The Ulster County Fairgrounds are so positioned in relation to the Village of New Paltz – down and to the left, keeping tempo with the north-flowing Wallkill – that, when things are happening there, it always seems as if war is encroaching and sociopolitical chaos imminent. The sky flashes in a sulphurous arrhythmia; the screams, blasts, grinding machines and summer thunder sweep around the bowl of the Shawangunk Ridge (country rock, convoluted by geo-reverb, smacks of a menacing uprising). It won’t be long now until our little village, wild in its own way but relatively stable through the years, will be overrun by some mad grassroots skirmish making its way up from…I don’t know, Pine Bush.
And isn’t the Ulster County Fair a sporting kind of war? If New Paltz is the progressive capital of central and southern Ulster County (leaving that overall distinction to Woodstock), the fair is the ironically situated “other”: a ritualized affirmation of gas sports and the Blue-State reach of country music. It is hard to say to whom the livestock belongs anymore. It’s everyone’s fair, and that’s the beauty of it. Same can’t be said of the wonderfully refined Dutchess County Fair, where the meats are grass-fed and the dunking-booth clown issues barbs as pointed as Rabelais (to whom he actually may be related).
The Ulster County Fair always comes first, taking over the fairgrounds on New Paltz’s Libertyville Road on the first day of August and finishing out its week on August 6. The fair does not take and never has taken its music lineup lightly. The unique lure of the fair circuit is always able to hook outsize acts, and this is an especially strong year for Ulster. Recently announced headliners the Oak Ridge Boys are country royalty and will perform on Wednesday, August 2 at 8 p.m. Modern country pacesetters Restless Heart perform on Thursday, August 3 at 8 p.m. A younger country/rock band with as much Stones and Crazy Horse as Hank Sr. in their blood, Savannah Jack plays shows at 4 and at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 5. Finally, five-time Grammy-winner B. J. Thomas, a candidate for pop Rushmore, takes it home on Sunday, August 6 at 5:30 p.m.
It’s actually kind of weird to think that those echoes coming over the river on a dusky summer Sunday will be B. J. Thomas. The Ulster County Fair is for us all. The $15 flat price includes all midway rides and attractions. Seniors are admitted free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, August 3, and Tuesday, August 1 is the family-friendly Carload Night, where carfuls (maximum eight human bodies) are admitted for $40. For more information and a complete schedule of shows and events, visit http://ulstercountyfair.com.