New Paltz celebrates Independence Day

The grand finale at the New Paltz fireworks celebration at the Ulster County Fairgrounds last Saturday night. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

The grand finale at the New Paltz fireworks celebration at the Ulster County Fairgrounds last Saturday night. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

As the sun went down on the Ulster County Fairgrounds, families sat in the parking lot, tailgating in the back of SUVs and trucks, pulling cold drinks from big coolers. Their eyes were fixed at the sky. Above them was a clear, cloudless night, with Mars a pale red dot above the bright half-moon.

Inside the fairgrounds itself, more people sat on the grass or in lawn chairs. Kids waved light-up swords and glow stick necklaces around and around.

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Underneath a beam of stage lighting, a couple slow danced as the band Mad Satta played a soulful cover of a Paul McCartney tune.

Joanna Teters, frontwoman of Mad Satta and a New Paltz native, was glad to be singing on the main stage for her hometown’s Independence Day celebration.

She initially started Mad Satta with Ben Carr, a bassist from Rosendale, as a duo. She’d met him back as a student at New Paltz Central High School, and they reconnected and started playing music after college. Now Mad Satta has a full roster of eight members, is building a following in the Northeast, and they play everything from hip-hop to reggae to R&B. Their album “Comfort” is due later in 2014.

New Paltz typically holds its fireworks on the Saturday after July 4. That’s in an effort to not compete with other big pyrotechnic displays on the Fourth, New Paltz Supervisor Susan Zimet explained.

“It’s a great event. It’s been going on for a very long time. It’s a great New Paltz tradition,” Zimet said.

In previous years, fundraising by the New Paltz Fireworks Committee, which sets up the event, has paid for the show. Town Board members contributed about $6,700 this year. The rest came from volunteer fundraising and sponsorships. The supervisor said she felt it was important to put some money in the municipal budget towards fireworks.

Carol Connolly, a member of the fireworks committee since 2006, noted that ShopRite — 2014’s big sponsor — was a huge help this year. They donated water and food, helped out a lot, but they also put their beverage sales proceeds for the night toward helping veterans.

Other food vendors also donated meals for the musicians entertaining the crowd on July 5, Connolly added.

Altogether, New Paltz’s fireworks had a small town feel — even down to kids from the New Paltz Youth Program helping direct traffic in the parking area. Musical acts, too, had a local angle. For instance, Esme Hyman, of New Paltz, sang the national anthem. That idea came from Lori Morris, who booked the bands.

Mostly, the fireworks have stayed the same as in previous years. However, Fourth of July organizers said they could use a little extra help for 2015.

“The volunteer pool is getting smaller,” explained Connolly. “Each year, less and less people volunteer.”

People interested in helping organize fireworks for 2015 should e-mail carolaconnolly@gmail.com.