Downpour of support

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, a New Paltz native, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo touring the damage on The Flats last week in New Paltz with farmer Peter Ferrante of Wallkill View Farm. (Photo by Dan Torres)

New Paltz was hard-hit by flooding from Hurricane Irene: Some farmers lost everything, while the crops of others have subsequently been affected by harmful bacteria bred and spread by the water, resulting in a failed harvest. The homes of many residents were severely damaged by the floodwaters. Lack of flood insurance has proven devastating to some; and even if victims did have the insurance, “The coverage is minimal in some cases,” noted Theresa Fall. “I know of one person whose coverage is only for covered sheetrock.”

Furthermore, not everyone who suffered significant damage has been able to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds, noted Fall. She said that people who had done any kind of repair before applying for FEMA, such as fixing a flooded driveway, were denied any kind of help. “I was born and raised here, and I’ve never seen anything like this in the past,” said Fall.

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But now help is on the way. Fall is a member of New Paltz Flood Aid, founded to help the farmers, families and first responders affected by the disaster. The organization, whose members include New Paltz mayor Jason West, is holding a two fundraisers in October: a potluck scheduled for Sunday, October 2 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Water Street Market, and a concert at Hasbrouck Park on October 16 from 12 noon to 6 p.m.

The potluck will have great food and offer a kind of preview of the concert on the 16th, with six bands performing (the Love Taps, Ratboy, Seth Davis, SnowBear, the Sweet Clementines and the Bubba Band). At least half a dozen local chefs, including Chad Greer of the Falcon in Marlboro, Larry Chu of the Gilded Otter, Ryan McClintoch of 36 Main and Joan Fall of Joanie’s Bistro Mountain Store, will be cooking up delicious comestibles. Attendees are encouraged to bring food as well. The suggested donation is $20, and there will be numerous raffles contributed by local businesses.

Fall said that donations or gift certificates for the raffle can be dropped off at the Mudd Puddle at the Water Street Market, the Antique Barn or Mixture. She said that so far the response has been heartening: “I’m very pleased with the number of people offering to volunteer and help out.” There will be a signup for volunteers to help the flood victims at the event, along with discounted tickets to the benefit concert (the $20 ticket will be available for $15). The potluck and concert will also be streamed live via webcast.

The headliner of the benefit concert on the 16th is Alexis P. Suter, whom music programmer Butch Dener termed “the best live band nobody knows.” The Brooklyn-based band was the opening act for Levon Helm’s Ramble for several years, and Suter does a gospel/blues show “that is just incredible,” according to Dener – not surprising, considering that Suter’s mother sang with Mahalia Jackson.

The concert will also feature a lineup of “Flood Aid All-Stars” consisting of musicians associated with the Band or Levon Helm: Steven Bernstein, a Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter who plays like a born rocker, according to Dener; Randy Ciarlante, “the second-best singer/drummer after Levon,” and Jim Wieder, of whom “there is no finer Telecaster guitar player,” both of whom were members of the Band in the 1990s, were born and raised in the Hudson Valley, and have been playing the clubs since the 1970s; and Byron Isaacs, another great musician who played with Helm and Ollabelle.

Also performing will be Larry Campbell, previously Bob Dylan’s guitar, fiddle and pedal steel player and producer of Helm’s Grammy Award-winning records, and his wife, Teresa Williams, a singer and guitar-player with roots in a Tennessee farm. Williams was part of a traveling show about the Carter Family, performing throughout the South and in New York City.

Some of the musicians have themselves been affected by the floodwaters: Hector Tajeda is a local farmer who lost all of his crops, and Bow Thayer, “an amazing good rocker who has recorded at Helm’s studio,” was flooded out of his home in New Hampshire, according to Dener.

Of the local bands, Connor Kennedy is a standout: “a scorching musician who plays like a 17-year-old Duane Allman,” said Dener. Also performing will be Ratboy, Jr., Mark Sager and the Black Horse Riders, the Trapps, Casey Erdman and Friends, the Greyhounds, Mr. Roper, Dziubecko and Patrick Carlin (brother of George).

Dener, who was the road manager for the Band and Helm, said that when he approached the associated musicians, the response was instant. “Every weekend, from strawberry season in June to the end of summer, I would bring local produce to the Rambles. When I told these folks that the peach or melon farmer is the person we’re going to help, they said, ‘When?’ or ‘Where?’’’ The impact on some of the farmers has been terrible, with at least three losing all of their crops, Dener noted. Unfortunately, the FEMA money only covers infrastructure, not the destroyed crops, so these farmers are forced to absorb an enormous loss.

Event organizer Judy Ness noted that some farmers will go under. Others won’t get back on their feet for several years. Plus, Ness said that at least 20 families on Huguenot Street had to be relocated and are still unable to return to their homes. Family of New Paltz is collecting household goods and clothing to help these people.

“There’s been nothing like this event in my memory,” said Dener, who has resided in New Paltz since 1968. He then evoked the Grateful Dead song “Shakedown Street,” which he said perfectly describes New Paltz’s response: “You hear Garcia saying, ‘Don’t me tell this town ain’t got no heart/You just got to poke around.’ We poked around and we got some people. Who make a change and do good for people and make a difference. Music is a healer.”

There are two tiers of tickets: $20 ($15 if purchased in advance from the October 2 potluck) general admission – bring a blanket or lawn chair for a place on the lawn – and $100 VIP, for seating in a tent set up directly in front of the stage; wine and hors d’oeuvres might be served. The general-admission tickets are discounted to $15 for students with ID and kids age 12 to 18; children under 12 get in free.

Ness said that sponsorships are also available, which range from $250 to $5,000; all include a banner and complimentary tickets. She said that the proceeds will be distributed by the New Paltz Community Foundation and Family of New Paltz, plus a third organization, which will distribute money to the first responders.

Besides the music, there will be vendors selling food and items like tee-shirts and hoodies. For more information, visit www.NewPaltzFloodAid.org.

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