Mountain Fair: Bigger, better and profitable too | AspenTimes.com

Mountain Fair: Bigger, better and profitable too

John Colson

Ro Mead, left, director of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, and Amy Kimberly, director of the Mountain Fair, with a bike that will be awarded later this summer to an outstanding volunteer. Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly

The 2005 Carbondale Mountain Fair will be a little “greener,” meaning more environmentally responsible, and perhaps a little more arty than it has been in past years, said fair Director Amy Kimberly this week.But other than that, she predicted, it will be the same collection of music, arts and crafts and family entertainment that has come to be known as one of the best community parties on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies.The fair kicks off on Friday, July 29, and runs through Sunday, July 31, at Sopris Park in downtown Carbondale (for details, see The Listings on page 60 of this edition of The Aspen Times Weekly, or check out the official Mountain Fair program, available as an insert in the July 28 edition of Carbondale’s weekly paper, The Valley Journal, or at various locations around the park throughout Mountain Fair weekend).This is the 34th Mountain Fair, an event that started as a relatively small, Chautauqua-style gathering for artisans and craftspersons, folk musicians and other entertainers to sell, perform or otherwise display their wares. It also was conceived as a way to raise money for the then-fledgling Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities.Since those early days, the fair has grown immensely, to the point where some might say it has outgrown the town. Every year, in fact, some residents of the homes near the park simply leave town for Mountain Fair weekend, unwilling to endure the noise and human congestion that inevitably accompanies the fun. Last year’s attendance is believed to have topped 20,000, roughly four times the population of the town itself. The only year in which similar throngs descended on Carbondale was 1999, according to fair watchers.

The number of fair critics, though, is relatively small. The event has the support of most of the town, including the town government, which each year takes in a large percentage of its sales tax revenues during Mountain Fair.What’s on tap for 2005The most obvious aspect of the fair is the village of vendor booths, of which there will be more than 160 this year – 131 arts and crafts, 22 food, eight healing arts and possibly a couple more. They will be spread around the park, along Weant Boulevard and along a short stretch of Main Street. The layout of the booths was drawn up by former area land-use planner Dave Michaelson, using computer technology, a number of years ago.The other most noticeable part of the fair is the music and other entertainment. On the Ben Reed Memorial Gazebo main stage will be a wide range of bands and other acts, starting Friday with the Celtic band, The Kissers, followed by the acoustic “porch music” of the up-and-coming group Oakhurst, which is headlining a Western tour sponsored by New Belgium Brewery this summer. The stage is the scene for plenty of music, dance and spoken-word offerings throughout the weekend.At the north end of the park is The Oasis, a loosely cordoned-off section for family entertainment and kids’ activities, ranging from clowns and jugglers to face-painting and music for the young.The fair draws vendors from around the West, and some from farther away, and fairgoers have come from around Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico in the past, providing a regional flair to an event that began with a distinctive local flavor. And like many such events around the country, the fair has taken on a kind of life of its own, offering basically the same array of fun, shopping and recreation year after year.

Big changes, same FairChanges, of course, have occurred in the organization, as well as the programming, from those early days.One is that, for some time now, the Mountain Fair has had its own volunteer board of directors, separate from the volunteer board of its parent organization, the CCAH. And these days the fair once again has its own paid director, Kimberly, who operates independently of, but cooperatively with CCAH Director Ro Mead. This is a departure from how things were run starting in the mid-1980s, when one man, Thomas Lawley, was director of both the fair and CCAH.Kimberly, in her second year as Mountain Fair director (she’s also development director for community access radio station KDNK), said that this year she feels a lot more comfortable in the role.”It’s really a huge difference in that I really have a sense of the fair,” she explained, noting that when she took on the job last year, succeeding Lawley, she was not sure she was ready for the job. In fact, she said, she spent much of the 2004 fair with a nagging feeling that she’d forgotten something important.

