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Taking art (and music and dance) to Elk Avenue this weekend

The Arts Festival is 46 years strong

by Dawn Belloise

The 46th Annual Crested Butte Arts Festival (CBAF), opening this Friday and continuing through Sunday, has some exciting new art, music and events this year including an opening ceremony on Friday at 5 p.m. The performance will boogie up Elk Avenue featuring the Crested Butte School of Dance, culminating in a performance by Latin Gypsy band Viva La Noche. The dance parade is a new feature of the Arts Festival this year and starts out at the Four-way Stop.

This year’s lineup of music proves to be eclectically exciting with a variety of genres. Saturday, August 4 and Sunday, August 5 host both local talent and long-traveled musicians.

If you catch only one act, be sure to check out Viva la Noche, the world fusion trio based in Colorado that blends tango, Flamenco, mariachi, Balkan, and Caribbean elements into something unique, sophisticated, danceable, and fun. The band was born three years ago when Ryan Flores and Stefan Doucette began playing together regularly in other projects. They recruited Daniel de la Vega in 2016 and have been writing and gigging routinely ever since.

But you won’t want to miss any of the other music shows either, with local teenage singer-songwriter darlings Essie and Linda Horne or Ragged Mountain Bluegrass that features Dwayne Dodson on guitar, Lizzy Plotkin on fiddle, Chris Hudson on bass, and Bruce Hayes on mandolin and dobro (for a complete list and schedule of all performers, visit the website crestedbutteartsfestival.com).

Also new this year is the locally brewed beer sponsor, Alpine Brewing Company, and wine sponsor Lewis Wine out of Johnson City, Texas. Local distillery Montanya’s will have their cocktails served at the Sidecar Mobile Bar inside the entertainment area at Third Street and Elk, on the south side.

The popular Art Alley is where kids get to paint with abandon and release their inner artist with Art Alley chairwoman Lynda Mikos. Children and their caregivers make inspired and imaginative keepsakes and best of all, it’s all free. There are interactive projects including the new electric “spinart” bike, which is a bicycle, pedaled by the kids, and connected to a spinning canvas by a series of belts. Kids drop different colored paints onto the spinning canvas, creating a unique design.

Among the approximately 150 artists in the juried festival this year will be some of Crested Butte’s own including Caitlin Ward, Timothy White, Adam Freed, JC Leacock, Kimbre Woods and Sean Guerrero. Some local artists are invited to participate but are not juried and those this year are Don Mancini, Ivy McNulty, and Teri Smith.

CBAF executive director Angela Flawn-Chopp says this year’s 750 artist applicants pool was higher than any previous year. In selecting participating artists, all applicants are scored according to a six-page criteria, which includes no manufactured items, all art must be original and handmade, no mass productions are allowed, among other considerations of the 12 different media categories.

Flawn-Chopp explains, “While we strive to present a well balanced show, no quotas are enforced for any medium and artists are judged solely on artistic excellence. Acceptance differs from year to year since the judges change yearly as well. We have new jurors every year. We’re excited to present the variety of talent this year. Based on police estimates, we anticipate 12,000 people in attendance this year.”

In the old days

The Arts Festival wasn’t always as diverse or organized in its embryonic days. It was a wilder west when the Crested Butte Arts Festival cranked up unpretentiously in the summer of 1971. Back then it was a pleasant, dusty-day blur. Long-haired, smiling faces stringing beads into a matrix lace of necklaces and hammering silver and copper wire into dangling twisted earrings all in a cloud of music, incense and other entrancing smoke ruled the fest. It ushered in the early years when the art festivals were more of an unstructured fair on an unpaved Elk Avenue. It was a place where the somewhat newly relocated hippie artists and musicians tuned in and turned on, sold their crafts and plied their music to the genre of the era.

But after 46 years of evolution, the Crested Butte Arts Festival is one of the nation’s top art events that closes off Elk Avenue with about 200 booths of art, cuisine, demonstrations, children’s activities and two full days of music, and now the new opening ceremony.

