Did you miss New Paltz’s Independence Day fireworks celebration this year? You’re not alone; attendance at the Ulster County Fairgrounds was unusually light, despite the welcome return to fine summer weather after a week of oppressive heat and humidity. It’s unclear whether the forecast for possible thunderstorms on Friday – long gone from our skies by party time – or competition from the Town of Lloyd fireworks, scheduled for the same evening, was the primary deterrent.
Whatever the reason, there was ample room to pick your preferred space to set up a groundcloth or folding chairs. Many veterans of the event, aware that the treeline along Libertyville Road isn’t growing any lower with the passing years, opted to camp out near the north end of the field. The middle, where sightlines for the fireworks are most likely to be blocked, was largely empty. And folks who just gotta dance converged nearer to the bandstand, at the southern end.
The latter group had ample inspiration to get up and boogie. After a low-key opening from Woodstock-area singer/songwriter Mark Rust, the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Express delivered a high-energy set devoted to the “high lonesome sound” of old-timey bluegrass and backwoods gospel tunes. But it was Soul City Groove – with three powerful lead vocalists, Angie Moger, Madelene Phalen and Bobby Jimenez, fronting a steaming-hot four-piece rhythm-and-horns section – that really got the crowd gyrating and singing along. Both before and after the fireworks display, the mostly-mid-Hudson-based band cranked out one thoroughly infectious Motown/R & B hit after another. Local singer/actor Cheyenne See did the honors of performing the National Anthem just as the sky show got underway; the first firework burst coincided nicely with her enunciation of “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”
Among the smartest ideas ever to come out of the experience of putting on an annual Fourth of July extravaganza over many decades in New Paltz has clearly been the decision to keep a dance band on hand for a closing set after the fireworks are over. Attendees don’t all leave the Fairgrounds at one time, and it’s possible to drive back into town within a reasonable amount of time. On hand to carry out emcee duties in his signature top hat, Rosendaler Carl Welden observed, “One of the nicest things about this is that you don’t have to rush out right afterwards. You can sit and listen to the music.”
Less successful this year were the arrangements for refreshments. On the plus side, the 4-H Club was on hand making those thick milkshakes that are such a popular draw at the Ulster County Fair each August. Kids lined up eagerly for a paper plateful of powdered-sugar-dusted zeppole from Frankie’s Fried Dough. Primary event sponsor Shop-Rite sold soft drinks and bags of chips. But despite the relatively light turnout, fireworks fans who showed up expecting dinner ended up spending most of the evening standing in a barely moving queue for eats from DJay’s On the Run Grill.
Inexplicably, it was the only food truck on hand: a stark contrast to 2017, when the fireworks kicked off a full weekend of Tiny House Festival activities and the Fairgrounds were loaded with vendors. DJay’s food – chicken and rice, fish and chips, seafood tacos – was tasty and freshly cooked to order, but many hungry visitors complained of a wait of an hour-and-a-half to two hours to be served, and a number of menu choices sold out before some reached the front of the line. Lesson learned at New Paltz Fireworks 2018: Next year, bring a picnic from home. Better yet, go into the food-vendor business.
Youngsters looking for fun things to do before and after it got dark had a much broader array of choices. A-1 Parties of Wappingers operated not one but three inflatable attractions as well as selling a variety of light-up toys, including Minecraft swords, poi balls and light-stick necklaces. Kids could try to knock down floating spheres by throwing balls at them in the Zero Gravity Chamber, jump around in a Disney-themed bounce house or clamber through an obstacle course culminating in an inflatable slide under a giant Batman’s watchful eye. “This is like our sixth time,” said 10-year-old Gardinerite Kelsey Hacker, as she and her friend Holly Radulski emerged breathless and giggling from the slide and immediately got back into line to try it again.
As darkness fell, glowing sword battles could be seen around the perimeter of the field, presaging the colored lights soon to permeate the sky. “We have a hot item that’s brand-new this year: a light-up helicopter,” said Larry Stock as he demonstrated the glowing propeller toy at the TriState tent. Also for sale were light-up bubble-blowing guns, Frozen-themed magic wands, flags, walkable stuffed dogs, Spiderman masks and, for the more cynical child or teen, poop emoji hats.
For the older crowd, more sedate and tasteful options were available nearby: beautiful henna tattoos from the Tipsy Turtle. And Shop-Rite and the Elks Club sold raffle tickets for two upcoming drawings: an electric golf cart, with results to be announced on September 12, and a basketful of scratch-off lottery tickets, to be awarded on August 5. Raffle proceeds will benefit the SRS Veterans’ Campaign.
In short, there was plenty of fun to be had at Fireworks 2018 – as long as you didn’t show up with an empty stomach. If you’re thinking about buying a food truck and want to set it up at the Fairgrounds for Fireworks 2019, call the town supervisor’s office at (845) 255-0604 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.