Photos by Lauren Thomas
Organizers of outdoor festivals usually pray for bright, warm, sunny weather to draw the crowds; but when the thing that you’re celebrating is cupcakes, which wilt quickly in the heat, an overcast sky is not such a bad thing. And after a long dry spell that recently brought a forest fire to the other side of the Gunks, the folks at Wright’s Farm were undoubtedly pleased by the rainfall last Friday night that laid down the dust somewhat before the crowds started to arrive for the seventh annual Gardiner Cupcake Festival on Saturday.
And arrive they did, with turnout estimates exceeding 10,000. “It’s a lot better than last year,” reported Melody Brooks of For the Love of Cupcakes, based in Saugerties. “We’re pretty much sold out.” Her most popular items were also among the most unusual: “The Funnybones ran out first; the Maple Bacon ran out second.” Brooks didn’t bring along every flavor in her shop’s repertoire, though. “Chocolate jalapeño has got to be the weirdest I have,” she said.
Spicy varieties seem to be trending in the cupcake world these days. In fact, the winner of the “Best-Tasting” category in the festival’s Amateur Cupcake Contest was the spice cupcake with a dash of cayenne pepper baked by Jill St. Denis. Lisa Pullaro won a prize for her mojito cupcake in the “Best-Tasting Cocktail-Inspired” category. Ramdhany Kelly won for “Best-Decorated” with a basketweave icing design, and Jayne Roberti took the “Best Multi-Use Design” prize for a cluster of floral-design cupcakes presented in a flowerpot. About 50 entrants competed this year, according to festival volunteer Kathleen Conner.
Besides about a dozen bakeries, participating vendors this year included wineries, cideries and distilleries, not-for-profit organizations, green energy entrepreneurs, makers of fancy soaps, scents and skin products, animal adoption agencies, a children’s bookstore, insurance and propane dealers and a variety of crafts. One of many jewelry vendors, Esopus-based A Little Awesome, really rose to the occasion with a whimsical selection of earrings, pendants, rings and keychains in the shape of tiny cupcakes, made from polymer clay.
On the main stage, Paid Vacation rocked out for the enjoyment of patrons of the many fair-food vendors. There was Jamaican jerk chicken, pizza from a brick oven on wheels, sausage-and-peppers, barbecue, zeppoles and a Mexican food truck. The Kids’ Zone at the southern end of the orchard was a hive of activity, with youngsters lining up for pony rides, inflatable slides, a fun house and a decorate-your-own-cupcake stand. “When I got up there, I was shaking a little,” admitted eight-year-old Jeffrey Glenn of the Town of Newburgh after he disembarked from his first-ever zipline ride. “I’m still shaking. Yeah, I’m doing it again!”
At the other end of the festival grounds, kids were invited to play Human Foosball for free whenever adult teams weren’t scheduled to compete in a charity fundraiser for the Gardiner and Shawangunk Fire Departments. There’s nothing like good hard play to burn off some of those calories that you ingest by sampling too many different tantalizing flavors of cupcakes, and the grownups played pretty fiercely, according to Gardiner Town Board member John Hinson, who decided to organize the event this year after seeing the new sport demonstrated on YouTube. “I thought somebody was going to the hospital,” he joked. “It was really fun.” “I got thrown out a couple of times,” added Gardiner Highway Department superintendent Brian Stiscia. “It was full-contact foosball.”
The Human Foosball pitch is a rectangular enclosure made of plywood panels, spanned by two-by-fours with sections of HDP pipe that can slide over them. Players must “keep two hands on [the pipes] at all times,” Hinson explained, moving sideways only as they kick the ball toward the goal at the opposite end of the pitch. “There are six to a team, facing in alternate directions.” The winner is the team who can score the most goals within a 15-minute timeframe. The Gardiner Cupcake Festival’s first-ever Human Foosball tournament netted about $1,400 in donations to be split between the two fire companies, according to Hinson.