They call it “hippy crack” on the scene…the jam band scene that is. Jerry Garcia may be dead but the music subculture whose popularity is commonly attributed to the Grateful Dead is still alive and kicking. Bands like Phish, Disco Biscuits, and several Dead spin-offs have picked up Garcia’s torch, creating a thriving festival and concert-going scene primarily along the East Coast of the United States. Drugs have always been a part of jam band culture but prior to the discovery of a dead body during the 2009 “Gathering of the Vibes Festival” the seedy underbelly of the nitrous scene had managed to remain mostly under the radar of the media and the general public. With the apparent nitrous oxide related murder of festival goer Jay Caliro, the phenomenon known as “hippy crack” or “laughing gas” has finally begun to garner attention.
Nitrous oxide is a common anesthetic often used by dentists and oral surgeons. The substance is frequently sold at shows and festivals under the seemingly innocuous disguise of gas-filled balloons. The laws regarding possession and distribution of nitrous oxide vary from state to state, but Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the real hot spot for nitrous sales. John Gadea, director of the drug control division of the state Department of Consumer Protection explains the rules for possession like this: “Nitrous oxide is not defined as a controlled substance but is considered a restricted substance. What that means is possession does not become a violation unless the use deviates from its commercial application.” What this means is that “anyone over the age of 18 can walk off the street into a place like South Philly Propane & Welding and, for $50, obtain a “membership” card to purchase nitrous, valid for one year.” The gas is inexpensive to purchase, often costing less than $100 for a 40 lb tank which can then be used to fill up to 300 balloons. Sold at grossly inflated prices, often as much as $5-$10 per balloon, a tank of nitrous can garner quite a profit for the savvy dealer.
That is where the “Nitrous Mafia” comes into play. Based out of Philly, they are a large and well funded operation who supply the majority of the nitrous oxide available at festivals and shows in the North East region. By cleverly concealing tanks in the undercarriages of vehicles or bribing festival security workers they manage to transport dozens of nitrous tanks onto the grounds of virtually every music festival that takes place. They are also extremely protective of their turf. According to one festival goer the bathroom walls at the “Gathering of the Vibes” where Jay Caliro was killed were “tagged” with decrees such as, “Reppin the North Philly N2O mafia”…..”No one f*cks with the N20 mafia.” On festival message boards such as “The Shroomery” talk of violence and the nitrous mafia are nothing new. An example of an all too common post related to the Philly nitrous dealers states: “these guys pay cops, security, etc big money to be able to run tanks. If you attempt to sell gas without paying them a tax and/or working for them, they will smash you over the head with your own tank, take your money, and take your gas. I know a small girl (maybe 5’2″) who did this in Camden (stupid move on her part) and got clocked with a tank that was probably three-quarters her size.” Occurrences like this are all too common.
So how is it that, though it is common knowledge within the scene that these sort of activities are going on, the “Nitrous Mafia” continues to run their tanks uninhibited at festivals? Money, of course. Another post from the Shroomery states: “Someone was definitely being bribed. When the first security guy started giving us the hassle we pointed out a guy carrying a big cylindrical backpack and said, “look, that guy’s got a f*cking tank on his back!” The security guy saw it and denied that he was suspicious at all.”
It is time for both authorities and festival-goers to take a stand against the shady underhanded dealings of the Philly Nitrous Mafia. They are both a danger and a detriment to an otherwise pleasant and peaceful scene. Security forces at festivals need to develop some integrity and stop accepting bribes from these seedy gang members. Ticket holders at festivals also need to take a stand and refuse to encourage the brutal and appalling behavior of nitrous dealers by shunning their tanks. The scene has gotten out of control.
The Official Nitrous Mafia Thread, http://www.shroomery.org/forums/showflat.php/Number/10544295
The Nitrous Mafia is Real: Balloons, Money and Murder, http://www.thedailyswarm.com/swarm/nitrous-mafia-real/
Brian Zickafoose, Pushing Gas: Inside The Nitrous Mafia, http://www.celebstoner.com/200908032735/blogs/brian-zickafoose/pushing-gas-inside-the-nitrous-mafia.html