Photos by Lauren Thomas
The fourth annual Spring Fest celebration in Highland on Saturday, May 16 drew a sizable crowd; its biggest yet, according to several festival-goers who haven’t missed attending the street shindig since it began in 2012. With the streets closed to traffic, there seemed to be some type of activity going on in every corner of the hamlet.
The daytime festivities were accompanied by DJ Rick Knight from Mix 97.7. Later on, Touch of Rhythm played live music from 5-8 p.m. Vendors were out in force, offering a selection of toys, crafts, health and beauty products, accessories and jewelry. Local eateries were represented with plenty of festival fare, from chicken shish kebobs and pretzels to hot dogs, Italian ices and deep-fried pickles.
Boy Scouts Troop #70 ran the children’s carnival, where kids could play “Frog Launcher,” “Duck Pond” and “Mini Putt Putt.” New this year was a photo booth the troop stocked with costumes and props. They raised additional funds through the sales of snow cones and nachos, cotton candy and popcorn.
A highlight of the afternoon was an outstanding demonstration of martial arts offered by the World Oyama Karate organization of Clintondale. Shihan Mike Skinner, an eighth-degree black belt with 38 years of experience, brought members of his instruction staff and several dozen students of all ages to perform the patterns of movement called kata. The more advanced students showed the crowd progressively harder tasks that included breaking wood with the forehead, breaking a stack of wood that had been lit on fire and finally a wooden baseball bat broken in one concise move by Skinner.
The high energy Bed Races followed, with six competitive teams racing for the top prize of $500 two at a time up Main Street from the bandstand and then back again, stopping midway to perform a “musical chairs” type of maneuver. (The team members run in circles around the bed a few times before the team takes off again down Main Street pushing the bed and its occupant across the finish line as fast as possible.) Teams chose a theme and decorated their beds accordingly, wearing matching costumes.
The team from Sal’s Place once again took first prize in the Bed Races, as they did last year. Their aliens-themed “Outta This World” bed was tricked out to look like a silver spaceship, its alien occupant dressed in a neon green bodysuit and sneakers sporting neon green laces. Troy’s Auto Body, the competitor to Sal’s Place in the final heat, won Most Creative for their bare mattress and metal entry and the award for “Crowd Favorite” went to the Highland Fire Department bed-racers.
Other happenings during the day included performances by local youngsters from Gina Marie’z Academy of Performing Arts and the Highland Huskies Cheerleaders. Dan and Harry’s Magic Show was back — two young men in black suits who carried their suitcases of tricks all over the hamlet doing impromptu performances of magic — and contestants with a strong stomach competed for a top cash prize of $75 in a hot dog-eating contest sponsored by the Hudson Valley Sausage Company.
For those seeking a respite from the highly amplified happenings on the street, the United Methodist Church made for a quiet haven. A parishioner loaned her impressive collection of antique fire truck toys for a display inside and church members Mary Benecke and Martha Trainor were on hand for the “cookie walk,” offering tasty homemade treats to choose from. Outside the church, woodworker Leo Bozydaj carved a small dolphin while manning a table stocked with other well rendered representations of chickens, egrets, trout and eagles. Any profits he made would go to the church, he said. Bozydaj was accompanied by his homing pigeons, who for a fee of $5 (also going to the church), could be released in memory or in honor of a loved one.
As with previous Spring Fests, many local community groups had booths with information available, from SUNY Ulster to the Rail Trail Association to the Town of Lloyd Environmental Conservation Council (ECC) and the National Guard. New this year was representation from “Take Me Home Pet Rescue,” where Milton-based Lucia DeNatale was surrounded by supporters and many rescued dogs they save from “high kill” shelters in the south. The dogs come here and live at foster homes until they’re adopted, she explained.
Spring Fest was co-sponsored, as usual, by the Highland Business Association and the Town of Lloyd Events Committee. Initially designed as a family friendly festival showcasing local businesses, it’s always been about the community coming out to support each other, but there was a new dimension added this year. One of the signature Spring Fest events, the Waiters Race at noon, was run as a fundraiser this year for the SaraStrong Foundation, with proceeds benefitting 16-year-old Sara Pironi of Highland. Pironi, a talented trumpet player and athlete academically ranked in the top ten percent of her class, was diagnosed in January with a rare and aggressive stage-four cancer. Participants in the Waiters Race — most of whom weren’t professional waiters, including the SUNY Ulster Patriot mascot — ran the course while carrying cocktail trays filled with plastic glasses of water. Through race entry fees and runner sponsorship, $665 was raised that will help with Pironi’s expenses not covered by insurance. She’s undergoing treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; 12 weeks into what will be a 54-week ordeal. Pironi was unable to attend Spring Fest, but friends and supporters said they’re encouraged by her latest scans and that things are “going in the right direction.”