Photos by Lauren Thomas
“The fried dough is amazing!” said nine-year-old Maitreya Motel of Rosendale when asked how her visit to the Ulster County Fairgrounds was going, while waiting for the big pre-Independence Day fireworks display — then added, with not quite as much enthusiasm, “The music is good too.” Her mom, PR whiz and singer Carrie Wykoff, was more impressed by the evening’s lineup: “We’re really up for some amazing music tonight,” she said. “There are some extremely talented people here to give the crowd what they want.”
Wykoff gave props to New Paltz chiropractor/sax player Dr. Lori Morris for doing an outstanding job over the past three years putting together the music for the town’s annual Fourth of July celebration. The opening act featuring Morris herself — a Stevie Wonder tribute band called Wonderama — proved to be “a great way to get into the groove for the evening,” according to Wykoff. Keyboard player Akie Bermiss, a Bard College graduate now based in New York City and doing his first gig with Wonderama that night, reported that the audience had been very receptive: “There were people dancing — kids, adults — there were people singing along.”
Headlining the evening’s audio entertainment were the Retro Rockets, a collection of mostly Woodstock-based heavy hitters: Jimmy Eppard, Pete Levin, John Cariddi, Richard Crane and Rosendale stalwart bassist/longtime Street Festival organizer Charlie Kniceley. Though these musicians can all boast considerable jazz credentials, that night they lived up to their time-traveling name, focusing on crowdpleasing classic rock, rockabilly, funk, blues and psychedelia of the ‘60s and ‘70s. There were quite a few Clapton/Cream numbers — “Lay Down Sally,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Crossroads” — as well as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie-Koo,” “Maybelline,” a rendition of “Green River” that somehow segued into “Secret Agent Man.” With Levin’s electronic keyboards standing in for the New Orleans piano of the original, Eppard’s gravelly voice convincingly channeled Dr. John in a rollicking rendition of “Such a Night.”
And such a night it was, with a just-past-full moon, comfortable temperatures and a long enough hiatus in the recent rains to make for fine fireworks-watching conditions. The unusual Thursday-night scheduling kept the crowd a little thinner than usual, making for less of a traffic jam heading back into town afterwards. But the folks who did turn out were generous: “The donation bucket is fuller than usual,” noted Carol Connolly, assistant to the New Paltz town supervisor and the town’s point person on organizing the fireworks. “I was talking to some people who come all the way from Staten Island. They said, ‘We come every year!’”
Introducing the main event of the evening, supervisor Susan Zimet credited Connolly with doing most of the work of putting the festivities together. “If it wasn’t for Carol, the fireworks wouldn’t have happened,” Zimet told the New Paltz Times. She also praised and thanked ShopRite Supermarkets, primary sponsor of the event for more than 20 years now.
Esme Ariel Hyman of New Paltz was next up, putting the requisite patriotic spin on the proceedings by belting out a soulful rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” “This is my third time singing the anthem, and I’m psyched about it!” she told the Times.
Promptly at 9:30 p.m., with the sky now fully dark, came the actual display of pyrotechnics, presented this year by a new company, American Fireworks. The 20-minute show included some unusual effects, including hanging strings of lights that floated slowly downwards and a glowing red heart shape turning in the air like a Möbius strip, in addition to traditional forms like chrysanthemums, peonies, willows, fountains, palms and rings. The crowd ooohed and aaahed appreciatively, and many stayed on afterwards for the Retro Rockets’ second set.
Keeping the music going on after the fireworks are over was originally a brainwave intended to lighten traffic jams following the event, but it’s much appreciated by the vendors on hand at the Fairgrounds as well. Preteen and teenage girls lined up to get hand-painted henna tattoos from Amy Barresi of the Tipsy Turtle, and littler kids could jump in Southwest Sand Art’s bouncy house as many times as they wanted for free. Besides the fried dough from Fun Foods Zeppole so highly recommended by young Maitreya, fair food choices included Frankie’s Fries; jerk chicken and other Caribbean delights from Jamaica Choice; selections for vegetarians and carnivores alike from the Yum Yum on Wheels food truck; and an array of store-made meaty treats like Korean sausage and veal/bacon sausage provided by Elia’s Catering Company of Highland.
Even as the lights in the sky faded, the ShopRite booth kept things bright and festive by selling glow-sticks, with proceeds contributed to charities providing services to war veterans. But the event sponsors seemed to be having as good a time as everyone else. Walter Kratsch, store director for ShopRite of New Paltz, summed up the spirit of the evening succinctly, saying, “Just tell everybody: Magic is happening!” ++
Donations for the 2016 fireworks celebration can be sent to Town of New Paltz Celebrations, P.O. Box 550, New Paltz, NY 12561.