Photos by Lauren Thomas
The Rosendale Street Festival has been around for so many years now (with a multiyear hiatus at one point) that people have pretty much stopped counting. It takes a lot of donated time, effort, equipment loans and cash donations to make it happen — not to mention 70+ bands performing for nothing — but one gets the feeling that even if the organizers “forgot” to put one on next year, all these people would still show up on Main Street anyway on the third weekend in July, just looking to party.
Streetfest has tons of food and vendors of every description, from acupuncture to windmills, but mostly it’s about the music. “Music is the key,” says birthday boy/master of ceremonies Billy Guldy, a/k/a Uncle Willy, resplendent in psychedelic red, white and blue at Streetfest 2015 last Saturday afternoon. “Uncle Willy says, ‘Women rule!’ No music, no women. Good music, lots of women!” Asked how the festival has changed over the years, Guldy reminisces, “I founded this in the ‘70s. Who would’ve thought it would get this big? We had about 9,000 people the first year. Now if they only get 25,000, they think something went wrong.”
He loves to tout the festival’s ever-evolving lineup of musicians from near and far, this year urging passers-by not to miss “the new Jimi Hendrix,” Dylan Doyle of New Paltz. “You’ve got great talent here…. This is the biggest free concert in New York State that I know of, and I’ve been a lot of places.”
Indeed, a stroll up and down Main Street reveals great sounds emanating from stage after stage, spaced just far enough apart that the amplified sounds aren’t competing with one another. By the Creekside Stage on this sultry summer day, people wade in the Rondout Creek to cool off or lounge on a shady lawn to listen to the twangy acoustic guitars of the Welldiggers. Kindie rock rules at the Canal Lock Stage, with kids making pennants on scraps of cloth with markers in the crafts tent while listening to Fuzzy Lollipop play a medley of songs about naughty children: “Go to Your Room/Black Magic Marker” (to the tune of “Black Magic Woman”). Gutter Cat’s wailing Fender sound on a Johnny Cash number rocks out the crowd in the Post Office parking lot at the Midtown Stage, while back at the Mountain Stage in Willow Kiln Park, self-described “acid-cowboy quintet” Tulula serves up sounds that the band describes as “like a mosh pit at a Gypsy carnival followed by a séance with the 27 Club.” “They’re great!” avers one happy listener.
Even where there aren’t bands per se, you’ll hear music at Streetfest. Kids and grownups alike make a beeline for the drum-filled tent in front of TransNDanceNDrum, enticed by Fre Atlast’s irrepressible rhythms to sit in and jam. In a booth further east on Main Street, one of the proprietors of Barrett Guitars plays flashy licks on a demo model. And at the west end of town, bumper bells chime as nostalgic types try out Pinball Stampede’s array of vintage pinball machines — perhaps the last place where you can still play a game for a quarter!
Here as elsewhere, food trucks are a growing trend, but regular fair-food booths abound as well. All the restaurants on Main Street have their doors thrown wide and signboards advertising festival specials, and this year there are no fewer than five beer gardens lining the route. Meanwhile, kids catch a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz in the Rosendale Theatre or chill out on the giant waterslide in Ron Parenti’s side yard; a $5 wristband grants them unlimited use of the slide all day. “I live here; I’m stuck here all weekend,” says Parenti, who keeps the slide ready to inflate just for this festival every year.
The vendor booths offer plenty to intrigue young and old as well. “You got your alien, eh?” a mother asks her middle-school-aged son as they walk away from the festival.” “I got the last one!” says the boy, proudly clutching a green inflatable alien nearly as tall as he is. It must have come from Alien Eyes, the vendor that specializes in UFO-themed trinkets that you never knew you needed. But there are also clothing and hats and jewelry, vintage posters and vinyl records, books and fine art photography, massages and psychic readings.
Not-for-profits, art events and community projects are represented as well. Kingston’s Irish Cultural Center is taking donations to build a new stage for Hooley on the Hudson 2016. Jesse Cunningham is touting the second year of Krampusnacht Kingston, a spooky German winter festival scheduled for December 5. Standing beside a display of attractive fair trade African market baskets hand made by village co-ops in Ghana, Stacy Lipari says, “Our booth for the Creative Co-Op Artisan and Farm Shop is paid for cooperatively and run cooperatively. We’re working to launch and grow global independent businesses.”
And then there’s the Rosendale Pool Project booth, where locals pause to examine final plans for the new pool complex just beginning to be constructed at the Rec Center. “There are a lot of people coming in, asking questions,” says Town of Rosendale recreation director Tara Burke. “People are buying water bottles, making donations.” Although town officials have already raised $1.8 million in grants toward the project, Burke notes, “That doesn’t cover all of it. It’s an eternal effort at this point.” She eagerly talks up the next fundraising event to help cover the “gap funding”: a half-marathon and kids’ run on October 10. “We’re looking forward to the ribbon-cutting in 2016,” she says. “We’ll all be holding hands for the big splash.”