Music was always a dominant part of the Crested Butte culture and the early festival had some of the local and regional best, with Michael Berry producing many of the shows and bringing in names like nationally known Brewer and Shipley, who played on a rudimentary stage on Elk Avenue next to Frank and Gal’s saloon before it burned down. The late Townes Van Zandt, infamous cult-like country-folk singer-songwriter and poet, spent his summers in Crested Butte during the 1970s and graced the festival’s stage. There was an enclave of musicians who trekked up from the Boulder area—like national recording artists Bill and Bonnie Hearne, and Kathi DiFrancis.

There was always an abundance of local talent who played the festival since its inception—Les Choy, Ramone Burrell, Lightnin’ Lydell, Robert J, Jimmy Lozar, Jim Michael, Farlander, Flash, and Tracey Wickland and her band Whiterock—the list is as long as the Forest Queen communal breakfast table they all once graced after the noon whistle rolled them out of bed.

Doc Watson was introduced to the area by long-time local singer-songwriter and amazing guitarist Tracey Wickland. “Doc and Merle [Doc’s son] and I became friends in 1972 at Tulagi’s in Boulder,” Tracey says of their meeting. “I had become a huge fan of his from early recordings that my brother played me in the late ‘60s. I learned his tunes note for note and fell in love with flat picking.”

With all the verve and spunk of a Crested Buttian, Tracey walked right through Doc’s backstage dressing room door at the Boulder club to meet her hero. “The door was open,” she laughs, “and I sat on the floor talking to him. We talked a lot about music then he handed me his guitar, ‘Try this one,’ he said. I started picking out some fiddle tunes… then he picked up another guitar and said, ‘Honey, let’s pick.’ They drove me back to Crested Butte and continued coming for several years, camping and staying with me and my friends. He used my Martin [guitar] one time in concert because his new Mossman wasn’t quite right. My Martin sounded incredible after that.” Tracey was convinced. “The master’s touch!”

In the very beginning

The ancestor of the current Crested Butte Arts Festival was loosely manifested by three men who were in their young years back in the unrestricted 1970s—Michael Berry, Jim Cazer and George Sibley. “Michael had just purchased a semi load of railroad ties at an auction,” Sibley explained the origin and real motivation behind the first Arts Fair. “He thought that an interesting thing to do would be to build a covered pavilion that we could have an arts festival in to show off the art in the community. And he wanted to do something that the community could get into.” So Berry set out to find Sibley, who was the editor and writer for the Crested Butte Chronicle newspaper at the time, to promote the idea and get the word out.

It took about a week to build the pavilion. “This rambling, shaded but really nice, cool, lovely place that smelled of creosote but was a work of art itself,” Sibley remembers. The pavilion went up between the old Frank and Gal’s saloon (about where the Eldo is) and the Grubstake, where the post office parking lot is now. Berry had strong musical connections and got really fabulous musicians like Michael Martin Murphy before Murphy rose to fame.

Susan Anderton, one of the original artists in town, remembers when there was less planning and more free form was the norm. “It wasn’t like you had a formal committee that got together and decided to do something. It just happened. People just got together.” Susan fondly sifts through her recollections of the era, saying, “People were so supportive and enthusiastic. I had some of the best times. I remember thinking I can’t believe I’m hearing all this great music in Crested Butte. We were young then, and so enthusiastic. It was magical.”

However, in 1973, things changed, and “Things got a bit rambunctious.” Sibley admitted that the third Arts Fair “was bigger than anyone wanted it to be.” The apparent turning point seemed to be the concert when a jam band named Jelly, which consisted of a lot of local musicians and some would-be musicians playing original music, started the crowd jumping with a chorus of vulgarity.

“We had built a big bandstand in the town park. People started pouring in for that concert,” Sibley claimed of the large crowd. “The band had some of their own songs that the crowd picked up on and they could be heard all the way to Gunnison,” Sibley was on the porch of then newly-former mayor, Lyle McNeil, where the old timers were gathered, grumbling about the loudly chanted obscenities—and they didn’t like the sound of it. “It got out of hand. Although nothing really bad happened people realized how bad it could have gotten.”

Although the days of rattling the old timers with lewd lyrics are gone, the excellent quality of musician and song is still shaking up the crowds, so be sure to catch all the acts in this festival as you peruse the many art booths filled with amazing creations.

For more information and a schedule of events and musicians visit the Arts Festival online at crestedbutteartsfestival.com.

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