Sierra Institute set to bring back the Solar Cook-Off
Towards the end of next summer, Taylorsville Campground will once again be home to familiar sites and sounds. Solar ovens outside tents in the campgrounds, dancers letting loose in front of the stage, people hanging out in camp chairs bobbing their heads to the music and awaiting the next band, and visitors learning about solar energy in a booth nearby. After an eight-year hiatus, the Solar Cook-Off is back.
The 2.0 version of the Solar Cook-Off is beginning to take shape with its new event sponsors — Taylorsville’s own Sierra Institute putting on the event as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Aug. 22, 2020.
The original Blackhawk Solar Cook-Off had a 20-year run — beginning in 1992 as an event mid-summer at the Genesee Store. The event had such a large attendance that event creator Bill Rockett and then district supervisor and Genesee Store owner Robert Meacher immediately knew that the following year had to have a new venue — the Taylorsville Rodeo grounds.
It didn’t take long before organizers started looking at the campground across the street — originally where the event’s overflow camping went and decided to make the Taylorsville Campground home for the event.
It became a Plumas Arts-sponsored event and a Saturday night concert at the Taylorsville Grange Hall (now the Historic Hall).
The cook-off grew up alongside the High Sierra Music Festival, which took up the first weekend of July with the cook-off taking the following week.
“It was exhausting,” said Rockett of having the two music events back to back. Originally, too, the Solar Cook-Off was a multiple day campout event.
The idea for the event began after Rockett took a solar cooking class in Los Angeles in the 1980s. He bought a solar oven then starting carrying them in his business and began hearing about solar potlucks in New Mexico. Friend Bob Meacher thought about bringing that potluck idea to his district.
“Ovens were purposefully non structured. People kept the ovens in their campsites. Unstructured. Ovens were often put by the river. We were understaffed and all volunteer — we didn’t make rules,” said Rockett.
California environmental health rules don’t allow for the selling of solar cooked meals so, people cooked their own potluck-style instead.
“We cooked for the bands and fed them at Jeff Glover’s house,” said Rockett.
And they promoted solar products — from the ovens to solar panels for cabins and remote properties. It wasn’t just about music.
However, from the very inception of a “solar potluck,” music was involved. The first year, music was playing on the back of a flatbed truck; the next year on a trailer. Eventually a stage (now in storage these last eight years) was built and a giant parachute hung above it for shade.
Bill and Mel Rockett also have ties to the Reno Blues Society where lots of people wanted to participate. It wasn’t strictly blues bands that played.
“We had zydeco, rockabilly, all kinds of music,” said Mel Rockett. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We are excited to have it back for the community. People outside were wanting to take it over but we wanted it to be local to Taylorsville,” she continued.
The new Solar Cook-Off will take place on one Saturday, Aug. 22 — the last weekend before local schools head back and after the county fair ends.
Since the last Solar Cook-Off, many people have approached Bill and Mel Rockett and Plumas Arts about it — everything from taking it over to wanting to make sure their bands played if it ever came back. Entities outside the county saw opportunity in the popular event. It originally closed down in 2012 because the organizer were worn out after the 20-year run.
Both the Rocketts and Plumas Arts Executive Director Roxanne Valladao felt strongly that if the Solar Cook-Off ever came back it had to be a homegrown Taylorsville entity that would take it over. Sierra Institute’s mission and their staff of young people feel like a great fit and the most appropriate group to resurrect the event.
At the beginning of the summer, fans of the event saw a group posting online — Sierra Institute’s Director Of Development Moorea Stout was in talks with the Rocketts about taking over the event.
Sierra Institute in 2018 had retired its end of the year fundraiser, the Round Valley Run, which wasn’t yielding what they needed and they were looking around for another way to raise income for their youth programming.
For Bill Rockett, this was the perfect fit he was looking for to pass the torch.
“We only ever had volunteers — they have a staff with young people!” Rockett said.
Valladao at Plumas Arts echoes these sentiments. “We are all retirement age. It’s great to see younger generations get involved. The event will evolve into what they need it to be.”
For its part, Plumas Arts will support Sierra Institute’s production of the Solar Cook-Off with both marketing of the event and on-site assistance on the day of the event.
Sierra Institute is looking beyond its own staff to a core group of volunteers from Indian Valley that want to see this happen again.
So far it’s going to be a one-day event at the Taylorsville Campground with information booths and the solar ovens and lots of music. Where it goes from there depends on who gets involved and where they want to take it.