Boulder gets head start on celebrating fall
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that it was the Downtown Boulder Partnership that changed rules governing which types of vendors were allowed to participate in downtown festivals, not Firefly Handmade Markets.

With the weather simmering in the high 80s, it’s hard to imagine that autumn is anywhere close. But this weekend, Boulder is celebrating the upcoming season with its annual Fall Fest on Pearl Street Mall.

The festival is a microcosm of the city in the shadow of the Flatirons. The three-day event brings people from across the country for good eats, dazzling art and make-you-wanna-bob-your-head local music.

Among the local favorites like Avery Brewing were some lesser known Boulder outfits. In the Firefly Handmade Market portion of the festival, a small area was gated off for guests over 21 to enjoy some locally made spirits from Longtucky, Hogback and Vapor distilleries.

Heidi Nelson, office and events manager for Vapor, said Firefly was the first outdoor market to give distilleries a chance at selling their goods, which opened up a lot of opportunities like Boulder County Farmers Market. Vapor was a part of the market four years ago, until the Downtown Boulder Partnership changed its rules governing which types of vendors could participate in downtown festivals. The participation of alcohol vendors like Vapor was limited by that decision. The partnership changed the rules again this year, allowing Firefly to again include distilleries like Vapor in the festival.

“We’ve got a fabulous product and if we just put a little tiny bit in people’s mouths, then it speaks for itself,” Nelson said.

Each distillery is allowed to provide a guest with four quarter-ounce samples and sell sealed bottles of their spirits.

“This is a really wonderful place, we’ve had a lot of sales,” Nelson said. “Usually in the morning people kind of taste some stuff, walk around Pearl Street and then grab a bottle on their way out of the market.”

The spirits may be local, but Fall Fest attracted numerous guests from out of town. Jack Bills and Georgia Wood, from Naples, Fla., spend a few months in Louisville every summer. The pair came to the festival after spending the morning hiking and were enjoying some sips of Vapor’s gin. Bills said he loves the culture of Boulder, which was on colorful display at the festival.

“We love it here, hopefully someday we might live here,” Bills said. “There is so much beautiful art along here.”

As the afternoon heated up, kids and dogs enjoyed the sweet respite of the water fountain near Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social. Bryce Levasseur and Rebecca Denny sat down to enjoy their grilled cheese sandwiches while their dog, Aldy, splashed in the water. They arrived from Des Moines, Iowa earlier in the morning after a long night driving.

“We had no idea this was happening,” Levasseur said. “It was just sheer luck.”

Denny said she was able to pick up a couple things from the artisans at the market, but Levasseur was stuck on tail patrol.

“I’ve had to deal with destructo tail,” Levasseur said. “I’ve had to make sure to keep it away from everything so she doesn’t break anything.”

Travelling artist Heather Filtz, from Raleigh, N.C., said she heard about Fall Fest at another show in Nashville, Tenn., from some artists that had previously showcased their work in Boulder. Filtz is on the road for 9-10 months out of the year, which can be exhausting but worth it, she said.

“You meet so many people. I’m my own boss and I get to draw for a living,” Filtz said. “The rewards outweigh any negativity that goes along with being on the road that much.”

The second day of Fall Fest attracted many out-of-towners who were able to get a taste of what Boulder is all about. Dozens of people sat in chairs and grassy areas around where musical acts from across Colorado played a wide-ranging variety of tunes.

Local Boulder act Jackie and the Racket played their Rocky Mountain honky tonk set for an hour and a half to a dancing and head-bobbing crowd.

Lead vocalist and guitar picker Jaquita “Jackie” Straw writes all of the lyrics for the group’s songs, with a heavy focus on empowering other women. The band premiered the title track from their first full-length album “Tough Love Cowboy,” which comes out later this fall. In the song, Straw proclaims “I don’t let cowboys open doors for me.”

“I’m going to make art without apologizing,” Straw said. “I’m going to be my true self and speak through the music, because that’s what’s most important. I don’t really care who I (expletive) off.”

As the sun shone in full summer strength on the festival -— it continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — many attendees expressed disbelief that the official start of fall is just over a week away.

“I can’t complain about the weather, it’s absolutely beautiful,” Filtz said.

Aldy the dog begs for a bite of her owners’ grilled cheese with bacon from Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social during the Boulder Fall Fest on Saturday. / Madison Lauterbach

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