By Caspen Black and Brian Wagenaar
In Slovenian, Vinotok means “the celebration of the season when the grapes were turned into wine.” Up in Crested Butte (CB), Vinotok is a fall festival that celebrates the autumnal equinox, the season’s harvest, and the spirit and history of the CB community.
Founded in 1985 by CB locals, the festival, which boasts the slogan “more wild than good” includes pagan and folk elements blended with the spiritual and naturalistic. The week-long celebration encourages festival-goers to appreciate mother earth and give back to the land and each other.
In years past, the festival involved blocking off Elk Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Crested Butte, to facilitate pedestrian travel. This year, the festival included a scaled-down version near CB’s 4-way stop, as well as online activities, and was aimed at locals even more than usual.
Unlike other famous festivals involving effigies, Vinotok is not intended as a tourist attraction—in fact, the festival’s website asks folks, “Please do not come to our events if you are not a local village and valley dweller.” Among many other things, Vinotok is about building a community and respecting the spirit of a place.
The week’s festivities include the memorial liar’s competition to crown the best fibber, a tradition older than the festival. In days gone by, older Crested Butte gentlemen gathered outside Tony’s Conoco and Hardware Store on the “Liar’s Bench” to tell stories, which inspired the event proceedings.
One Crested Butte elder, Frank Orazem, shared a story with festival founder Marcie Telander that inspired the creation of the festival. A miner from the age of 13, Frank was leaving the mine one day when the alpenglow on the mountainside reflected the image of a woman in profile—the “Red Lady” — that Frank, a devout Catholic, interpreted as the feminine Divine.
Other key points of the festival include an entire event day devoted to feminist and motherly spirituality and stations around Crested Butte that facilitate a spiritual pilgrimage leading up to the main event.
On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Vinotok festivities involved rune-making and reading, a great feast, a bar with wine, beer, and mead, fire dancing, and a natural crafting station where people constructed organic adornments. The night ended with the trial and eventual burning of the “Great Grump,” a fictional character that represents human grievances, and merry dancing around bonfires.
The trial of the Grump features a showdown between the knight “Sir Hapless, the original perpetrator and lackey of heedless technocracy – progress at any cost” (per the Vinotok website) and the Red Lady (Mt. Emmons personified). The ritual is intended to represent the ongoing saga of Mt. Emmons and the Crested Butte community. The mountain has long been the subject of a debate over a massive proposed molybdenum mine.
In her TEDx talk, “Transforming Community: Celebrating Our Stories and Spirit of Place,” founding Director of Vinotok Marcie Telander says “stories can help us bridge differences created by ideology, by generations, or by environmental issues…We each have a deep longing to belong.”
Crested Butte has a rich history of community and is part of the ancestral lands of the Ute tribal nations. Another important cultural event that traditionally happens in September is the Southern Utes’ annual Tribal Fair and Powwow in Ignacio. That event was postponed this year due to COVID-19.
Evening at Vinotok, 2021. Photo by Brian Wagenaar.