Things weren’t looking good around 5 p.m. on Friday, June 30, when the Ulster County Fairgrounds were scheduled to be throwing open their gates for the Town of New Paltz’s annual pre-Independence Day fireworks extravaganza. Thunderstorms had been making their way through the valley since midafternoon, and on Facebook, locals were wondering what the backup plan was. Saturday night was the official rain date; but how was that going to work when the Tiny House & Green Living Freedom Fest would already be in progress by then, charging admission to the site?
Then word got around that the show would go on. The rain was supposed to move out by 6:30 p.m., and the pyrotechnicians were already on-site readying the sky show. Well before sunset, the Fairgrounds were teeming with festive crowds and the live music in full swing. New Paltz Rock opened the performances, with Carl Welden emceeing in his trademark top hat. Town supervisor Neil Bettez welcomed the audience and thanked the volunteers and sponsors — ShopRite chief among them — who were making the evening’s festivities possible.
Upstate Rubdown was the next locally based band to perform, featuring three women singing close harmony, backed by upright bass, saxophones, flute, mandolin and drums. With the sky still light, thousands of happy attendees wandered the grounds, chowing down on a wide array of fair food and peeking into the windows of the dozens of tiny houses already in place around the perimeter of the field. Kids got their faces painted, crawled through mazes and slid down inflatable slides, while their elders checked out the informational exhibits about home solar arrays, crafts made from repurposed materials and other displays pertinent to sustainable living options.
Friday night was billed as a free preview for the Tiny House Fest; and although the interiors of the structures weren’t open to visitors as they would be on Saturday and Sunday, the glimpses available were tantalizing indeed. The variety of portable dwellings ranged from unfinished garden sheds and a converted panel truck to high-end custom-built tiny homes complete with furnishings and art hanging on the walls. Demonstrating the truism that the kitchen is the heart of a home, many had fully equipped kitchens that were larger than those commonly found in Manhattan apartments. Cantilevered upper decks and pop-up roofs created additional space for sleeping without sacrificing a small footprint, and staircases to these loft bedrooms typically were engineered to provide ingenious storage options underneath. A stroll through the festival was a lesson in living simply, using space with maximal efficiency and cozy feng shui.
With the overcast sky breaking up as the sun neared the horizon, a fluffy cloudbank very like the ones described as “ice cream castles in the air” in Joni Mitchell’s classic song “Both Sides Now” turned first golden, then pink: the second of the day’s spectacular sky-shows following the afternoon’s displays of lightning. As dusk came on, Soul Purpose took over the soundstage and the serious dancers came out, some bedecked in the glow-sticks that were selling briskly at the ShopRite booth. This seven-piece little Big Band specializes in danceable tunes from the era of jazz, swing and jump right through the heyday of soul and Motown. They played both before the fireworks and afterwards, giving part of the crowd an excuse to stick around and have some more fun while waiting for the auto traffic back into town to thin out.
When it finally got dark enough for the fireworks to be seen to best advantage, Soul Purpose ceded the stage to Esme Ariel Hyman, whose soulful, belting rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” has become a Fourth of July tradition in recent years. Then the rockets’ red glare began in earnest — along with plenty of other shimmering colors bespangling the sky. Once again, summer has officially come to New Paltz.