Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival cancels 2023 event over scheduling conflict
The Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival has canceled its 2023 event, citing the scheduling conflict created by the Block Party in Eagle moving from its traditional June date to the same August weekend.
Mushroom Festival co-organizer James Harrison said the festival never had professional promotors or event organizers on the job. The festival’s founder, Tom Boni, started the tradition of putting the Mushroom Festival on as a labor of love.
“It was always amazing to me that Tom was ever able to pull this off because it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of logistics. There are a lot of moving parts,” Harrison said. “Tom, as far as I’m concerned, was a hero in making this all happen for so many years.”
However, Boni stepped down from organizing the festival and a group of Eagle Mushroom Festival aficionados took the reins on the 2022 event: Harrison, Mary Ann Morrison, and Paul Pennington.
The new coordinators successfully put on the most recent festival, in August, but not without hard work.
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“We have a number of speakers who are getting paid, accommodations, room locations, cooking classes, locations for all of that, website development, vendors, dinners — so, it really is a ton of work, and we operated on a shoestring,” Harrison said.
When it came time to start planning the 2023 festival, coordinators were even more strategic with their approach. Using Brush Creek Pavilion as home base for all festival activities, Harrison said things would run more smoothly.
The venue was only available during the second and third weekends in August, however, so Harrison said organizers selected the Aug. 11-13 dates because the Telluride Mushroom Festival occurs the following weekend.
“You can’t do this thing any other time of year, obviously,” Harrison said. “Mushrooms are around a certain time of year and the first couple weeks of August are always the safest bet for when we’re going to see mushrooms.”
In anticipation of the event, coordinators made arrangements of which they have now backed out. The festival’s caterer, speakers and foray leaders were already in place when Harrison and other festival organizers were informed of the Block Party date changes.
“What happened is, I got an email saying the Block Party is the 11th through the 13th. So, this was of course news to us,” Harrison said.
Following the news, Harrison said he and other festival organizers had to do some evaluating. The organizers analyzed what possible effects the Block Party’s simultaneous existence with the Mushroom Festival would have.
“We don’t know what this is going to mean for the Mushroom Festival. Is it possible that we have totally separate demographics and everybody who would’ve gone to the Mushroom Festival would still go even with the Block Party? That certainly is a possibility,” Harrison said.
However, he said that even with full attendance at both events, the demographic of people who want to attend the festival may not want to endure all that comes along with also having the Block Party in town. Crowds, loud music, traffic and limited hotel availability are all concerns attendees would have, Harrison said.
Harrison said Ted Wenninger with Ramble Presents, the organizer of the Block Party, spoke with him about ways to make the two events work within the same weekend.
“I certainly don’t fault Ted for setting his plan without consulting us,” Harrison said. “I mean, he needs to do what he needs to do.”
Wenninger presented possibilities to coordinate the two events with comarketing and other forms of cooperation, Harrison said. However, with logistics getting complicated, he said the Mushroom Festival coordinators did not explore those options in much detail.
“(Block Party) threw enough unknowns into our already challenging decision-making logistical process that we just said, we’re not willing to take the risk,” Harrison said. “I’m not willing to take the risk that if I line up a number of people who I make monetary commitments to and time commitments to and at the end of the day say, ‘I’m sorry, we did not sell tickets because all the air got sucked out of the room by the Block Party,'”
The decision to cancel the Mushroom Festival came down to risk tolerance, Harrison said. The organizers were not willing to take the risk of not being able to meet the expectations of and support those helping with the festival.
Just because there will be no Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food festival in 2023, Harrison said that does not mean Eagle Mushroom Festivals are off. He said that there have been other years the festival just couldn’t happen.
“There were years when Tom couldn’t pull it off and so there have been gaps over the course of the last 15 years,” Harrison said. “By no means does this mean that (the festival) is never coming back. It means there’s a little more planning and coordination that would be helpful before the (2024) festival.”
Looking forward to 2024, festival coordinators will need to communicate with Block Party promotors to make sure the events can both occur during the summer, Harrison said.
The cancellation of the 2023 festival is disappointing for many, including major sponsors like Knapp’s Harvest, Keller Williams and the Town of Eagle, as well as avid attendees and those who simply wanted to learn about mushrooms. However, Harrison said there are still ways people can enjoy mushrooms and their magic in the upcoming summer.
Those still dead set on attending a mushroom festival can attend the Telluride Mushroom Festival, a bigger yet more expensive festival occurring Aug. 18-20 tentatively. However, Harrison explained that the vibe of the Telluride festival differs from Eagle’s Mushroom and Wild Food Festival.
“We deliberately tried to keep ours a little more low-key, a little less expensive, maybe more accessible and affordable for people who just want to learn about mushrooms and really don’t have a lot of money to spend.”
A more inexpensive way to learn about mushrooms in 2023 is through self-guided forays, Harrison said. With a Free Use Mushroom Permit available through the Forest Service, anyone can take to the woods and search for and harvest mushrooms.
“Do some exploring, obviously you need to be very careful about anything you consume, but you certainly can learn a lot,” Harrison said. “There are several different species in Colorado that are relatively easy to identify that are delicious, but of course, you have to know what you’re doing.”
Harrison recommended that amateur mushroom foragers consult an expert before consuming what they find in order to avoid potential poisoning.
“It’s a magical and buried and unpredictable world, which is one of the reasons it’s so interesting,” Harrison said.
While learning on one’s own can be exciting, Harrison said he hopes that in 2024, the community can learn about mushrooms together again at the Eagle Mushroom and Wild Food Festival.
“I’m disappointed that we can’t have the event not only for the individuals involved, but you know, for the many people who did support us, but it’s not going to happen.”