Matt’s Hat Interviews – David Rakower of The Game Of Zonk
Perhaps you’ve seen the balls bouncing around a festival. Maybe you tossed one on Jam Cruise. You may have tuned into a podcast of a concert and seen Zonk as a sponsor. You may even have played the game yourself. The white beach balls emblazoned with ZONK sometimes seem to be everywhere. It’s time to dive into just what the hell this is all about.
Zonk is a game that has grown from being an underground thing passed on from player to player via word of mouth to now being a mainstream sensation that is poised to explode even further. The official title is The Legendary Underground Game Of Zonk. What was once an informal game much like the drinking games played all over the world has evolved into an almost complete boxed set that anyone can pick up and start to play.
Now with a new twist having just been finalized, in some states the game can be finally obtained fully complete with truly everything needed to play a game of Zonk.
To say that David Rakower is a very busy man is an understatement. Talking to David requires a certain focus and level of energy. Just listening to him talk about the various projects he is actively working on would leave most normal people disoriented and exhausted. He is the man behind the Game of Zonk, The Zonk Family Conference, Sibannacal Life, Sibannacal VIP Lounges, Sibannacal Sessions, The Zonk Family Orchestra and more.
MFN: So you pulled off the Zonk Family Conference last year (July 2017). What are your feelings about how that went off?
DR: Oh, it was the best. We proved finally out the model we’d been discussing for so long. We are always looking to bridge that gap between the jamband community and the cannabis industry, and we feel as though laying out all our platforms properly within the jamband community is very important. We started Zonk Family Conference; everybody came up to us after coming from inside [Where all the cannabis vendors and educators were] saying, ‘Wow I’ve never seen anything like this before!’ Which I get, because I remember when I was entering the industry and went to my first trade show in Vegas and felt like I was in another universe. So running off that inspiration, we ran the ZFC concept. In fact, all of our festival pop-ups, such as our VIP tents, are pretty much modeled after the guts of the Zonk Family Conference on the cannabis side. The true value that we lend to the other festivals is the audience reach. At ZFC, all the festival people were amazed, going, ‘What is all this?’ and all the cannabis people were asking, ‘Where’d you get this music from?’ There’s crossover, no question. However, when you have a 120,000 person cannabis audience, then it lends a really nice added-value component to an audience that we believe is the same demographic. Needless to say, we are looking forward to doing it again.
MFN: That was of course the next question – are you hoping to do it again?
DR: Oh, absolutely. The venue we had it at before is undergoing construction. We had a few other venues we were working on, but then Zonk had a major opportunity come up that we have been focusing on. We hope to have something to announce soon, but for now that has been a major part of our focus.
MFN: So how do all these various entities fit in with what you are doing?
DR: Sibannacal is the primary business. Sibannacal Life is a cannabis lifestyle component business. Sibannacal presents the Zonk Family Conference, which is the music, art and cannabis education festival; we have the Game of Zonk, which is a cannabis dice game. We have Sibannacal Sessions, where we do recording and video sessions with bands. We have our Sibannacal Lounges, which are our VIP lounges we do at events and festivals. Now we have our very own Zonk Strain of cannabis coming out as we move to announce our partnership with California Bud Company (CaliBudCo) and the release of the first Zonk strain later this month.
MFN: You really are busy, it seems. Tell me about the strain.
DR: It’s a process. They are a really well organized, farm that knows how to put out a high quality flower. They have a team we can trust and get behind. It took a while to find a partner like that and there were a lot of questions I had about the strain. They have a nursery, and the farm is right next door. The nursery handles the genetics, and they start growing it, and then they send them over to the farm, and the farm flowers them for about the next month or two. I wanted specific components in the strain that I felt were necessary for game play. Zonk is about an hour-long game, give or take, so we didn’t want a heavy Indica where people are falling asleep during the game. We wanted something like a Sativa-leading hybrid with a good nose and a citrus floral smell — looks great and stands out from the rest. All of our strains will be exclusive to the California with seasonal rotations. We don’t want to have the same strain that everyone else has.
MFN: Are you envisioning being able to bundle things together with the game and various types of product?
DR: Here’s how I view it: in so many states, it’s no longer sexy to buy legal cannabis. In some states it’s still new and interesting, but in California where they’ve had legal since the ’90s it’s just not sexy any more. Now we can flood the stores with our flower as well as our videos of our sessions, festivals and VIP lounges. Along with that, anyone can walk into a store and see our games, our shirts and now, our flower. It’s a way to infuse our culture into a store that people can connect with. People can watch us put forth that entire lifestyle. As we say, ‘It’s not just a game; it’s a culture!’
MFN: So we see Zonk a lot here in Florida since you are so heavily involved in our scene. Do you do all these other things such as Sibannacal VIP Lounges, Zonk Balls, and Sibannacal Sessions, etc., all over the country, or is that mostly a Southeastern US thing?
DR: No, not really, though this is going to be the year of expansion. Especially now with our strain coming out. Our West Coast move is going to happen. Obviously The Game Of Zonk is nationwide. Our Zonk Balls are everywhere – I apologize for anyone who’s gotten hit in the face with one! I am going to start doing balloons this year, too. We just sponsored a webcast with Live For Live Music during Jazzfest as well. If we take off the year for ZFC [Zonk Family Conference], which we may do in order to focus on the new strain, we definitely plan to come back really strong with that next year as well.
MFN: Going back to ZFC for a moment, how did the cannabis partners feel about their experience partnering in a music festival environment?
