If It Wasn’t A Big Party Before (It Was), It Certainly Is Now: Carbondale Celebrates 50 Years Of Its Mountain Fest
A pie bake-off. Bilingual storytime. Three straight days of live music.
All were on the very full schedule of one of the biggest and most beloved parties on the Western Slope.
The Carbondale Mountain Fair came roaring back last weekend after the pandemic forced last year’s celebration to be drastically pared down, a huge blow to the tight-knit community.
It was the celebration’s 50th anniversary, people looked delighted to be there, especially during such crowd-pleasers as the women’s wood splitting competition.
The audience gleefully shouted and clapped as two gals with seriously impressive arms clobbered logs with their axes, then raced to stack the wood.
People were holding beers and babies and chatting in clusters, so many clusters that you could barely see the action.
But you could hear it throughout Sopris Park, especially the cheers when a new wood-splitting champion emerged.
But of course, it wasn’t really about winning. It was more about self-expression.
Diana Alcantara, wearing unicorn sunglasses, described the heart of the Mountain Fair this way: “the creative, just, burst and flow of energy and authenticity.”
For her, that meant dressing up with friends — a whole dance troupe of them. The Bonedale Ballet flash mob was full of women in head-to-toe gold, some who were seniors, at least one who was a grade-schooler.
As they danced in sync to Pharrel Williams’ song “Happy” and the Austin Powers theme song, the crowd clapped and laughed along.
There are so many well-known summer festivals in the Roaring Fork Valley. But Mountain Fair stands out.
Since the very beginning, it’s had three important guidelines, explained Luke Nestler: “It has to be free admission, no corporate sponsors and volunteer-driven.”
Nestler, who is unmistakable with his grey braided pigtails and beard, used to be the music director for KDNK, Carbondale’s community radio station. They broadcast the festival live every year. And this time around, the station was collecting Mountain Fair memories for a podcast.
“Some of them funny, some of them — you might even want to cry,” said Nestler, sitting at a booth with a big mic, just waiting to capture more memories.
He described a story told by Poppy the Clown, a Mountain Fair staple. He’d been performing a few festivals ago when a trio of teenage goths walked up to him in their long black trench coats.
They made the parents and kids uneasy, Nestler said. But then, he added, one of the goth teenagers told the clown that the two of them had performed a trick together when the teenager was young.
“And they ended up hugging and crying,” Nestler said, “and all of the parents who were there kind of nervous about the three teenage goths saw the clown, hugging the goths!”
Poppy told him he’d remember it on his deathbed. That’s the kind of moment Mountain Fair makes possible, Nestler said. There’s just a feeling in the air.
“That transcendent thing of: It’s not just another party,” he went on.
Even newbies sense it.
A smiling David Vasquez called the vibe “amazing,” and sees it as an extension of Carbondale’s welcoming atmosphere. He said he knows more people here, in this small town, than in his hometown of Miami — after being in Carbondale for only three months.
He was also basking in the afterglow of tying for first place in that afternoon’s limbo contest, when he instantly became Carbondale-famous. People kept coming up to him giving their congrats.
“My face hurts from smiling,” Vasquez said. “I'm just like, ‘Oh my God, this is great.’”
And he said it’s the kind of thing that makes him never want to leave Carbondale.
Probably one of the most enduring facets of Mountain Fair is the music. It’s showcased plenty of big bands, like the Infamous Stringdusters, as well as plenty of others that were just on the verge of being well known, Leftover Salmon and The String Cheese Incident among them.
On Saturday night, people were dancing, gyrating and hollering the sounds of The Motet, a funk, soul and jazz band out of Denver.
As the bass bumped, longtime fair director Amy Kimberly was backstage sitting — finally sitting — looking happy and tired.
“It is a huge relief to know that that magic that we had felt every year is still here,” she said, a big sparkly hat over her blue hair.
It’s the magic she’s seen and heard for the 18 years she’s been heading the fair — its longest director ever. It’s a magic that hasn’t been drowned out by the pandemic, which is still dragging on.
Kimberly explained that she had serious concerns about bringing the festival back this year.
“But all signs are showing that, yes, this was the right thing,” she said. “The flow is there. People are doing their thing. There's so much kindness and caring that goes on. I'm going to have to go with it.”
And in spite of this uncertain year, or perhaps because of it, she’s had more volunteers than ever.
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