Mountain Fair founder Laurie Loeb is one of many locals who still remembers the fireball that led to one of the fair’s most beloved traditions.
Shortly after the first band took the stage on a July evening in the late ’90s — Loeb thinks it was 1998 — an electric yellow orb rolled along a power line near the Weaver Ditch, drawing all eyes in the park with a harsh crackling.
“It was like a dragon breathing fire, and it blew out all of the electricity south of the tracks,” Loeb recalled.
A friend urged Loeb, who was scheduled to lead drum circles in the oasis later in the fair, to get her drums.
“Within 20 minutes of the power going out we had a drum circle of 80 people,” she said.
Since then, every Mountain Fair has opened with a drum circle.
“I have people tell me now it’s their favorite part of the fair,” said Loeb.
Last year, Loeb missed her first opening drum circle — and first Mountain Fair for that matter — due to a back injury. Some friends surprised her with a circle of their own at Heritage Park, where she was recuperating.
“There were people bopping in their wheelchairs and their walkers,” Loeb recalled.
Kip Hubbard filled in at the main event, but the injury was a reminder to Loeb that she couldn’t keep carting hundreds of instruments to the park forever. At the end of the evening, most of her drums were sold for whatever people wanted to pay and a promise to bring them back for future drum circles.
Loeb, who had her 74th birthday earlier this month, had been collecting drums since she was 12, and has found a lot more room in her house since last year. With Hubbard nursing an injury of his own, she made her triumphant return to leading the drum circle this year after putting out a call for folks to bring their own percussion instruments.
Despite threatening thunder and a few rain drops, a decent crowd gathered on Friday night for the 16th drum circle and the 43rd Mountain Fair. The drumming began unofficially even before Ute Elder Roland McCook’s opening blessing.
“You know when I walked down here and I heard you drumming I really like that. I think you guys are awesome with what you’re doing,” McCook said to cheers for the assembly. He joined the circle after his talk to even louder cheers.
A fair number of Loeb’s old drums were in attendance, as were an assortment of homemade shakers and makeshift instruments — including at least two water-cooler-sized jugs.
Whatever the instruments, Loeb believes the circle is the perfect start to the Fair.
“It’s the power of rhythm and the power of the pulse,” she said. “The pulse is the first sound we ever heard — in utero, our mother’s heartbeat. When people are in tune with the pulse, everyone is in synchronization. And that’s what makes it so magical. It sets the tone of unity for the weekend.”