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Go On, Start Your Monkey Chant


A group of dreamers sat together on the raw earth with their feet in the dirt and their arms in the sky. They crooned and moved together as a community of monkey chanters. Eli Wolcott stood just outside them mimicking the motions, trying to learn everything he could about the dance. He was witnessing a bizarre act called “Monkey Chanting.”

But Wolcott never got the chance to learn why the group named the exercise after monkeys—the Dreamtime festival organizer was pulled away to make sure food arrived for the technicians, the backup bio-diesel generator was functional, and the stage was safe and ready to go for the aerial and fire performers.

Wolcott is always getting pulled between being a dreamer and being a manager during the four-day Dreamtime festival each July. Though he misses out on most of the actual events, Wolcott still appreciates he started this festival seven years ago: It nurtures a creative environment that explores sustainability, education, creativity, personal growth, health and community building.

In 2000, Wolcott was a dreamer mixing bio-diesel in his backyard. It struck him that there was a need for an annual event allowing people to escape their day-to-day life in a meaningful way. He and his friends picked their hometown of Paonia, located north of the serene North Fork River Valley about 150 miles southwest of Denver. Now 1,500 people share his vision each year.

The festival begins at the first rays of light with exercises such as sunrise yoga. The night usually doesn’t end until the raucous musical performers and fire spinners are finished just as the morning sun brims the edges of the valley. There are workshops and theme camps where people can learn how to mix bio-diesel and make solar ovens. Others simply hang out in the cuddle cavern. Almost everyone dresses in fantastic costumes. But it doesn’t matter how you dress, because if you aren’t in costume, “someone is likely to dress you up or face paint you,”
Wolcott says.

Participants create most of the events. Workshops have included lucid dreaming, poetry, mask making, poi and fire dancing, and activism.

Wolcott hopes that through all the workshops, performances and art instillations, the festival can reach out to individuals and the community. It’s easy to tell that the festival has already had a profound affect on participants. One Wolcott got to know well was a man who worked a 9-to-5 service job.

After the festival, he quit to become a hip-hop artist.

Wolcott too has transformed. He now looks at the practicality behind his dreams. He sits behind a desk, maps out budgets, reads design plans and applies for permits. Even though he keeps his feet firmly planted in logistics, he still accomplishes his dreams.

He gets to sees his community come together, learn and create because of the work he has done, even if he can’t always run off and monkey chant.

July 17-20, Paonia

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