Downtown rocks at village’s 125th birthday party and Bon-Odori folk-dance celebration

Youko Yamamoto and David Daub perform heart sutra chanting at Sunday’s Bon Odori Dance Festival in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Village of New Paltz celebrated in high style this past Sunday, with the second annual Bon-Odori Japanese folk-dance celebration, and the village’s 125th anniversary bash drawing the community to the downtown for music, food, festivities, live demonstrations and dancing — all within a one-block area.

“The events went smoothly today,” said New Paltz Police chief Joe Snyder, who had a few dance moves himself when the ever-popular Alexis P. Suter Band called the police department out to dance at the 125th party. “There was no disorderly conduct, no problem with traffic flow or pedestrian flow and everyone had a great time. These are the types of events we like to see and to be a part of. Too bad we’re not in civilian clothes,” he joked. “But we’re proud to be here in uniform and ensure that a good time is had by all.”

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Although the Village Board had approved the closure of a portion of downtown Main Street and Church Street, the week before the festival, the New York State Department of Transportation denied the permit, and the village moved the event to the post office plaza after receiving permission from landlords of the plaza and Wells Fargo Bank. “I have to say, I think it’s been amazing,” said Julie Robbins, chairwoman of the Downtown Business Association (DBA). “When we learned that we couldn’t hold it on the Main Street, the entire committee pulled together, said, ‘It is what it is,’ and worked cooperatively to make the event as successful as it was today.”

For Robbins, what is most rewarding was not the party itself, but “that we’ve established a creative team that works together. We have the DBA, the police department, our village government, the Chamber all on the same team, working together now and in the future. This is the most important thing that’s come out of this for me.”

Vendors were happy, even though they had to move their location from Main Street to the post office parking lot. “We did really well today,” said Brock and Jed Kosiner, who run the hot dog stand at the entrance to the Water Street Market, but relocated for the day to the 125th celebration. “Rino’s Pizza did great with their wood-fired pizza,” said Kosiner. “We did well, and the cool thing was that the stage [emceed by Steve Casa, who booked all the bands] was constantly promoting local businesses and saying to support your local businesses. That was awesome.”

At both events, kids had their time to shine, doing various martial arts demonstrations.

Seven-year-old Kaitlyn Weinerman, second-level orange belt in Karate, joined the New Paltz Karate Academy in two exhibitions: one at the Bon-Odori festival at the Blueberry Patch and again at the 125th party. “It was a lot of fun to do the demonstrations and to be with my friends,” she said. “I also liked sitting at the booth, watching the other demonstrations and eating great food.”

Her mother Harmony said that it was great to see her daughter perform, and also to enjoy and learn more about the traditional Japanese Bon-Odori Festival, which brings family members closer to their ancestors and celebrates traditional Japanese folk dancing, drumming and singing.

“I was amazed by some of those martial arts performers,” said John O’Sullivan. “The Bon-Odori Festival is a real asset to New Paltz, as it just increases our cultural awareness and enjoyment.”

When asked about the significance of the Bon-Odori Festival and the 125th anniversary of the village, mayor Jason West harked back to his younger days as a Catholic schoolboy. “If you were raised Catholic, you will remember the uncomfortable moment when the priest said, ‘May peace be with you,’ and you were obliged to say, ‘And also with you.’ Yes, it’s uncomfortable; but what these events do, and what Flood Aid did, was to bring our 7,000 Village residents together and become acquaintances, neighbors, allies and not strangers. If we’re going to be able to face the incredible challenges that await us, like Hurricane Irene and more, we’re going to have to trust each other, build confidence, not be reactive but be proactive — which is one thing these events have done. You don’t have to be best friends, but you shake hands, say hi and realize we’re all part of the human condition and part of a village that needs to work toward greater goals.

“Yes, we’re the village that hosted gay marriages, planted reed-beds, put solar panels on top of Village Hall; and we have many more big things coming down the pike. But we need everyone to be open and willing to share in our government and our community and to listen to each other. We can’t do this alone. We need to foster community, and this is something that does that in a non-historic or law-passing way, but just a gathering of all kinds, united because we love and care about the future of New Paltz.”