The Sopris Sun

The folks behind the fair

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff

While the leading economic nations of the world have their G-20 group to work on global economic issues, Carbondale has it’s own informal “group of 20,” an assembly of individuals that essentially puts together the annual Carbondale Mountain Fair, as described by Gazebo stage manager Jeff Britt.

Attending numerous organizational meetings in the months leading up to the Mountain Fair (which takes place July 28-30 at Sopris Park) the group is responsible for lining up everything from bands for the different stages in the park, to the 350 or 400 volunteers needed to make the Fair happen, to the fleet of porta-potties that serve attendees in crowds that regularly clock in at nearly 20,000 by the time the weekend concludes.

Plus, said Britt in an interview with The Sopris Sun on July 24, “Everybody in that group of 20 kind of runs something” that takes place during the Fair, from the ever-popular Limbo Contest to the Oasis Stage, the pie and cake baking contests that have become part of the Fair’s lore, and much, much more.

To introduce readers to some of the “folks behind the fair” The Sun is profiling three of the more prominent managers or supervisors who for years have been in charge of key parts of the overall celebration, but who may not be that well known to the general public.

Running the main stage

Jeff Britt — 62, married with two kids — has been stage manager since 1990s, the year after his first Mountain Fair, a celebration of community values and fun that so impressed him he immediately went to the offices of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH, now called Carbondale Arts or CA) to volunteer.

Britt put in a few years doing trash pickup and serving on the Peace Patrol, a group of volunteers tasked with keeping the peace and generally being ambassadors to the crowds who attend the Fair, before then-stage-manager Jeff Legg asked him to lend a hand with managing the main stage.

It was some time in the mid-1990s, he remembered, that Legg basically handed the management baton to Britt.

“At one point,” Britt said, “he just kind of looked at me and said, ‘You got this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he just kind of disappeared for the rest of the Fair,” leaving Britt in charge, as he has been ever since.

“It’s fairly easy to do if everything goes right,” Britt said of the position. “But it never goes right.”

  • Advertisement

Describing the controlled chaos of his part in the Fair, Britt continued, his main job is to make sure bands and other acts show up, get their gear unloaded to a specific “staging station” behind the stage, and climb onto the stage to perform after volunteers have put everything where it should be according to the performers’ directions.

“I get really anal about trying to keep to the timing,” he admitted, noting that tardiness among the bands and other performers can sometimes lead to trouble.

There was one time, he recalled, when he asked a popular band to do an encore that took them just past the 9 p.m. deadline for clearing and shutting down the stage, and some Garfield County Deputy Sheriffs (drafted by the Carbondale Police Department to help police the Fair) “rushed the stage” to demand that it be shut down.

“It was, like, four minute after 9, and these deputies came tromping up the stage to shut the show down, and I actually backed them off,” Britt recalled. “I said, excuse me, you can’t come up here, there’s a lot of expensive equipment and we can’t have you walking around up here… They didn’t know what to make of someone telling them they couldn’t do something.”

But they left him to do his job.

Production manager

Mark Taylor, who turns 50 in August and is employed as facilities manager at the Third Street Center, said his first Mountain Fair was in 1991 (the 20th annual), a little more than a year after he moved to the area to attend classes at Colorado Mountain College.

“Like everybody else, I was hooked,” he recalled, so he went to the CCAH office to put his name in as a volunteer under the direction of then-Fair director Thomas Lawley.

After performing a number of odd tasks, such as helping to set up the KDNK Beer Garden, he at some point joined the ranks of the Mountain Fair Board of Directors (“I can’t remember dates,” he lamented) and by the time current CA Director Amy Kimberly was boss of the Fair he was firmly ensconced as production manager.

That means he is responsible for erecting the various tents, fences and other facilities put up by the Fair itself (in contrast with the vendors’ booths, which the vendors themselves take care of), marshalling supplies, radios and other gear for the army of volunteers, and watching over the operations for the weekend.

Taylor also is nominally in charge of the Green Team, which handles the mountains of trash generated by the Fair activities. Jason White, a leader of the Green Team, said that for a decade the team has diverted 90 percent of the Fair’s trash load into recycling and composting, to the tune of 278,000 pounds of material that was kept out of local landfills (equivalent to the weight of 11 school buses or 28 elephants, White added).

Manager in training

James Gorman, a Glenwood Springs native now living in Carbondale with his girl friend, has his own production company (Gravity Productions) and has been steeped in production work at various venues in the valley for several years, as well as doing art installation at the Aspen Art Museum every now and then.

His first stint of Fair work was five years ago when he volunteered for the Peace Patrol, which was supervised by his brother, Michael.

“I’ve always been into festivals, I’ve been volunteering at festivals over 10 years, and for me it kind of changes the whole experience of the event, once you become involved in it,” he explained. “And this event just felt better than another. It felt homegrown. I mean, it’s done by the people of the community that surrounds it. The amount of volunteers that make it happen, it’s just something special. So I got more and more involved.”

He is being groomed to take over when Taylor steps aside, and emphasized that the most critical element of the job is working with the dozen or so volunteers under him.

“That’s what makes it so enjoyable, that there’s the proper amount of help, the proper amount of people to get things done,” he said.

Plus, he said, “I kind of brought in a new crew, a young crew that kind of works with me at Gravity Productions … we’re kind of merging it with the crew that had been doing it for many years” and who he said are happy to be “passing on the torch to a younger generation.”