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Fifty Years of Flauschink: Who could have imagined? Part 3 of a three-part series

Crested Butte is about to enact its 50th Flauschink celebration. But what is it—just another excuse to get it on and party? If that’s all you want, then yes. But there’s always been more to it than just that. George Sibley, the last remaining founder of Flauschink, tells the story of why this celebration—along with a lot of other things—began back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

by George Sibley

It’s not possible to describe the early origins of Crested Butte’s Flauschink celebration without looking at the larger American world the town was part of then, except when the town was feeling separate from that larger world.

America in the late 1960s was torn up and dragged down by a seemingly endless foreign war halfway around the world—a war that seemed increasingly unwinnable (and even unintelligible)—and by seemingly endless (and increasingly unintelligible) domestic wars over drugs and racism. Sound familiar?

But there was another big card in the game then, not present today: the draft card. The immediate threat of that, from the “Summer of Love” on, turned a lot of young Americans into refugees headed for Canada or remote places like Crested Butte on the outer edges of so-called civilization.

Crested Butte already had a history of refugees, people cast out of their ancestral lives by war, enclosure and other dislocations of the Industrial Revolution. The old-timers still here in the 1960s had little patience for the new refugees’ drugs of choice, uniforms and casual cohabitations, but many of the older ones had been through the labor wars, Prohibition, and other hot and cold running wars with the mainstream culture, and so had some empathy with the new refugees.

Crested Butte then also seemed to be “out of this world” economically. With nothing but a marginal hardrock mine on one mountain and a recently bankrupt ski resort on another, naifs like me could believe that the Industrial Revolution colonizing the rest of the world had left us behind. Wiser heads among us knew that the money would be back to mine whatever resources, even beauty, lay unexploited; but even they felt like we had an “open moment” in history—that we could imagine and even begin something different, which might give a different shape to the ultimate homogenizing formulas of 20th-century civilization. Most of us were broke, but felt unbroken; it was the “New World” again.

That sense of being a refugee colony, so far outside the war-making urban-industrial mainstream as to be free of it, unleashed a decade or so of “creative community” that is still very much part of what makes Crested Butte something other than just another mountain real estate development peddling amenities to the wealthy. With no external incentive, we put together our own “creative district” in 1968—the “Crested Butte Society,” intended (like the current Creative District) to “umbrella” new ideas for building a strong conscious community in some control of its future.

Within a decade, the public school area (with reconstruction under way on the old Rock School) had become a “summer convention center” with art classes recruited from as far away as the University of Kansas (1968) and the Chicago Art Institute (1969); we launched one of the state’s first arts festivals (1971), with a strong music component that set up the town’s Austin pipeline; we began the Mountain Theater (1972), with a spinoff in dance that led to Dance in the Mountains (1974) and eventually the School of Dance (late 1970s). The partially reconstructed Rock School became the first Town Museum (1976), progenitor of the Mountain Heritage Museum in Tony’s Hardware and Conoco building. We developed closer ties with the “bugologists” at RMBL in Gothic and Western State College; an emerging environmental awareness was formalized with the creation of the High Country Citizens Alliance (1977).

Not all of those “ongoing beginnings” were done under the Crested Butte Society umbrella, but they were all born of that same open moment before the 20th century began to again grind over the valley.

But first, before any of those things, was Flauschink in 1969. (You knew I’d get around to it eventually.) Before we could invent our own community, we had to find it; we had to learn—or maybe just remember from long ago—how to dance together and celebrate our lives together despite all the comings and goings and diverse backgrounds. And that’s what the late 1960s, from the so-called Summer of Love on, seemed to be about.

Life then—haunted as it was by the opportunities for misbegotten and meaningless death—had a strong Bacchic undercurrent, no less in Crested Butte than in the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Or maybe it wasn’t even just an undercurrent. That autumn in Crested Butte, when we sat down evenings around the round table at the Grubstake or at Frank’s Bar, the usually alienated Greek brothers both sat down with us—Apollo, god of reason and putting things together, and his half-brother Dionysus, god of wine and dance, getting it on and the next round. And if they started to glare at each other, Botsie Spritzer and his Stomach Steinway might get into some impromptu thing; there was a seamlessness those years to the dancing, drinking and thinking out loud together.

Often during the more sobered meetings the following mornings, we happened to remember duties laid out in what had been so blithely assigned the night before. (How will I ever pull together four pages of news every week?) Which led to the invention, a year or so later, on a quieter night but with the two brothers still contending for the soul of the place, of Flauschink.

And it continues, suggesting that we are probably, despite our better instincts, still honoring both brothers, the god of reason and the god of getting it on, in some kind of dynamic balance—not just in the spring but in the fall too, with Vinotok.

The Flauschink celebration owes a lot to many people who probably didn’t even realize they were part of an epic battle of old gods for the human soul, where we only lose if one trumps the other. Certainly Sherrie Vandervoort, who has shepherded the celebration since the late 1980s, first with her high-school friend Michele “Lipstick” English and Corky Lucks, now with Paula Dietrich replacing Lipstick.

And before that—Denis, Texas Jane, Marlene, Dana, Diner, LaDonna, Steve, Terry, and the rest of the hundred Has Beens. And the music: Native sons like the Mraule Brothers, Chris Rouse (returning this year), and the eternal King of Dance, Pete Dunda.

Would all the creative stuff have happened, the invention of Crested Butte as we know it now, if the entirely goofy Flauschink celebration of us just being who we are had not also happened? Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion; I have mine. See you at the 50th celebration. Like Flauschink organizer and royal Has Been Sherrie Vandervoort says, “It’s just a great big celebration of life and the town we all adore.”

Best Flauschink Proclamation

Queen Susan Anderton, 1980:

“Less lifestyle; more life.”

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