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Guest commentary: The economics of the Rainbow Family of Living Light

Patrick Brower
For Sky-Hi News
Some Rainbow Family members tied the knot at the Routt County Rainbow Gathering in 2006. They also had to have pumped some money into the local economy, says columnist Patrick Brower.
Sandra Salvas/Courtesy Photo

There’s a business angle to the imminent return of the Rainbow Family of Living Light to Grand County this summer.

Press reports and hearsay are stating that the Family is planning a 50-year reunion of its first gathering in Grand County, which took place in June and July of 1972. That gathering, which has also become known as the “Strawberry Festival” because much of it took place at Strawberry Bench, has achieved the status of near mythical folklore among the legends of Grand County’s past.

And now the Rainbow Family is coming back. As they say, past is prelude.



The gathering was resonant all over the state and the region. Remember, 1972 was a year that some would say was the peak of the Hippie Era in America. Yes, the sixties are known as the Hippie Decade, but it was the early seventies when hippie-dom in all its counter-cultural splendor really consumed the American consciousness.

Based on the press reaction and coverage I’ve seen this week, it still consumes the American and regional consciousness. The forest service is worried about permitting, local government is worried about the big crowds (if they even arrive in large numbers) and the world in general is freaked out, to coin a phrase from that era.



This pre-event freak-out isn’t dissimilar to what happened here 50 years ago.

The festival back then was billed as a Gathering of Peace, where the event-goers would participate in a 4,000-year-old peace dance (based on Native American traditions) with the spirits of the dead, all to be fulfilled at Lake Granby, coined as the “Center of the Universe.” A crowd would “omm” in unison at the given sunrise moment, and world peace would be enhanced.

At least that was the idea.

I get the impression that it was mostly a good-spirited and well-intentioned gathering that was all about peace, love and understanding. But the fear and anxiety news of the gathering made it seem like Attila the Hun had announced an impending invasion of the county.

Petitions were circulated, urging then-Governor John Love to stop the “hippie picnic. The so-called Universal Life Church Meeting of Peace.” People believed that 140,000 hippies would descend on the county. A total of 548 people signed the petition. The gathering was ultimately permitted, but with strict limitations on crowd sizes on public land and times of activities.

If it wasn’t for Granby local Paul Geisendorfer, who offered land his family owned in Granby and at Strawberry Bench (a private national forest inholding owned by his family) for the longer gatherings and camping, the Strawberry Festival might have been a colossal flop. But it wasn’t and it’s still talked about today, even without a reunion event.

Good for business? Yes. Once again, Grand County’s gotten lots of free publicity in regional and national news. You can’t buy that kind of viral exposure.

Will these “hippies” bring money to spend? Well, not all of them. But remember, the hippies of yesterday are in some cases the investment bankers, Silicon Valley millionaires and top-level bureaucrats of today. They just might bring money and they just might want to lease and use some of our abundant short-term rentals and condos.

We know that not all of these types will be rich, but they will come and enjoy our landscape, I hope, in a non-impactful way. We’ll see.

Perhaps local merchants can come up with Rainbow Family and Strawberry Festival themed merchandise. Tacky, I know, but it’s one idea.

And now I wonder about the infamous motorcycle gang “riot” and “celebration” that shut down Grand Lake for two days in early July of 1975. Will those gangs, seeing the Rainbow’s return, come back to re-live the crazy days of their youth?

It might not be bad, because Harley Davidson riders today are more likely to be orthodontists and business professionals than the rough-and-tumble gang members of yesteryear. Let’s start planning now!

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.


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