“I forgot a booth,” she confessed, “but we found a spot for it,” and there were other minor glitches and oversights that made the job more difficult for her than it might have been.For instance, she said, the traditional horseshoe pitching contest was, for a time, in danger of not happening last year because the man who historically had been in charge was unable to do it. After a frantic search for a last-minute replacement, Kimberly was contacted by Connie Medalis, a dedicated competitor whose ex-husband had run the competition in the past, and she offered to step into the breach.Medalis has “already called us” and signed up for another tour of duty, Kimberly said.”I think she wanted to make sure it keeps going,” Kimberly remarked, “because she’s a competitor.”In general, the assessment of fair watchers last year was that the event went smoothly and drew one of the largest crowds in fair history, bolstering Kimberly’s confidence.”Now, I know that I’m ready,” Kimberly declared.

“Amy is fabulous,” said Mountain Fair board treasurer Bob Schultz. “I think it was a remarkably easy transition (from Lawley to Kimberly). I think it’s been good. I think it’s been an opportunity to get more people involved, new people. Whenever somebody new comes into an organization, they bring people they know with them.”Kimberly noted that, just as she runs things differently than Lawley might have, there also are changes going on in the fair’s makeup and volunteer corps.Going greenerOne difference in this year’s fair operation, which may not be immediately evident to the average fairgoer, is a determined effort to establish a composting program. Two new volunteers – Brett Nelson and Nikki Leniton – have stepped up to help primary organizer Mark Reinhold ensure the new program is well organized and well publicized.Along the same environmental lines, Kimberly said, the green beer cups that have been a hallmark of the New Belgium beers served at the fair will no longer be in use. In their place will be recyclable cups provided by the brewery, in another attempt to reduce the amount of trash flowing from the fair into area landfills.

“The beloved green cups will no longer be,” she said with mock sadness in her voice, adding that the fair organizers are working with a couple of the valley’s environmentally oriented concerns – Sustainable Settings of Carbondale and Rock Bottom Ranch near El Jebel – to put together the recycling and composting efforts.Aside from keeping the crowds lubricated and happy, the beer concession raises funds for not only the Mountain Fair and CCAH, but other local nonprofits as well. A list of organizations will be in charge of “shifts” at the beer tent, and will take home the proceeds from their shifts, which according to Schultz can amount to more than $1,000 per organization, including tips.A new feature at the fair will be a sales and exhibition area called Artisans Alley. Eight area artists – photographers Charles Niles and Ellen Schofield; painters Gerry Michel, Carol Murphy and Carol Rothrock; printmaker Ellen Woods; metalworker Vaughn Schafer; and woodworker Dave Struempler – will be demonstrating their work and offering works for sale.”We think we have incredible artists in the valley, and we want to give them an opportunity to be seen,” Kimberly said.The bottom lineAnother big change in the way things have been run recently, said Schultz, is that “we’ve really tried to focus on the business end of the fair. The fair was really headed for something that was truly nonprofit.” In other words, a money-loser. But in recent years, he said, new business practices have brought the fair’s bottom line back up to the point where last year it earned approximately $60,000 for CCAH, close to half of the organization’s annual budget.

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“We’ve stopped the bleeding,” Schultz said this week, adding that the volunteer army that helps produce the fair has helped it stay solvent.”It’s a miracle to watch every year,” he said, describing squads of electricians, carpenters, and others who show up to help put the thing together every year.”That is the magic of the fair,” Kimberly said. “People just show up to do what needs to be done.”And there will be a longtime feature of the fair returning this year, helped along by volunteer labor. The once-annual end-of-fair slide show, a beloved production involving a team of photographers shooting images throughout the weekend, will once again grace the end of the weekend on Sunday night.Kimberly said local shooters Jane Bachrach and Lynn Burton, and possibly others, will take pictures over the course of the weekend, and “barring technical difficulties,” there will be a slide show once more to send fairgoers away with images to match their fond memories.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com