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Concerts and community mark Independence Day at Evergreen Lake

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By Stephen Knapp

Last Friday, as proud citizens from sea to shining sea gathered in backyards, town squares and city parks to honor the vast, sovereign community that is America, hundreds of local patriots celebrated the liberty-loving slice of it that is Evergreen by toasting the Republic with smiles, suds and Sousa at the Evergreen Music Festival’s star-spangled Fourth of July at the Lake.

“You can hang out, eat some barbecue, listen to great, traditional music and meet your neighbors,” said the event’s red-blooded organizer, Kit Darrow. “It’s the best of small-town America.”

And it’s a well-known fact that small-town America is never better than at the cloudless start of a three-day weekend with brats on the grill, a brass band on the lawn, and the Stars and Stripes waving from countless shirts, hats, pinwheels and children’s dimpled cheeks.

“I run into somebody I know about every three steps,” laughed Mark Footer, enjoying the relative cool of the Lake House while his three boys sampled amusements suited to younger compatriots. “It’s driving my wife crazy.”

Crazy in a good way, he probably meant, but then Evergreen Lake teemed with what some might call eccentric behavior. Normally productive citizens lounged about on blankets and lawn chairs, saying no to e-mails, errands and industry and yes to another hamburger and a catnap. Companies of seniors armed with folding furniture and the wisdom of age arrived early to stake their claims in shady precinct beneath the great band pavilion, spending quiet intervals between performances in curiously youthful chatter. Perhaps strangest of all, kids accustomed to myriad electronic diversions seemed perfectly content to tumble on the grass, climb everything in sight and listen to songs that were old when their grandparents were young.

The day’s musical program kicked off at 11:30 with a rousing assortment of traditional American favorites and thunderous contemporary selections courtesy of the longtime festival favorite Denver Brass, followed in close order by the magnificent sound and motion of the Rocky Mountain Highland Dancers accompanied by Celtic Colorado Bagpipe & Drums.

“The Denver Brass play all over the place, but they don’t get an audience like the one they get here,” said Hanna Holt who, with her husband, Al, founded the Evergreen Music Festival organization in 1990. “This setting is so perfect. I don’t think you’ll find anything like this anywhere else in Colorado.”

“This is so much better than doing something down below,” said Scott Messler, relaxing with his family beneath an expansive sun-fly. “You’ve got the mountains, the wide-open spaces, and no congestion. It’s great to be able to celebrate the Fourth in your own community.”

One could even call it a national tradition, and few days on the American calendar carry a heavier freight of tradition than July 4. But traditions vary from town to town and, in Evergreen, it just wouldn’t be Independence Day without an earth-shaking keynote by Colorado’s own musical treasure, the National Repertory Orchestra.

“Most people don’t know that the NRO started right here 49 years ago as the Bluejeans Orchestra,” said Darrow, strolling past a long row of red, white and blue pinwheels spinning in the warm breeze. “They were started by Evergreen people, and having them play here on the Fourth of July is an Evergreen tradition.”

Indeed, though the now-prominent ensemble eventually forsook its Marshdale quarters for new digs in Breckenridge, it never abandoned the old neighborhood. The Holts had barely conceived the idea of a local music festival before they were on the phone persuading NRO music director Carl Topilow to make Evergreen a regular summer gig. Happily, he didn’t take a whole lot of persuading.

“My beginnings with the NRO were right here,” said Topilow, who’s logged 31 years with the orchestra. “Coming back here is always very special to me. We’re here to have fun, to entertain, and to enjoy the Fourth of July.”

These days, Fourth of July at the Lake is a cooperative effort by the Evergreen Park and Recreation District, the Evergreen Recreation and Park Foundation and the Evergreen Music Festival — a fortunate alliance that could yield year-round benefits well into the future. Proceeds from 2008’s sunny celebration, for example, will help buy benches for Buchanan Park. But if future generations are to hear trumpet and tympani ring out at Evergreen Lake, local music lovers must step up to the podium.

“Right now, the foundation and the festival are a lot of the same people,” explained Tom Hushen, currently wearing both hats. “It’s working OK for now, but we’re looking to replace ourselves. We really need some people who love classical music to step in and take over the Evergreen Music Festival and keep it going.”

Maybe some people like David and Jennifer Carlton and their son, Gabriel, or Charles and Margie Shapiro. The likely quintet had found a shady spot among low trees about 200 feet west of the pavilion — close enough to hear the music clearly and far enough away to visit comfortably. Relatively new to town, the Carltons and Shapiros aren’t yet up to speed on every local tradition, but there’s at least one they’ll be sure to observe from now on.

“This is great,” said Charles, just as the orchestra launched into the first full-throated chords of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “We moved here from D.C., and there you have 150,000 strangers crowded together in a park. It can be a bit much.”

“Here, you keep bumping into people you know,” David agreed. “It’s more of a small-town feeling. It’s why we moved here.”

The Footer clan grabbed a grassy piece of their small town a little closer to the action. Sporting matching firecrackers painted on their 4-year-old faces, twins Max and Nate Footer couldn’t seem to decide whether to sing along with the music or stomp along to it. Like the true patriots they are, they wound up doing both.

“In my mind, this is a really meaningful way to spend the holiday,” observed their dad. “It’s the most traditional Fourth of July you could ask for.”

To learn more about the Evergreen Music Festival, visit www.evergreenmusicfestival.org.