Star-studded Campfire a well-kept secret, for better or worse

A day after Campfire ended, Academy Award- winner Reese Witherspoon posted on Facebook a photo of herself with her son on the Plaza.

What do some of the top writers, producers, directors, actors, creative thinkers, scientists, civic and philanthropic leaders do when they come to Santa Fe for a few days every October? Unplug.

That’s one of the requirements that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos places on the invitees to his annual Campfire, a Chautauqua-like gathering where the chosen come and engage in discussions on current and future trends.

“The campfire guest list, sessions and activities are all off-the-record. Please refrain from blogging, tweeting, or public posting of any fashion,” reads the handout from Bezos and other organizers.



For the past several years, Campfire was held at the secluded Bishop’s Lodge Resort and Spa, but since that facility is temporarily closed for major renovation, the 65 invitees settled Oct. 1-4 at La Posada de Santa Fe, 330 E. Palace Ave.

Even though La Posada is just a few blocks from the Plaza, its walled compound and casitas are pretty secluded — not counting the old family ghost that supposedly haunts the place.

For local business and tourism boosters, the event is a mixed blessing. For one, it shows that dozens of very important people can gather in Santa Fe with a veil of privacy and not very much national media attention, unlike other events in places such as Jackson Hole that have become media ensconced.

That is a positive for convention marketers hoping to attract more groups that value privacy.

But imagine the incredible boost Santa Fe would receive if some of the Campfire 2015 guests were able to share their images and experiences in Santa Fe — especially during what was a picture-perfect end-of-summer week that included the start of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

This year’s Campfire list of invitees included (unsure who among them attended) T. Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Billy Crystal, Michael J. Fox, John Hodgman, Ron Howard, Erica Jong, Keegan-Michael Key, Lawrence Kasdan, Cyndi Lauper, Dikembe Mutombo, Julianne Moore, Adm. Bill Owens, Charlie Rose, Jill Soloway, Diane von Furstenberg, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Woodward, a member of the Iraqi Parliament and Reese Witherspoon, to name a few.

For the most part, the assemblage did abide by the guidelines, and there is very little social media about Campfire 2015.

So imagine how giddy local tourism boosters were when Academy Award-winner Witherspoon — a day after Campfire ended — posted a Facebook photo of herself in jeans, plaid shirt, cowboy boots, sunglasses and a hat, standing just off the Plaza in front of the portal at the Palace of the Governors.

She had her adorable young son in tow and was apparently staying over for a few extra days of leisure with her husband and their three children: “Just us outlaws makin’ our mark in #santafe …” she wrote on the post, adding #johnwayneintraining #newmexico.

Among the comments: “Thank you for stopping by our gallery, glad you found us while our Dr. Seuss show is up” from the Chuck Jones Gallery; “Welcome to Santa Fe, you gotta try the red chile at Tomasita’s;” “Come see me at Geronimo, I will cook for you” from chef Eric Distefano; “Another Nashville girl in New Mexico;” “stop in Albuquerque for Balloon Fiesta;” “Santa Fe is one of my all-time favorite places.” “Shop for Christmas presents right there behind you.” “Love our Reese, So excited to see you in NM.”

The Witherspoon post was a genuine moment, no million-dollar marketing campaign needed.

It even drew the attention of a group of film executives who said one way to further encourage the industry in Santa Fe would be to get more known actors to share their experiences here, something that Nick Nolte did when he was filming Graves, a 10-part TV series, on the Plaza last week.

The producer relayed Nolte’s comment about his morning to a New Mexican reporter, “How much better can we have it than to be sitting in the Plaza in Santa Fe?”

The only other rumor to sneak out from the Campfire gathering was from another La Posada patron who apparently saw Bezos and assumed he was there as the new owner of the property, a fact quickly denied by Joseph C. Smith, head of the investment group 1754 Properties that purchased La Posada in 2014.

“We have no intention to sell. I’m not sure where these rumors are coming from,” Smith told The New Mexican after the Bezos sighting.

Contact Bruce Krasnow at brucek@ sfnewmexican.com.

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