I was almost certain I’d written about this here before, but I can’t seem to find anything. The article of the week has to be this long investigative look at the northeast nitrous scene. I can’t recommend the article highly enough.
If you’ve been to a big concert or festival in the last 10 years or so, specifically a jam band, you’ve seen the dudes selling nitrous balloons and the crowd around them. The nitrous tanks earn BIG money, and because of that, they’re run by folks willing to do anything to protect them. I was a tour manager for a long time (which I’ll hopefully write about sometime), and the Philly Gas Mob was always a presence at festivals. I doubt I’d be fascinated by this topic if I hadn’t actually seen them around. We used to talk about the Philly Gas Mob as a mythical idea. We knew there was some organization to it, but no one really knew anything about it. It was violent and a problem by the time we stopped touring, and it’s just gotten worse now, and more out in the open.
The whole article is hilarious in that, “Wait, this really happens?” kind of way.
Nitrous is called “hippie crack” because of its addictive qualities. Every morning, the festival campgrounds are riddled with balloons, “like bullet shells on a battlefield,” says a fan. Unlike traditional drugs, which have long-lasting effects and can carry a fan through a concert, the high from N20 is cheap and quick. After that, it’s often back to the end of the tank line for another round. “It’s an instant rush of pure euphoria, but it only lasts for 30 seconds or a minute, and then you want it back,” says Justin Heller, a fan who owns his own biodiesel company. He no longer does balloons, but remembers the days of buying 15 in a row. “You don’t think about your moneyâ€”you’re just like, ‘I want that again, I want that again, I want that again.’ “