Shroom on

Though unmasked group celebrations will of course not be part of this year's festival, the 40th annual Telluride Mushroom Festival will go virtual, August 10-16. Longtime mushroom enthusiast, poet and former San Miguel County Commissioner Art “Shroompa” Goodtimes is pictured at left. (Planet file photo)

If the theme of this year were “turning lemons into lemonade,” then perhaps for a mycophile it would be something like “from a cow pie rises the mushroom.” True to the optimistic spirit of many mushroom lovers, the organizers of the Telluride Mushroom Festival have taken the proverbial cow pie of a year, which saw the cancellation of countless festivals, and produced not just a mushroom, but an entire mushroom festival. This year, the 40th annual Telluride Mushroom Festival will take place virtually from August 10-16, in addition to a handful of small, socially-distanced forays and events.

“I'm actually excited to try a virtual festival,” said Dr. Britt Bunyard, the festival’s executive director. “While it's no substitute for being here in person, of course, it is a way for attendees to learn lots about fungi from experts and standouts in their field.”

Though adding an online dimension to the festival has long been discussed by organizers, Dr. Bunyard explained, seeing it come to fruition this year provides an opportunity for mycophiles around the world to join in the learning without the expense and difficulty of traveling all the way to the remote box canyon.

“With a virtual presence, hopefully every year, we can bridge that distance and allow so many more people to be a part of this event,” he said.

For $75, participants can purchase an all-access pass to the virtual festival, which has expanded from the usual four days to a one-week span to allow ample time to partake in the many online offerings of both pre-recorded and live talks and events. Mycologists will deliver enlightening talks on subjects ranging from the role of fungi in ecological restoration to psychedelic medical research, while poets, chefs and artists will provide mushroom-themed events to get the creative and culinary juices flowing. In addition, three free in-person events including an author book talk, a foray and “mushrooms 101 and 202” talks will be open to the public thanks to a collaboration with the Wilkinson Public Library, Between the Covers and Telluride Arts.

“We are truly excited to offer this magical evening,” said Festival Operations Manager Ashley Coady Smith of the author talk, which will take place at the Transfer Warehouse with public health guidelines in place. “During these hard times our community has really banded together to keep the spirit of our town alive,” she said, expressing gratitude for the collaboration to create free opportunities for community participation.

While many people may be familiar with the likes of portabello burgers or the classic image of the fairytale toadstool, mushrooms go far beyond the standard culinary applications or folklore, according to local mycophile and the festival’s operations and virtual platform coordinator Matt Guertin.

“Mushrooms will soon be what CBD has become in the past few years,” he predicted. “Although mushrooms have been around for billions of years and used in Chinese traditional medicine for thousands of years, they're just now becoming more mainstream in Western culture. If not for fungi we would not have bread, beer, penicillin, or a livable earth — they are the main decomposers of organic matter back into soil. And oyster mushrooms have been shown to clean up oil spills and contaminated grounds from herbicides like glyphosate.”

Guertin credits his passion for fungi, and his health, to the lion’s mane mushroom, which he began taking as a supplement after suffering traumatic brain injuries over the course of his years as a football player.

“It was hard for me to articulate myself and think clearly,” he recalled. “I learned about how lion's mane mushrooms help regenerate brain neurons and the myelin connections between them. That was six years ago and I have the mushrooms to thank for my ability to think again.”

The festival, organizers say, has something for everyone, from the deeply nerdy to the slightly curious. Whether learning how to safely collect culinary mushrooms from surrounding forests or exploring fungi’s modern innovative uses, organizers encourage anyone with an interest to participate. Tickets and information can be found tellurideinstitute.org.

“We would love it if you joined us this year,” said Guertin. “Tickets are only $75 and they’ll go towards us having a festival for 2021. We need the community of Telluride to support us and this amazing festival that has been going on for 40 years — we hope to make it another 40!”