Mountain Fair

The shows went on during Mountain Fair 2020, albeit in different venues than the traditional performances on the gazebo stage at Sopris Park in Carbondale. Rather, organizers coordinated several opportunities for live music in the downtown core on Main Street, such as this one pictured. Additionally, “pop-up” shows dotted surrounding neighborhoods, creating a block-party feel. By spreading out the fair throughout town, the event layout discouraged large groups from gathering during what was still a height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Between civil and political unrest, an increasing number and intensity of natural disasters and, of course, a pandemic that’s led to unprecedented economic and public health hardships, it’s arguably difficult to find something to celebrate.

That makes celebrating all the more important, argues Carbondale Arts Executive Director Amy Kimberly. And she and her organization, which spearheaded the town becoming an officially recognized creative district by the state of Colorado, have plenty of reasons to lean into what’s being dubbed the “summer of love” — 50 years’ worth of them, as a matter of fact.

She, alongside KDNK’s Luke Nestler, have been meeting every week since January to collect half a century’s memories, mostly through the annual Mountain Fair festival, which in recent years attracts tens of thousands of people each year. Before the pandemic, that is.

“We’ve been collecting the history around the fair, which is really, in a lot of ways, the history of Carbondale over the last 50 years. Every Wednesday since January, Luke and I have been meeting at KDNK, and we’ve been recording interviews with so many people, from originators to ­younger ­people that grew up with the fair and are now in their 20s and part of the fair,” she said. “So a wide range of how that fair has affected Carbondale and the people in Carbondale.”

She attributes the fair as chief among the contributing factors to Carbondale working the way it does — especially as it’s allowed the town to foster an ever-burgeoning arts community. Things may feel tough right now, but Carbondale has overcome division before, she pointed out.

“I get asked that from many communities up and down the valley. ... Other communities throughout the state call: ‘How can we do what you do?’ My answer is always, ‘You gotta be you,’” she emphasized. “But when I think, why does it work so well here? I honestly think because of the fair — and that history and that tradition and that ritual — has made us all work better together. It doesn’t matter if we have differences all year, we all come together for the fair. And that’s why I think things do work so well: that ­culture and that volunteerism that people have been brought up with.”

And in the 1970s, which saw the first years of Mountain Fair, those differences ran deep, she noted. She’s been working with longtime photographers and the Aspen Historical Society to make sure every chapter is preserved, rather through the podcast that is her and Nestler’s brainchild or through a visual exhibit housed with AHS and, hopefully, online.

“These are some of my favorite stories,” she said, beaming. “The [Black] Nugget was all miners and ranchers. And these hippies came in, and there was a bit of a divide. The fair really brought something for everyone and helped mend that divide quite a bit.”

Not even a pandemic was going to stop that tradition. But while last year, during 2020, the fair took on a different and minimized look — to the joy of residents, many of whom were quarantined in their homes and still able to appreciate the “pop-up” live music shows along neighborhoods near the downtown core — planning the 2021 Mountain Fair felt like it carried with it even more weight, Kimberly said.

“There was never a thought that we weren’t going to be holding a fair, but I was a little nervous because when we started, nobody was planning any events yet until fall,” she said of the upcoming July celebration. “Now, I’m very happy to see there’ll be things going on before us, so we’re not … the beta test. But I think our new configuration is really exciting. Some of these changes — even with last year — are things that end up getting integrated into the fair for years to come. We’ll see what falls out of this, what works really well and what doesn’t.”

Of course, commemorating 50 years of art and expression is about more than one event, she pointed out. Two new flagship events are already on the books, and that doesn’t even include some of the smaller concert series being lined up. On June 19, for instance, Carbondale Arts — in partnership with River Valley Ranch — will be hosting its first-ever golf tournament, the Golden Putter.

It won’t be your standard golf tournament, Kimberly said.

“We’ve got a ‘Caddyshack’ burlesque number; we’ll have artists,” she said. “It’s a four-person scramble, but there’ll be ‘worst’ points — you don’t necessarily have to be a great golfer to have fun.”

Then, of course, Mountain Fair will punctuate July. And in September — not even yet listed on the Carbondale Arts website — will be what Kimberly called the Convergence Circus. Without giving away too many details just yet, she assured that it will be a multi-layered experiential art installation framed around the four elements: fire, water, air and earth, with a focus on guiding participants to simultaneously process the traumas of the last year while also healing from them.

“It’s kind of like Burning Man meets Meow Wolf,” she said.

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.