“Owning the Merc is a dream come true,” says Rainbow Shultz, who runs the historic Jamestown Mercantile—about a dozen miles northwest Boulder at 7,000 feet above sea level—with her husband, Adam Burrell. “I can’t imagine anything that could be more fun than this life, in the center of a community.”
The Mercantile, which serves food and drinks and live music, was established 130 years ago, when Jamestown was a thriving mining town. The population today is about 250, but on Independence Day each year the town buzzes and swells with social electricity for the annual Fourth of July festival, which most believe started over 100 years ago with feats-of-strength “mining events” such as a pick-and-shovel contest.
A Vermont native, Shultz took over the Mercantile 12 years ago, after the nearly simultaneous events of graduating with a master’s in social work and finding out she was pregnant sent adulthood into light speed. She had been working one day a week at the Mercantile during grad school and says, “It was always the best time I had all week.”
“I said to Joey [Howlett, the previous owner], ‘It looks like this would be an awesome place to raise kids—Do you just want to sell the Merc to me?’ and we decided to do it.”
Shultz describes the annual Fourth of July festival in “Jimtown” as the only time that she, Burrell, and the Merc’s lovable employees don’t have to play host—though Shultz does put the music element together.
“I just book the bands,” she explains, “because the bands have always called the Merc to ask if they can play, because I’m kind of the Jamestown point of contact. All the rest of the stuff, it’s the one day a year that the Merc’s not running the party. It’s all the volunteers in Jamestown who come to the Merc all year, then on the Fourth of July they run the party. They use the kitchen and the walk-in and the pots and pans, but we don’t do it. It’s all the volunteers who don’t work at the Merc who do it.”
For those who haven’t experienced a dawn-to-dawn Fourth of July festival in Jamestown, Karen DeVincenzo (co-organizer this year along with Rose Harmos-Holder) puts it this way:
“It starts with a pancake breakfast and music in the small park. Then there’s a parade, with a kazoo band that kind of leads everybody down to the big park. Everything happens there for the rest of the day and night.”
“Everything” includes local musicians that range from local singer-songwriters and pickup bands to Front Range stars that sell out venues like the Fox Theatre. It also includes quaint Americana, like a pie contest and a raucous wood-chopping tournament.
Like the incredible food at the Mercantile, which generally announces the daily options by writing them on a chalkboard outside, part of the magic of the July Fourth festival is that it’s a throwback to simpler times, when kids could roam wild and free, everybody knew your name, and a family friendly Independence Day meant the firing of anvil bombs.
“It’s the most controversial part of the Fourth of July,” Shultz jokes, “because everyone who has a dog is upset. The second their dogs hear it they run in one random direction forever. But then, the other half of the town finds it hilarious and charming, so luckily it continues.”
For the uninitiated, Shultz has an explanation.
“A lot of the old-timers own property up there on the mountain ridge behind Jamestown, if you’re looking up behind the Merc way up the hill, and in the ‘70s they used to shoot anvils every Fourth of July because it’s a tradition from the South. They take one anvil and then put a stick of dynamite down and then put another anvil, and then light it—and it blows 50 feet in the air. It makes the loudest noise you’ve ever heard, and has absolutely no purpose except to be really loud. I mean, you can hear it from a mile away.”
In recent years, someone with a megaphone has been shouting “Hide your kids and dogs!” before each anvil bomb goes off, signaling a small, progressive step for an old-timey mountain town.
Bringing in food trucks, stopping the bands to make the wood-cutting contest a bigger spectacle, and warning people about each anvil bomb are brand-new additions—but some things never change. For over 20 years, Jamestown native Kate Farmer has sung the national anthem at the Fourth of July festival. For longer than that, some hearty revelers have hung out by the bonfire playing acoustic renditions of well-known tunes until the sun comes up, while others camp along the creek.
DeVincenzo, originally from Massachusetts, has been living just above Jamestown for about 30 years and raised her son, Max, in the historic little community with her husband, Sal.
“Growing up here in the mountains is the best place ever, and Max loved it,” she says. “He loved every minute of it—climbing trees, hanging out with his friends, fishing in the lakes. As far as the Fourth, around 1994 we started a hiking group that would hike up from our house early morning on July Fourth through the woods along the creek to the Jamestown event and the pancake breakfast. We would park cars there the night before so that we wouldn’t have to hike back up afterward.”
“For several years I ran the pie contest, too,” DiVincenzo says. “I’m the Pie Lady. Last year I ended up helping a little bit organizing the festival, and I got my feet wet. It’s been great this year. I love it; I really do. I love talking to people and meeting people. I love making puzzles and this is a giant puzzle, putting all the pieces together. I love it when they snap into place.”
As someone who has played music at the festival numerous times, I can say that the mountain view from the stage might be the sweetest thing about the event, performing while watching the landscape and the people on a clear summer day in a place that’s perhaps more authentically Colorado than any other. However, it doesn’t mean much if you don’t get in the annual town photo.
“As far as the Jamestown Fourth of July photo,” Shultz notes, “I love that because it’s symbolic of our community. When you come into our town it looks like you’re in this very small, insular community but really the Jamestown community and the Merc community reach out so far that when you see everyone who gets together in that picture it might be a really close Jamestown friend who’s lived in Denver for 20 years, but it doesn’t matter because our community isn’t really geographic. It’s just a big family of fun people who like to be outdoors and be with each other.”