Volunteers Rachel Manning and Brian Golden enjoy making new connections while volunteering at Mountain Fair 2019. Photo by Renee Ramge.

Some places just have it: an uplifting vibe of possibility and inclusion, an air of magic eliciting wonder. That magic is us, we the people of this funky little mountain town. Unlike big cities, here in Carbondale, no matter who you are — renowned or reclusive, rich or poor, young or old — you can freely pitch an idea or initiative. If it builds community, there are numerous organizations, patrons and helpers that will wholeheartedly support the process. The evidence is all around us: the vibrancy you see and feel in “Bonedale” arises from people creating, giving and volunteering. Mountain Fair is a prime example.

From one year of social distancing to fifty years of socializing, 2021’s 50th anniversary of the most cherished festival in the valley welcomes all. The fair has always been free, has always welcomed locals and visitors alike and has always been run by volunteers — over 300 annually these days! We need you to celebrate with us, behind the scenes, because this year’s fair is predicted to be off the charts. In addition to the significance of the 50th anniversary, there is the post-COVID joy of “the great reopening” and of reconnection. As such, the fair will be a COVID-friendly constellation spread throughout downtown, beyond its home in Sopris Park.

Post-COVID, Carbondale has experienced a noticeable influx of people escaping big cities for the very magic — and stability — of smaller town living. With that influx, big city qualities are impacting our peaceful little town. Conversation among locals vacillates between shock, concern, acceptance and, by some, actually rolling out the welcome mat.

In true Carbondale style, one woman was overheard greeting a new transplant.

“Welcome to Carbondale! What are you going to volunteer for?”

Carbondale has been trying to grow and increase business opportunities and tax revenue stability for years, and this is it. Especially for new transplants trying to find their way in a small town that is new to them, the hope is that locals can find ways to welcome them and share the value system that has made this hamlet a haven. Volunteering at Mountain Fair is a root-sinking opportunity to do so, especially for newcomers looking for ways to branch out and connect with the spirit of Carbondale.

“Volunteering is a deep part of the ethos of Carbondale and has helped shape it,” says Carbondale Arts Executive Director Amy Kimberly. “Volunteering with Mountain Fair is like finding your soulmate, where you can connect with that ethos.”

Leslie Johnson has been volunteering longer than she can remember. Roles have included the info booth, backstage food, and the coveted beer tent through her roles with KDNK and Gay for Good.

“For me, it’s all about teamwork, connection, love, commitment, community and fun. It’s all these things and a lot of hard work,” she laughs. “It’s worth every second. I will do it as long as my mind and my body can do it!”

As year rolls into year, volunteering becomes like a family. As we all know, sometimes we don’t see family enough.

“For me, it’s being with folks I only get to see one time a year, working our tails off while creating new memories,” says Mark Taylor, whose volunteer role starts the week before the fair. He has supervised the erection of fair infrastructure for years. “Once the fair is up and people are dancing, laughing and enjoying each other and the moment, I swell with pride when we look out at the crowd, knowing that for a minute in time, I — we — made everything okay. No problems, only solutions. We’re in the business of making people happy and that’s the fuel I run on.”

Tory Neu has been volunteering since 1997, and supervising backstage hospitality, on and off, for the last 15 years. “Mountain Fair is not just a town festival, but a community effort unlike any,” she feels. “Helping to put the fair on, seeing it come alive from behind the scenes, brings a whole different aspect to the fair: knowing we helped create this and the pride that comes with it!”

Through my work as a journalist and landscape designer, I have met many newcomers this past year. You’ve come here not only for small, mountain town living or for personal gain, but frankly, because of loss. You have come here reeling from divorce, losing a job, or sickness and injury. You’ve come here to care for aging parents. You’ve come here for connection.

Volunteer for Mountain Fair. Make one or two new friends. Familiarize yourself with the givers and helpers in our community. Wave or say hi when you see them on the street in the ensuing weeks and months. Sink roots, branch out, flourish. Know that next year, you will again be a part of the most exciting, tight family Carbondale has to offer. Because volunteering for Mountain Fair is an absolute freaking blast!