Community profile: Mountain Fair production manager Mark Taylor reflects on quarter century helping pull it all together
All of Carbondale’s Sopris Park is a stage the last full weekend of July each summer, and for about half of the Mountain Fair’s 51 years, Mark Taylor has been more than a mere player.
Taylor’s Mountain Fair volunteer roots run as deep as the early 1990s, when the North Carolina native first came to town to attend Colorado Mountain College.
His first Mountain Fair was actually 1989 when he was living in Leadville for the summer and heard about the little hippie fair over on the other side of Independence Pass. He decided to come over with his girlfriend at the time to check it out.
After several years of helping out here and there alongside hundreds of other volunteers who make Mountain Fair happen, Taylor was tapped in the late 1990s by then-director Thomas Lawley to be the official production manager.
In that role, Taylor manages the fair’s set-up crew, which includes everything from installing all of the needed electrical and water infrastructure, building the fair operations booths, setting up the cantina, erecting tents, putting up signs, installing the recycling/compost/trash stations … you get the picture.
During final set-up on Thursday and Friday, and throughout the weekend, there’s also a lot of trouble-shooting and making sure vendors are well taken care of.
“It’s more than that, though,” Taylor said. “Mountain Fair is its own thing and has its own energy. So I think of it more as I’ve had this great opportunity to be the one who’s tasked with opening up that bag.
“It’s been one of the greatest honors for me to be a part of it, and to work with the folks at the Carbondale Arts Council and all of the relationships I have now because of the Mountain Fair.”
Taylor and Amy Kimberly, the Mountain Fair director since 2004 and Carbondale Arts director since 2011, both announced this spring that they will be stepping away from their respective roles after this year’s fair.
“Mark has been with the fair longer than I and has been the keeper of the spirit of the fair,” Kimberly said. “He taught me how to keep the magic going in this fair.”
Kimberly, who refers to her decision to step aside as a “rewirement,” said it’s important to remember that Mountain Fair isn’t about any one person or group of people.
“It belongs to the community,” she said.
Along the way, Kimberly said it was always Taylor and a core group of longtime Mountain Fair magicians who would remind her that, because it’s a community festival, they should never do anything like charge admission or have visible sponsorship banners hanging everywhere.
“As long as I followed that advice, the magic proliferated,” Kimberly said.
It’s something Taylor remains passionate about.
“The collective joy that we have been able to bring together over the years, you know, it is magic,” he said. “And I don’t say that flippantly.”
It’s one of the reasons some 300 volunteers step up every year to help with all the various aspects of running a smooth community festival.
“And they do it for a T-shirt, some cold beer and some snacks,” Taylor said. “Mountain Fair doesn’t belong to anybody, it’s all of ours. And that’s what I love most about it.”
Mountain Fair again takes center stage in Carbondale this coming Friday through Sunday in Sopris Park and along the downtown streets.
Taylor, who turns 55 next month, grew up in the town of Elkin, North Carolina, which is smaller even than Carbondale.
“It was very ideal in the sense that you knew everybody and all the store owners,” he said. “We all got along and played well together.”
There wasn’t a big festival like Mountain Fair in Elkin, but he said his grandparents in particular instilled in him a strong sense of community and of service to others.
Taylor studied outdoor education at CMC when he came to Carbondale, but didn’t end up pursuing that career path. He did work a summer internship with the Appalachian Trail Club, but soon returned to Colorado and worked in the ski business for a spell before starting his own construction company.
“We did high performance remodels and upgrades mostly, and worked with (clients) to realize appropriate energy efficiency technology and things like that,” Taylor said of that era of his life, which was similar to the work-a-day lifestyle that shaped a lot of Roaring Fork Valley locals.
About 10 years ago, Taylor was hired to be the facility manager at Carbondale’s Third Street Center, the converted former elementary school building that now houses several nonprofit organizations and serves as a community gathering space for meetings and events.
“Because of the Third Street Center, these organizations are able to flourish and do some amazing work. To be a part of helping make that happen is humbling at times,” he said, crediting the center’s longtime director, Colin Laird, with facilitating most of that effort.
“He’s an absolute gift, and has a gift,” Taylor said of Laird, who now sits on the Carbondale Board of Trustees.
Maintaining the magic
Taylor said he always takes pause during the often-hectic Mountain Fair weekend to pull one of his crew of volunteers over and just have them look out over the crowd.
“I’ll ask them, ‘What do you see out there?’ And it’s all these happy people just dancing and laughing and carrying on and having a good time, you know.
“We’re responsible for that,” Taylor said. “For a moment in time, we helped make everything OK … and that’s powerful.”
As with any event or organization that has that much impact, though, it’s important to pay that experience forward, he said.
In the nonprofit world, there’s a term for it — “founder’s disease,” Taylor said. It’s something he’s learned along the way from some of his Mountain Fair mentors who’ve backed away previously and let others take their place.
“I could keep going, but it wouldn’t be fair,” he said. “There’s a status quo that comes with being in any position for a long time, and the fair deserves to grow.
“It’s a little like ripping a Band-Aid off, though,” Taylor admits, choking back some emotion.
But it’s hard to ignore the new crop of young, enthusiastic, creative folks who love Mountain Fair just as much as him, and who want to be that next generation to move into those leadership roles, he said.
“I think it’s important that we get out of our way and let that happen,” Taylor said.
Already, a group of successors have stepped up to take on some of those key roles, including community activist and longtime Mountain Fair volunteer James Gorman as Taylor’s successor to lead the production crew.
Also among them are Aly Sanguily, who’s the new entertainment lead for Mountain Fair, Alta Otto as vendor director, and Deborah Colley, who will now handle duties as chief of operations.
The theme for the 51st Mountain Fair is “New Moon Magic,” and fair-goers can likely expect some magical moments as Taylor, Kimberly and others are honored for their many years of work to keep the vibe going.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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