The group of artists, inventors and creatives known as the Jenkstars goes back to 2007 with Scotty “Soltronic” Whitaker and his mobile solar-powered generator, Saucey, the Solar Saucer, which generates energy for the Building Man event. At Building Man SLAM (Sustainable Living Arts & Music Festival)—inspired by Burning Man—family, friends and community members (400 to 500 people total) gather in the desert for sustainable building workshops, yoga, art, music, healing and a sense of connectedness not often found in the day-to-day. The Jenkstars are raising funds to turn the Jenkstar Ranch in Green River into a year-round community center to promote and practice sustainable living. Local artists and fellow Jenkstars Prescott McCarthy and Kelly Lovell are helping the sixth-annual Building Man, May 8 to 11, come to life at the ranch. Those interested can check out the group’s Kickstarter campaign or buy Building Man tickets at Jenkstar.com.
What happens to the structures erected during the festival once it’s over?
Prescott McCarthy: For the most part, the buildings that we’re building down there are permanent. They’re up and now they’re gonna stay up. The saloon, which is our touring structure, comes down and goes on the road with us. But for the most part, that’s the exciting concept behind this whole event. It has more purpose than just going out and having a fun weekend. We’re actually creating something. Each year, it progresses more and more, and you see the progression. For festival-goers to come and be part of it is really special for them to know “I’m a part of creating this”—not just when it’s done, being like, “Oh, that was fun,” and then that’s it.
How else are you different from Burning Man?
P.M.: I don’t go to the Burn anymore because I don’t need to. We’ve kind of taken that inspiration, which is amazing, and we’re trying to bring it year-round into the world. We’re trying to raise money to build a community-center lodge. Its location is perfect, on I-70 between Colorado and Vegas and right in the heart of Utah and Moab and Boulder. So much is right there. It’s such a thoroughfare. People could stop in and go see this amazing art garden where you can have some organic salad and some coffee, and then maybe each weekend or monthly or bimonthly—however it happens—there could be different people coming in and doing lectures and workshops and teaching primitive skills and earth-building.
We’re doing lots of permaculture to the ranch so that we can actually grow food down there. I mean, we’re in Green River—this is, like, one of the watermelon-growing capitals of the world, and so the potential to grow is there.
What is your favorite Building Man activity?
Kelly Lovell: The shenanigans are fun—like the Olympics and kickball—and then we also kind of do daily our own shenanigans. They’re always really silly. The Red Tent last year made a big impression on me. I’ve always been involved with the healing arts to some degree, but it was way bigger than we expected. Our teepee was full—completely packed with women. Just watching these different generations of ladies interact and talk really openly in a sacred and safe space was beautiful. We had a talking stick. It wasn’t a slam fest, it wasn’t a bitch fest. It was kind of just more general, you know, issues that we have as women. It was really, really productive.
P.M.: My favorite event there is the potluck dinner. It’s just so family.
With all the different offerings at this event, do you run out of energy?
P.M.: You would think that the way we do it—which is wake up, do yoga, go to a workshop, learn primitive skills, go to a building workshop, use your hands and labor in the sun for hours, then go to the beach, then go do the Jenkstar Olympics or be part of one of these funny, playful events, and then we have this huge meal—you think you’d be ready for bed or something. But we found that it’s the complete opposite and the energy just builds. And when you have all that togetherness throughout the day, the evening just becomes so special. Come Sunday, I’ll usually, like, pass out.
Burning Man has 10 principles. What do you strive toward?
K.L.: We encourage participation, we try to be a leave-no-trace event, and then, obviously, you know, promoting sustainability using solar power. It’s just kind of right there in your face. That’s how we’re doing it.
P.M.: It’s born from The Burn in concept and feel. It’s about creating interactive art, it’s about connections between people, it’s about beauty and pure happiness and having fun, and I’m sure that we probably follow all 10 of those principles. … It’s a continual growth as opposed to all this energy going into something and then having it disappear. It’s gaining momentum for this future art garden or creative oasis in the desert, so to say.
How will you promote sustainable living during this festival?
P.M.: Well, aside from the entire event being powered off of solar and showing people that it’s not out of reach, you know, this is how it’s done, we’re collecting solar energy in the middle of the desert with our funny rigs. You can do it on your house or on your mobile rig. As well with the workshops. By the end of the pizza workshop, everybody will know how to build a pizza oven, and really the greater idea of how you could build something larger, like an actual structure. Our other build project, which is the base for a dome, is a sandbag structure, so people are gonna learn that.
Is this event for those who are kids at heart?
P.M.: Our child energy definitely exists and comes out at these things. And then there’s the actual child energy. It’s almost become this simultaneous event that’s happening alongside ours, Coyote Camp, the kids camp.
K.L.: Yeah, one of the art cars that comes down to join us is the Jellyfish 12,000. They’re a different group of people that are also just so amazing and creative. The art car is really cool and plays music, and they throw a little kids party on one of the nights. There’s like a kids band and a daddy/daughter DJ duo. It’s just so precious. I wanna ditch out on our party and go over there.
Do people have to bring their own tent?
P.M.: Yeah, it’s camping. I mean, there are hotels in town if you wanna do that, but really, you don’t wanna do that. You wanna come camp in the beautiful desert or at the foothill of the amazing, gorgeous plateaus at the start of Tusher Canyon, which is a gorgeous canyon. Every day, we go to the beach, so that’s probably what we should talk about. The beach is like a mile away—an amazing sand beach.
What kind of music does the event attract?
P.M.: It is a mix of live music and DJs, so it definitely has the dance music. Electronic music is happening. In the past we’ve had Stonefed and Marinade and Dark Seas—these are all local Utah bands. We usually book one or two headliners from out of state—usually DJs. All weekend long, there’s the campfire going, so there’s campfire chats and jam sessions. We haven’t had any bluegrass yet, but I would love to see that happen.
How do you raise funds?
P.M.: It’s all been self-funded. It’s basically us putting in a lot of work and a lot of time for free and donating our lives to this project for the time being. We’ve come to a point where we’re ready to do bigger things either by getting investors or by asking the public to help us do this, because it’s making a difference and it’s really awesome. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
What’s your job when you’re not doing Building Man?
P.M.: If you cannot have a job, then you have all the time in the world to make money. That’s the way I think about it. I am self-employed. The summer is pretty much swamped with our events and then going to festivals. But I make jewelry, I make art, I make T-shirts. All the Jenkstars are kind of in that same boat. We’re like this collective of artists that kind of does a lot of things. And it all cross-blends. We all team up on certain projects. Tanner Rosenthal is one of the Jenkstars. Panda Poles is his company—it’s a bamboo ski-pole company. Frugal L.L. and Clark Treese make wooden bowties. My girlfriend, Mieka May Ginsburg, has Le Boustique, which is a 1961 bus that she converted into a mobile store, a little boutique that sells all clothes that are made by her or a group of designer friends. The policy there is “no new new,” so it’s like all the clothing is built from scrap fabric or refurbished, renovated wears. We do a lot of different cool things.