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A celebration of food, arts, agriculture

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What started as a tiny three-day street festival in celebration of the local harvest has grown into three solid days of food, art, agriculture, drink, music and more.

This weekend marks the 16th anniversary of Mountain Harvest Festival. Supported by the Mountain Harvest Creative and backed by a host of sponsors and an army of volunteers, the annual festival will be honored this Thursday with the Governor's Award for Downtown Excellence by Downtown Colorado Inc., as "Best Events, Festival or Recurring Activity in a Small Community."

Based on past attendance, organizers estimate that between 2,000 and 2,500 people will join in this year's festivities, said Heidi Hudek, executive director for the Mountain Harvest Creative. Founded in 2008, MHC was created to support arts and agriculture education in the North Fork area and to support the annual festival.

MHF also provides a venue for nonprofit fundraisers, said Hudek. Those organizations, in turn, create and run their own events, which spreads the work and the fun out and provides a feast of activities, tours, contests and more that offers something for everyone.

"Of course, being the 'Harvest Festival' we definitely want to celebrate the wonderful crop," said Hudak.

New This Year

While favorites including the Chili Cookoff, Grape Stomp, Pie Contest, and of course a bounty of live music will again be central to the festival, each year brings something new. New this year is two full days of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, seeds, local products and more at the farmer's market, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Due to ideal growing conditions, this is a banner year for local fruits, and the apples are ripe just in time for the festival, said Hudek.

And while this year's harvest is indeed a thing to celebrate, "The goal is to celebrate all harvests of the valley," including music, art, recreation and community. "That's what's allowed the festival to expand," said Hudek.

Also new is the Paonia Promenade. Based on last year's Downtown Art Walk, the promenade runs from noon to 4 p.m. Friday, and has expanded to include numerous businesses both newly-opened and well-established. Watch for specials and some unique offerings, said Hudek.

While the festival officially runs Sept. 23-25, associated events begin Thursday with "Paint Paonia." Artists will have 12 hours to paint any scene within a two-mile radius of town in a Plein Air painting competition.

At 4:15 Friday, the Mystical Arts Tour of Drepung Loseling Monastery will open the festival with a program of chanting and traditional music celebrating the Tibetan culture. The 11 monks are touring North America to share their culture and help people to understand the plight of the Tibetan people. They bring a message of goodwill and peace to all the communities they visit.

Harvest of Voices

Local scribes will gather at the Blue Sage Thursday night for the Harvest of Voices, an annual feast of prose and poetry. Because this event has sold out in recent years (contact the Blue Sage to see if tickets are still available), it's streamed live to the big screen at the Paradise Theatre, where admission is a suggested $5 donation.

Grape Stomp

The popular Grape Stomp happens from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday and benefits Solar Energy International's K-12 Solar in Schools program and the Paonia Public Library Foundation. In this fast-paced event, teams of three or four vie for coveted prizes by stomping 20 pounds of grapes in a half wine barrel for three minutes in their bare feet. Bribes are happily accepted. Prizes including Most Juice Collected and Best Costume. This year's costume theme is "Puns."

Lee and Kathy Bradley held the first Grape Stomp in 2008 at their Black Bridge Winery where they grow their own garden produce and make award-winning wines from their grapes and other fruits. Jackie Parks was looking for a way to raise money for the Paonia library and suggested an event based on the famous grape stomp scene from the classic "I Love Lucy" show. "I said yeah, sure, that'd be fun," said Kathy Bradley.

The event was an instant success and after two years was moved to Town Park to accommodate the large crowds. In keeping with the original theme, each year a prize is given for the team best representing Lucy Ricardo's grape-stomping experience.

Music

Music lovers have a smorgasbord of acts to choose from. Music at the Town Park stage starts at 4:40 p.m. Friday -- just in time for the 16th annual Chili Cookoff -- with "an exploration of the mandolin" with El Mundo Mando Bando, and lasts until almost 8 p.m.

From there, head to Boogie & Bounce Friday Night Downtown Music, featuring performances at four venues: the Blue Sage, the Paradise, Paonia Town Hall and KVNF Public Radio. "These musicians, many of whom are seasoned professionals who regularly command large fees, come together on this weekend in the spirit of giving back to the community," according to the MHF website. There are no headliners and all artists agree to participate at a rate that keeps ticket prices affordable so all can enjoy the music.

On Saturday live music begins at 10:30 a.m. -- earlier than in the past, with Paonia musicians Mike Gwinn & David Snider taking the town park stage. Following the Grape Stomp, David Snyder and Sarah Eller take the stage.

For those wanting to learn music, David and Arlyn Alderdice will teach three marimba ensemble workshops for ages 10 and up beginning at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Paonia Town Hall. These workshops are offered as a gift from The Learning Council, the Mountain Harvest Creative and the Embodying Rhythm School of Percussive Arts (donations graciously accepted). No experience is necessary and instruments are provided.

From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, enjoy Sundown Swing, featuring live music by nine bands at four venues. Tickets are $30 before Saturday at Brown Paper Tickets and $35 all day Saturday at the information booth. Each venue is located in the 200 block of Grand Avenue, which will be closed off for the event. Each act has a different starting time and plays for an hour and a half, allowing participants to catch at least some of each of the performances.

The Cirque, which recently obtained its liquor license, will offer free admission to experience the unique sounds and performance art of Siri Undlin beginning at 8 p.m.

