
“It was just a little over 100 years ago that a woman could be arrested if she showed her ankle,” Carl added. “Back in the ’30s, even men had one-piece swimsuits. So it’s just getting used to it. It’s just like the transgender bathrooms. It’s something people are going to be used to. It was the same with gay marriage. There was a lot of uprising about that, but now it’s nationally acceptable.” Furthermore, it’s important to note that female breasts are sexual only as a secondary function; their primary function is to feed offspring, he said.
Marci said she has an answer prepared if people ask why she wants to be able to go topless.
“For me, basically, I really enjoy going topless on a hot day and men can do it, so I don’t think it’s right that I shouldn’t be able to do it,” she said.
Some women support the movement even though they wouldn’t go topless themselves, or don’t have the courage to do so.
Marci remembers running into a group of three teenage girls while she was hiking topless.
“One girl goes, ‘You’re my idol!’” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Why am I your idol?’ And she goes, ‘Because you have the courage to walk around topless. I don’t have that courage.’ And she said, that’s what it really comes down to, is courage. A lot of people are just afraid of what other people will think or say. And that’s part of what Carl taught me, because I used to be that way. He says, ‘You have to go out the way you like to go out and don’t worry about what other people think.’”
The couple has informed local agencies of the protest, including law enforcement agencies, the city of Bremerton’s legal department, and the mayor’s office. They plan to inform all the businesses in the protest zone of what’s taking place.
“The lawyer told us that what we want to do is ‘take the shock away’ from the event as much as possible,” Marci said. “Because if you take the shock away, they’re not driving by not knowing it’s there. So then if they drive by anyway, you can argue that they aren’t bothered by it or they wouldn’t have driven by.”
It’s activists like the Wiegands, who are fighting for women’s topless rights at a grassroots level, that will ultimately make a difference, said Go Topless President Nadine Gary.
“It’s exactly what we need,” she said. “Our organization is grassroots … women all over the country are saying, ‘My breasts are not indecent.’”
The Wiegands plan to hold Go Topless protests annually, or until the state changes its laws to give women an unambiguous right to be topless in public — a development Carl said he doesn’t see happening any time soon. (Although, Washington was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, so anything’s possible).
The location will change every year, getting the message out to different parts of the county.
The couple hopes that by making it an annual occurrence, people will get used to the sight of women’s breasts in a non-sexual context.