Carbondale Mountain Fair marks 40 years of fun
CARBONDALE – Perhaps it was the scramble it took to make that very first Carbondale summer arts and crafts fair happen.
But for decades now, there’s always been something unique and special about the community spirit that surrounds Carbondale Mountain Fair.
The year was 1972, and the Colorado arts council had approached Carbondale about hosting the state Chautauqua, a traveling outdoor arts festival that visited different locations each summer.
Two weeks before the scheduled event, the woman who was supposed to coordinate things unfortunately was involved in a car accident, recalls founder and official “Mother of the Mountain Fair,” Laurie Loeb. She was asked to step in.
“I had done some art shows in Aspen in the ’60s, but nothing quite like this,” Loeb said. “Nothing had been done to prepare. So, I rounded up some folks and we threw together our own little part of the Chautauqua, showcasing local artists as well as giving exposure to the outside artists.”
Today, the Carbondale Mountain Fair continues as one of the longest-running arts and music festivals in the state, drawing upwards of 15,000 people to Carbondale the last weekend of July every year.
That first fair had about 20 booths, including Native American weavings and the local Boy Scouts selling seed and corn necklaces, Loeb said. And, of course, some of the favorite local bands of the era entertained.
The 40th Mountain Fair opens at noon Friday and continues through Sunday at Carbondale’s Sopris Park. It features 125 artisan booths, 23 food booths and 11 different bands, including nationally known groups such as Elephant Revival, the Hillbenders and the Kyle Hollingsworth Band.
A variety of free family entertainment is offered at the Children’s Oasis. Numerous friendly adult competitions also highlight the weekend, including men’s and women’s woodsplitting, limbo, flycasting, horseshoes and pie and cake baking contests.
“After that first year, we decided to continue on and do our own thing,” said Loeb, who went on to spend seven years as director of both the Mountain Fair, and eventually the new Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities.
“It was a time when a lot of artists were moving to town,” she said.
Even Carbondale’s then-mayor, Charlie Kelly, was a bronze sculptor, she noted.
“People started wanting more arts offerings throughout the year, so we started the arts council,” Loeb said. The Mountain Fair now serves as one of the primary fundraisers for CCAH.
“After time, it just became this transfusion for the town that would come around every year,” she said. “It was something people could enjoy and involve themselves in.”
Amy Kimberly, who is now in her eighth year as Mountain Fair Director, says it’s her favorite time of the year, hands down.
“For me, it’s just this magical machine in motion when it all comes together,” she said. “Every problem has a solution, and people just magically show up at the right time to do the things that need to be done.”
That’s what the early success of Mountain Fair could be attributed to. And it’s the same today, said Loeb, who for the past 13 years has organized the community drum circle that kicks off the fair each year.
In fact, the drum circle grew out of one of the more memorable Mountain Fair events in the late ’90s, when the electrical lines running into the park arced and created a huge fireball that knocked the power out. In true Mountain Fair spirit, a huge drum circle formed to provide the evening’s musical entertainment.
“So many different kinds of people get involved, and there are activities that appeal to a broad range,” Loeb said. “People are really invested in the fair from their heart.”
Current CCAH Director Ro Mead recalls that Mountain Fair was her first real introduction to Carbondale.
It was 1976, and she and her late husband, Henry Mead, were setting up a booth at the fair to show their pottery.
“Our tent was this huge, orange nylon parachute,” she said. “I said I was going to go walk around for a while, and I’d be back in about 20 minutes. Three days later I made it back.
“Back then, it was a party for the locals, especially the hippies who’d come to Carbondale,” she said. “Now, it’s a party for the entire community. It’s not a CCAH event as much as it’s a community event.”
To celebrate 40 years of Mountain Fair, several special events are planned this weekend, starting with a retrospective slide and video show beginning at 9 p.m. Friday at the Ben Reed Memorial Gazebo, which serves as the main stage.
Back in 1974, recently graduated Colorado Mountain College photography students Jim Ryan and Dean Arneson started the Mountain Fair slide show tradition.
“We hung a screen off the metal shelter in the park, and had a Kodak carousel filled with Ektachrome slides,” Ryan recalled.
“We’d shoot Friday night, develop the slide film, sync it to music, come back Saturday, shoot until 4, develop the film, sync it to music, then come back again Sunday, shoot until 4 … and by 9 we were ready to put on the slide show,” he said.
“It was a wonderful locals thing, because by then everyone else had left town.”
The closing slide show was a regular feature until the early 1990s and has been resurrected in recent years.
Ryan was asked to produce this year’s retrospective, which includes a compilation of photos from his own collection, as well as other photographers around the community who have shot Mountain Fair over the years.
“It really brought to mind a lot of people I haven’t seen or thought of in a long time,” he said.
“I always just love running into people who you only see once a year,” Ryan said of Mountain Fair still today.
Part of the retrospective will also highlight video segments shot by local filmmaker and videographer Terry Glasenapp of Glenwood Springs.
“There are a lot of interviews interjected in with the slides and video,” Ryan said. “This is something that’s going to last a lifetime, and provide a good history for CCAH and Carbondale to keep in the archives.”
Past Mountain Fair and CCAH directors, along with board members and others who have been instrumental in organizing the fair over the years, will have a reunion on Saturday afternoon.
Thomas Lawley, who directed both the fair and the arts council for 17 years, from the late 1980s until 2003, will be among them. He is also serving as the official main stage emcee on Sunday.
Lawley remembers he and his wife, Paula, wandering over to Carbondale from Paonia in the mid-1980s and happening upon Mountain Fair.
“We hadn’t even heard of it, and were kind of blown away by how huge it was,” he said.
A couple of years later, they decided to relocate to Carbondale so their daughter could attend Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
“I was looking for work, and the Mountain Fair director’s job got posted, so I responded,” Lawley said.
He ended up shepherding Mountain Fair through a period of unprecedented growth in Carbondale.
“What still makes Mountain Fair special is that it’s a non-commercial, grassroots event that a lot of people volunteer their time to put on,” Lawley said.
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