Friday, June 27 is the kickoff of the third annual RockFire event in the historic abandoned granite quarries that are scattered throughout the hills of Websterville high above downtown Barre. RockFire is a unique experiential weekend event that combines art, music and fire on a monumental scale in the evocative setting of granite industry ruins known to locals as Millstone Hill.
Launched in 2012 by Pierre Couture who grew up on Millstone Hill, RockFire is a fundraiser for the Millstone Trails Association (MTA), a world-class 70-mile network of trails that span privately-owned land filled with historic quarries, including the farm that Couture grew up on and now owns.
“I spent my childhood in these quarries. The more I traveled as an adult, I’d come home and realize there’s nothing else anywhere like it,” he says.
Anytime any land came up for sale, he tried to buy it and preserve it. He is now one of the primary landowners on Millstone Hill alongside the Town of Barre and Rock of Ages. Couture wears many hats, including recreation trail enthusiast, historic quarry preservationist, owner of the Lodge at Millstone Hill and founding member of MTA. “It is a magical place,” he says of Millstone Hill. “I’ve been bringing people up there over the last twenty-five years and I can tell that it really affects people. That’s what we’re trying to preserve.”
According to Couture, RockFire’s primary purpose is to “celebrate the historical and cultural aspect of Millstone Hill” and not just the recreational opportunities. Well-known amongst mountain bikers and trail enthusiasts, the MTA’s trails were ranked the second best mountain biking network in New England by The Boston Globe in 2009 and one of the ten best new recreation centers in the country by Bike Magazine. Couture hopes to expand the variety of people experiencing Millstone Hill with RockFire and is planning for over 2,000 attendees.
On Saturday, June 28, there are various tours and tractor rides throughout the historic quarries. Then, at 7 p.m., there is a concert featuring local artist Bow Thayer and his band. RockFire kicks into high gear between 9:30 p.m. and midnight with an opening bagpipe fanfare and a two-mile-long “fire walk” around water-filled abandoned quarries and evocative quarry ruins. The pathway is lit with thousands of candles and luminaries and dozens of bonfires. Participants experience a variety of fire-lit art installations, as well as six live performance stages creating a moving audio-visual experience that culminates with a visit to the “Grand Lookout.”
This year, RockFire will also feature a live performance by the Iron Guild, a group of metallurgists, iron workers and people who pour iron for sculpture. Glenn Campbell, Iron Guild leader and owner of a metallurgy operation in Rutland, is bringing a performance of pouring metal to music in the dark. “You’ll be able to see the sparks fly and experience the impact of live art,” says Couture. The RockFire finale event is a “Sky Lantern Launch” at midnight.
According to Couture, RockFire and MTA are an important part of getting Barre back on its feet. “It’s a way of helping people realize the history of the granite industry as well as its future,” he says. “Historically, the quarries were all about industry; art in the way that we are thinking about it today was the last thing that was on their minds.” He contends that the idea of turning a dozen acres of clear cut piles of rock into a sculpture park could help bring people up to Barre and Millstone Hill. “The potential is quite amazing,” muses Couture. “The idea of wandering through the quarries and suddenly coming across a sculpted Greek warrior’s helmet is captivating.”
For the full schedule of RockFire events, visit www.rockfirevt.com. Advance tickets are available for purchase at the Millstone Hill Touring Center in Websterville and the Barre Opera House at 476-8188.