In my commune days in the early 1970s, on Slaughterhouse creek above Bonanza, Colorado, we had a motto: “We may start off slow, but then we taper off.” Crestone/Baca in the 90s, and the Energy Fair, may have had similarly small beginnings; they both took off, however, like mosquitos and sunflowers after summer rains.
The first fair was held around August 15,1990 in the yard around the old schoolhouse and was labelled simply an “energy” fair, because we agreed that all forms of energy were alternatives. It was planned roughly to coincide with Sri Aurobindo”s birthday; in fact, many of the fairgoers came from the celebration being hosted at his local Learning Center by Seyril Schochen, for whom some of us were about to launch the Solar Bridge (to the future) project. Talmuth Laki (then Dennett) won the solar cook-off with a aluminum-foiled oatmeal box/parabolic sausage cooker, pierced through with a coat hanger. The main demonstration came as a surprise, hauled in on a flatbed trailer by Gene Schultz, a self-proclaimed hermit living off the grid on the side of Mt. Blanca, who brought a complete home system, from panels to inverters to water pumping and power-tool applications on display.
Crestone/Baca’s renaissance from the doldrums of its Guam days had already begun by then. Colorado College, the Aspen Institute, and mainly Hannah Strong’s land grants to spiritual groups, were blowing over the Baca like seedling duff from the cottonwoods. The community was, however, still small enough for the 1990 census to record about 330 souls residing within a ten-mile radius. That year realtor Robert Philleo trumpeted in an early Eagle article that valley banks should take note of the 13 housing starts locally and loosen up their mortgage lending accordingly
Within two years the CEF/Solar Rally and Potluck had become a regional, even national, rendezvous, mushrooming into and filling the first town park. This explosion was thanks in major part to the inspiration, dedication and limitless Boulder connections of Steve Clark, head of Citizens for Clean Energy, who even brought along to the solar stage a country-folk singer from the front range to dedicate Hank Williams Jr’s “I’m’ just an ole’ hippie” to the assemblage. It also didn’t hurt to have free add space from Home Power Magazine, a renewable energy library – bookmobile from United Techbooks of Boulder and representatives from Jade. Mtn. Apppropriate Technology, Alternative Energy Engineering of Redway CA and many others. Much local and RE suppliers’ support for and donations to the solar raffle amped up the excitement and helped pay for the event.
By 1994 Manitou Foundation had sponsored the building of a spiffy “Hardly Davidson” solar-electric motorbike, seen slipping around the streets of Crestone and later Boulder. Every RE enterprise in the West, it seemed, was now flocking in, trying to catch the wind, solar and alternative-building laboratory that Crestone/Baca, in the land of no codes, had become. As Windy (later “watery” for his famous Solar Slow Pumps) Dankoff said, “This place is the hottest, most concentrated market around for us.” Kent de Vilbiss, a former nuclear sub engineer turned “hydrogen hobo” cooked burgers with the near invisible flames out of a hydrogen welding tank (don’t try this at home, kids!) and demonstrated electrolysis of water to produce it (ditto). Ed Eaton of Solar Energy International, who had previously wowed the crowd with frozen turkeys turned-golden brown in his large Crystal-Dome oven, returned with his Photovoltaic Design class from Carbondale. His students came from around the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Venezuela and – to the thrill of the concert crowd – Chadirack, Lauren and Winston, all maroons from Jamaica, backed up by “Funk Brothers” Kailash and Tom Dessain, laying down some homespun rasta reggae. At the end of that Labor Day, Phil Hassinger, now a member of Philleo’s burgeoning brokerage, approached me: “We should put a lot or two in next year’s raffle,” he said. “We closed on 19 properties this weekend!”
By 1996 I was Mexico-bound, and turned over the organizing, muscling and cajoling of the fair to many capable hands, notably those of Jason Jepsen and Judy Rose. From more recent passes, I can see that it hasn’t looked back.