Saddle up for New Castle’s Burning Mountain Festival |

Saddle up for New Castle’s Burning Mountain Festival

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

NEW CASTLE, Colorado ” One of Levonne Snyder’s strongest Burning Mountain Festival memories must also be one of her strangest.

This was the early 1980s, back when she chaired the event. In those days, there were contests aplenty, from husband-calling to rock drilling, wood splitting to coal shoveling. When it came time to announce the winners of the “Prettiest Baby” competition, local dad Larey Hazelton ran out in front of the crowd ” in a large, makeshift diaper.

“He was just kind of dancing out in the street,” said Synder, 61. “I’m sure his wife didn’t think it was funny, but we sure did.”

There’s a dose of small-town quirkiness for you.

While that much excitement isn’t guaranteed this weekend, one can never be sure what will happen when hundreds of longtime locals and friends get together. Now in its 35th year, Burning Mountain is New Castle’s big summer celebration, complete with live music, vendors, food and, of course, a parade.

As it is with any small community’s event, tons of townies had their own opinion (and story) about this July jubilee.

“It just was small, a one day thing and that was it,” recalled Lorraine McNeal, 68.

She described that first year, back in the early 1970s. It was nothing like the rocking, flashy festival of today. Then, it was a quiet thing, with local craftsmen and artists showing off ” not selling ” their work around the library. With a pancake breakfast, a few games and such, it was like a very low-key version of Mountain Fair or Strawberry Days, New Castle-style. Though there might be new food booths, hip bands and more events going on nowadays, McNeal still senses the heart of those first few years. In her words, it’s still a “homecoming.”

“I just think people look forward to it, to the tradition of it,” she said. “I think people feel lost without having that. They have a reason to come to town.”

To Monk Dawson, 86, this festival is still a “good” one, but he couldn’t help but wax on about Burning Mountain’s beginnings.

“When we started, we was one big community,” he said, nostalgia in his words.

In those days, the American Legion was the only one selling food, and they’d use up 600 pounds of barbecue beef each year. He misses those fests before the beer garden, vendors and other newfangled

improvements. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still in love with this hometown. This year, despite the sun, he’ll be the one carrying Old Glory with the American Legion in the parade.

“They didn’t think I could handle it,” he scoffed. “They didn’t think I could do it. But I’ve been exercising, and I can.”

And though Snyder now lives in Rifle, she’ll be sure to see that. New Castle may not be her home anymore, but she continues to feel part of the party. As she explained it, the thing that was driving the festival at its inception is still driving it now.

“I believe it’s community spirit,” she said. “It passed down through the generations.”

Well, then what is the real difference between the Burning Mountain of 1974 and the Burning Mountain of today?

“What’s stayed the same?” asked Neva Hiscock, 49, event co-chair. “It’s hot, hot, hot, hot. What’s changed? It’s hot, hot, hot.”

And it was hard to tell if she was just talking about temperature. More than history, she sounded excited about this year’s seven bands, its bed race, its costume contest and Mardi Gras theme (all of which she put together with co-chair Mo Maznio, 48). To Hiscock, this is a chance for New Castle-ites to show off their quaint little burg ” yet again.

As McNeal put it, so succinctly, “I think sometimes that tradition means a lot in a smaller town.”

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

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