DR: Absolutely, 100% on board. I personally sit on the advisory board of Regulate Florida. For all of those people involved with Regulate Florida to get exposure to people who aren’t just designated patients is huge. We’re all pushing that same agenda – Regulate Florida – and the only true way to get the patients properly medicated is to pass responsible adult use. If nothing else, just so patients can be medicated properly. Getting that kind of exposure into the music scene is tremendous.
MFN: ZFC had a massive indoor area full of exhibitors and educational booths. You often have smaller versions of those areas in The Sibannacal Lounges that you do at other events. What else do those Sibannacal Lounges offer to an event?
DR: We will often have vendor spots that we provide in the lounges. We do step and repeat photo opportunities, general photos, we do timed pushes on social media prior to the events, we do recap videos. We provide a huge amount of pre-production and post-production value to whatever festival we partner with. We do contests on all of our cannabis channels; we send out email campaigns on all our partner channels that have 120,000 person reach. We get to go into the VIP and add a component that just isn’t there. We can do educational components; we can bring in speakers; we can run week-long schedules if it’s that kind of festival. We add unique value to VIP guests. Something other than the nice spot to stand, which is amazing, but we provide big things beyond that. We really have it down now, and the partners are all on board and excited about what is next.
We would really love to do more of them. We’d love to get the word out regarding the value we add to the production as a whole. We are a value-added production component to enhance the VIP experience. At the same time we can extend a larger market reach to the festival itself. We add to production values since we also bring in our photographers, the recap videos are done by us – we do the editing, we do everything. We add pre- and post-production value. We can handle the artist meet-and-greets. We’ve handled after-parties for events.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN… Time to TAKE BACK THE TUESDAY!!The Fritz- TOO LATE, Live from Sibannacal Sessions ( Sibannacal Life )Watch them BLOW UP the Studio as they stopped into Sibannacal Sessions during their past tour and don't miss to catch the boys at the Dunedin Brewery for a 2-day run on April 5th.**This Video is PROUDLY brought to you by The Game of Zonk / Regulate Florida**CREDITSProducer – David RakowerDirector – Christian SaabSound Engineer / Technician – Dave SwickCamera Ops – Chris Dean, Christian Saab, Clay Frapwell, Gregory Miller, Dave Swick, Johnny ColeEditor – Dave SwickSIBANNACAL SESSION was recorded LIVE at Paradise Recording, March 8th, 2017#sibannacallife #gameofzonk #thefritz #thefunklives #hometeam #floridafunk
Posted by The Game of Zonk on Tuesday, March 6, 2018
MFN: So what’s going on with Sibannacal Sessions?
DR: We have some more ideas for these this year. The Sessions are great. We have a partner studio and we bring bands in – The Fritz did one, for example. We call up bands and say stop in, we will do a multi-cam shoot for you, we won’t charge you anything. In the process we will be promoting your local show by talking about it all week. We can push it out on social media via Facebook live while the session is going on and promote their show at the same time, and then we can give them a video as well. So now we are toying around with a couple of new ideas. As opposed to just using the studio, we have looked at bringing on board a venue and doing a listening room-type event. We’ve got some top notch podcast partners that we are looking to bring on board as well.
MFN: So aside from the strain, what else has you really excited that you are working on?
DR: To be honest, the strain has kind of consumed us at the moment. That said, I’m really excited to do another Zonk Family Conference. As far as I was concerned, it was the best. I loved doing it. My passion is production and value added components. That said, we really would like to push the ZFC to another level.
MFN: So you’re constantly working hard on the legislation and regulation side, the education side, you’ve got the physical Game of Zonk. Obviously a lot of people know of Zonk. How do you describe Zonk to someone who is not familiar?
DR: Zonk is a 35-year-old dice-rolling cannabis board game. It’s competitive and engaging. With Zonk, you do have to earn your hits. In Zonk you have to earn your hits. It’s the only time legitimately when people can tell you that you can’t smoke! It’s funny, because some people, when they first start playing Zonk, may get frustrated because they aren’t getting any hits. They’ll complain to me, ‘Oh I’m not getting a hit!’ and I look at them and just say, ‘Well, roll better!’ [Everyone laughs] At the end of the day, though, and this is even on the box, everyone wins at Zonk. Nobody is unhappy. We know on average that every game generates 11.5 hits per player. The winner of the game gets to keep the score sheet. People love those. As soon as we went to market with the Zonk game, people were sending us their old score sheets or pictures of them with old score sheet, some from 20 years ago. I was just at the Relix Conference last week, and a girl game up to me and showed me a picture on her phone of a score sheet.
MFN: When did you come up with Zonk?
DR: May of 2016.
DR: The Zonk family keeps getting stronger ever year. We even did the Zonk Family Orchestra this year. We did the ten-minute anthem to Jam Cruise. The song was called “Exceptional Ways,” which was also the song we used in the Zonk Family Conference recap video. The Orchestra included Matt Weiss, Juanjamon, Yral Morris, Mark Mayea, Taylor Gilchrist, Kenny Bongos, Betty Fox and myself. We also sponsored several stages this year. We did Zonk Family Stages at Great Outdoors Jam and also Hometeam New Year’s Rally.
Rakower shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Keep an eye out for The Game of Zonk, The Strain of Zonk, new pop-up VIP lounges, new festivals, new Sessions and much more. It’s not just a game; it’s a culture indeed.