By Doris Gray
If you’ve heard the name, you may think the spelling would be Christa Monroe, but she has a unique spelling in both first and last names: Crista Munro. Crista is featured here because of the great work she has done in Colorado bluegrass. Let’s get to know her!
Pow’r Pickin’: This year, you will be hosting the 13th Annual Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival in June and the 23rd Annual Four Corners Folk Festival over Labor Day Weekend. Are you the original founder of these two festivals? How did they come about?
Crista Munro: My husband, Dan Appenzeller, and I were among the original group of people who began meeting in 1994 to talk about starting a music festival in Pagosa Springs, though we weren’t yet married or even dating. There were about a dozen of us back then; some were musicians, some just lovers of music.
At the time, our now world-famous hot springs facility was in the infancy of its development (4 above-ground plastic Jacuzzi tubs, really!) and the main draw to town was skiing in the winter at Wolf Creek and hunting in the fall.
We wanted to put Pagosa Springs on the map for a whole different reason. Eventually, the reality of the workload of starting an event took its toll and the group shrunk down to a couple of hardcore dedicated people, including us.
We raised money for two years so we’d have seed money for the first event and studied other festivals to help us pin down our own vision. It’s funny to look back and realize we did it all without the Internet!
The first festival took place in 1996 with a pretty amazing lineup including John Hartford, John McEuen and Nickel Creek—though they were barely teenagers at the time!
PP: Tell us what the average attendance is at your festivals and about the overall ambiance or “feel” that the crowd provides.
CM: Our festivals are small-to-midsize. The June event, Pagosa Folk ‘N Bluegrass, has been drawing about 2000 people a day and Four Corners about twice that.
Our festival home, 130-acre Reservoir Hill, allows people to spread out enough that it never feels too crowded; people are often hanging at their campsites, attending a workshop or checking out vendors. The camping on Reservoir Hill is quite legendary.
The campgrounds are shaded by majestic ponderosa pines, and the Town of Pagosa Springs recently partnered with a couple of local environmental groups to carry out some major forest health initiatives, opening up a lot more flat areas for camping. The hill itself is located in the heart of downtown, but feels like a National Forest and offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains.
PP: You also host the Pagosa Bluegrass Jam Camp in conjunction with the June festival. Has it traditionally been well attended by both adults and kids? What do students report to you about their experience?
CM: Jam Camp has been great fun! We started out with a bluegrass camp for kids back in 2008 but the parents were quickly asking about a camp for them as well. Mike Finders from FY5 reached out and offered to run a Jam Camp for us similar to one they’ve been teaching at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The timing was perfect, and we’ve been doing that one since 2010.
Both camps typically hit maximum capacity with a waiting list, though we do have room in both at the time I’m writing this. The students love the instruction, and the other thing we hear is that it’s great to get there before the festival and enjoy a relatively quiet time on Reservoir Hill. Participants also love that they can just stay on in their camp spot through the festival without waiting in line.
We have MANY returning folks every year and it’s been a nice way for festival staff to get to know some of our folks on a deeper level, outside of the craziness of running a festival.
PP: Your role and overall impact in Colorado bluegrass is very much appreciated. But what do we know about you? Do you live in Pagosa? Tell us about your immediate family situation.
CM: Dan and I were married on Reservoir Hill in October 1996, about one month after the first Four Corners Folk Festival took place. We raised our son Elias in Pagosa Springs until 2011, when severe health issues forced us to move to lower ground.
People that know us are familiar with Dan’s bout with esophageal cancer in 2004 and the devastating after effects of the chemo and radiation treatment that cured him. If ever we knew what an amazing community the festival had built it was then, when people we had barely known stepped in to make sure everything got done.
Over the years following Dan’s treatment, it became apparent that high and dry living was not possible for him anymore so we made the difficult decision to relocate our family to Eugene, Oregon, after 20 beautiful years in Pagosa Springs. I still spend a good bit of the summer in Pagosa Springs running the festivals, but we are able to take care of everything remotely in the off season through an amazing seasonal staff on the ground in Colorado and the miracle of the Internet.
PP: When did you first experience bluegrass music and find your passion for it?
CM: My first exposure to bluegrass was Old & In The Way back in the early ‘90s. I know I’m not the only person that came to bluegrass via Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead! I became a huge fan of Vassar Clements and Peter Rowan from there, then Dave Grisman and Grateful Dawg.
Dan and I initially met when he came into my copy shop to make flyers for his bluegrass radio show on our local radio station at the time, KPAG. I started listening to his show and got turned on to Tony Rice, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tim & Mollie O’Brien… so much great music.
PP: Where were you raised and, if not a Colorado native, when did you get here? And what brought you to Colorado?
CM: I grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and moved to Pagosa Springs in May of 1991, shortly after graduating from college. I had a unique job that sent me out on the road from coast to coast, north to south, and I was instantly drawn to the West. The mountains and people of Southwest Colorado felt like home and I decided to try to make a go of it there, rather than go the traditional corporate job route back east. It was one of the best decisions of my life!
PP: Tell us about your upbringing and the early influences that make you the person you are today.
CM: I was raised by a single mom who LOVES music. She had a decent record collection, and my brother and I would come home from school and put some Beatles or Chicago or Three Dog Night on the giant, wooden Sylvania cabinet stereo. We listened to Kasey Kasem religiously every week.
Growing up, I spent a lot of my babysitting money on 45s, mostly pop songs. I would say that my musical taste has definitely expanded over the years, but a love of music was instilled at a young age.
PP: Are you a musician? If so, what instruments do you play? Tell us about your level of active playing and/or performing.
CM: I am not. I used to play around on my grandmother’s piano, but I never took lessons. I channel my passion for music into facilitating it and being a supporter of the arts.
PP: What wisdom might you offer anyone interested in establishing a new festival?
CM: Be clear on your motivation for starting a festival and desired outcome. Surround yourself with good people.
PP: Finally, tell us your background in the workplace. And what hobbies do you enjoy today?
CM: My background is in communication and marketing, both of which were super helpful skills to have for starting and running a festival.
I love hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding, though I haven’t done that last one in Oregon yet, because once you’ve boarded in Wolf Creek powder, what’s the point?
I’ve been making jewelry for 25 years, mostly for friends and family, but I do have a shop on Etsy that keeps me busy over the holiday season. I also volunteer with a homeless shelter during the winter months in Eugene.
Thank you, Crista, for taking the time for our readers to get to know you and to tell us about the history of your festivals. Readers, you can learn more about the festivals at Folkwest.com. You may contact her by email at email@example.com or phone 877-472-4672.