The Kampe Kids' Area is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, offering a variety of games and crafts projects including pumpkin bowling, birdhouse gourd painting, a scavenger hunt and more in the park playground area on the north end of the park. All participants will receive prizes.

Bicycles and
More Bicycles

Bicycles are big this year. Sponsored by Shish Ka Bikes at The Cirque, cyclists are encouraged to put on a colorful costume and decorate their bikes for the annual Bike Parade, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Friday. The parade begins at Poulos Park and ends at Town Park.

On Sunday, the Bike Olympics offers a variety of contests including a tiny bike race, slow race, wheelie contest, longest skid mark contest, an invisible half pipe, a bike toss and a scavenger hunt. Enjoy a group ride after it's all over. The event is sponsored by the Paonia Bike Co-op, a branch of The Learning Council.

The Cirque will offer farm and wine bike tours for beginner, intermediate and advanced level cyclists at 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday. Reservations are required for tours and rentals and can be made at www.cirquecyclery.com/events/.

A Smorgasbord
of Food

The 16th annual Chili Cookoff begins promptly at 5 p.m.; judging begins at 7 p.m. sharp. The event has been run by the Blue Sage for the past nine years and is a signature MHF event. Chili aficionados vie for cash prizes, including the $150 People's Choice and restaurant People's Choice awards. Chili tasters must purchase opportunities to taste the goods and at least six tastes are required to vote. Pre-registration fee is $25 and is due Thursday.

Bring your favorite plant-based dish to the annual Vegan Potluck starting at noon Saturday at the pavilion in the southeast corner of the park. Local and organic ingredients are encouraged, but not necessary. If possible, please list ingredients for those who have food sensitivities and special restrictions.

Local farms are hosting tours throughout Saturday. Each will have goods for sale, including gourmet cheeses, produce, breads, wines, wool and lavender. Tours at eight local wineries are offered Saturday and Sunday. For information on times and to obtain maps for these tours, stop by the MHF information booth in Town Park.

The Living Farm Cafe will again offer the Harvest to Table dinner Thursday starting at 5 p.m. All dishes are made in-house with seasonally-harvested ingredients and without chemicals or additives. Stone Cottage Cellars will host the

second annual Winemaker's Dinner from 6-8 p.m. Saturday.

Rotary Club of the North Fork Valley will again serve a healthy brunch of pancakes, sausage, local fruit and beverage from 9-11 a.m. Sunday at the Ellen Hansen Smith Teen Center in Town Park. Proceeds benefit area youth and help fund educational scholarships for North Fork high school students.

From noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, join Slow Food Western Slope for a Disco Soup spread of foods made from fresh, locally-sourced foods that would have otherwise gone to waste.

Etc.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, parents and students of the North Fork School of Integrated Studies will share a traditional performance in poetry and song about farmers terrorized by the local dragon.

From 3:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday, Paonia librarian/author Laura Lee Yates will read from her recently-published book, "Bound for the Western Sea: The Canine Account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition." Partner/blues musician Harry Harpoon will entertain with songs from the Lewis & Clark era. This presentation "will leave you tapping your toes and hungry for buffalo hump!"

Enjoy yoga from 9-10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Town Park. Saturday's Vinyasa yoga session is with Carolyn Yages, and Samara Taylor will lead Prana Hatha yoga Sunday.

Hula hoop artist Miss Jaecey will give a hula hoop performance at 10 a.m.. Following the performance all are welcome to join in a hula hoop contest.

Honoring Howard Berkman

This year's festival will end on a blues note with a tribute to Howard Berkman, a local troubadour and music teacher who graced the stage at every Mountain Harvest Festival until his untimely death in October, 2011. Following Berkman's death, a fund was established to provide music scholarships to local students. Berkman's family donated the remaining funds last spring when the account was closed to pay for much-needed repairs and upgrades to the stage at Paonia Town Park.

Local musician Rick Stockton spearheaded efforts last spring to raise the balance of funds needed to upgrade and preserve the stage, which is owned by the Town of Paonia.

Berkman came to Colorado in 1977 by way of Chicago and moved to Paonia from Carbondale in the early 2000s. He played with numerous blues legends including Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters and founded the legendary Chicago band, The Knaves, in the 1960s.

To honor Berkman and his many contributions to music, Stockton, MHC representatives and citizens went before the town board last spring to request that the stage be named the Howard Berkman Memorial Stage. Trustees unanimously approved the naming and donated money toward repairs.

The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Prior to the dedication, the Johnny O. Band will take the stage from 2:40-4:10 p.m. The Boulder-based Johnny O Band has played high-energy blues for more than 19 years, and Johnny O was also a student of Berkman's in Carbondale, where Berkman entertained for 23 years before moving to Paonia.

Following the dedication, Johnny O, Stockton and a long list of Berkman's friends will perform under the name the Harvest Festival All-Star Band and will close out the festival. The concert is expected to end at 6 p.m.

Schedules
and Information

All the information on the festival is available online at mountainharvestfestival.org. Schedules are included in this section, and the official guide will be available throughout the festival. Hudek said that the MHC and MHF members put the guide together and wrote all of the articles. Joy Kuhlman laid it out and made it all happen.

Photo by Tamie Meck Bernie Canape is a fixture in the annual Mountain Harvest Festival Chili Cookoff. Last year her VaVaVerde! chili was a hot item. The 16th annual cookoff starts this Friday at 5 p.m.
Photo by Tamie Meck These two young gentlemen check out a selfie of their freshly-painted faces at the 2015 Mountain Harvest Festival.
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