New Paltz Independence Day celebration happens thanks to community volunteers and sponsors, but what about next year?

(Photos by Lauren Thomas)

Hot and humid weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of people who showed up for New Paltz’s annual display of Independence Day fireworks at the Ulster County Fairgrounds on Friday, July 5.

Armed with folding chairs and blankets, it was a good-sized crowd. They spread out on the spacious property, with plenty of room for music fans to congregate near the bandstand while others chose a quieter spot on the lawn. The more energetic threw Frisbees or footballs, and some people never left the parking lot, with tailgaters seeming quite content with staking out the territory surrounding their cars.

Kids’ activities included the return of Batman; that is, the return again this year of an inflatable obstacle course and slide contained beneath the superhero cape of (inflatable) Batman. The Zero Gravity Chamber was also a popular activity brought back from previous years’ events, with inflatable globes suspended in jets of air waiting to be brought down by thrown balls. A fishing game in a wading pool awarded the prize of one’s choice to little ones who hooked a fish, and The Candy Factory bouncy house had no shortage of children doing their best impression of Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger.

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Cousins Mya Stevens, Jack Giunta and Kalli Stevens

The New Paltz Karate Academy had a table ready to offer information on classes and an activity set up that involved kids hitting each other with a foam mallet, and what would a festival be without the requisite body adornment for kids, in this case airbrushed temporary tattoos and glitter face gems along with the henna designs of Tipsy Turtle.

Sweets were available to purchase from Lakeside Licks ice cream truck and Frankie’s Fried Dough. Spacey Tracey’s food truck offered battered-and-fried pickles along with some other edibles given the same treatment, including mushrooms and – what seemed to be the most popular option – fried Oreos dusted with powdered sugar. While lines were long at each of these vendors, visitors seemed patient enough, even in the particularly long line of people waiting for one of the 4-H Club’s famous milkshakes.

ShopRite, the major sponsor of the fireworks event, donated hot dogs, served up free of charge to attendees (with chips included). But as the sign noted, “The hot dogs are free, but our freedom is not,” and donations to a jar designated for veterans’ programs in exchange for the dogs was suggested; a good deal any way you look at it.

ShopRite also offered a raffle for $100 worth of scratch-off lotto tickets and a $10 chance to win a 7-day cruise for two on a major cruise line. They sold “Mardi Gras” style strings of red, white and blue beads along with glow necklaces that made a colorful statement when the sun went down. Their $1 kids’ mystery “swag bags” seemed pretty enticing to the little ones, as well.

Becky, Danny and 10-month-old Skylar Kuper

The opening act on the bandstand was the four-piece acoustic group, Wind & Stone, an established group but performing for the first time at this event. They offered covers of well-known songs with a folk sensibility, played out with pleasing vocal harmonies and finesse on guitar, mandolin and stand-up bass.

The evening’s headliner was Soul Purpose, who played a blend of danceable New Orleans-style funk, soul and R&B. One of the band members is saxophonist and vocalist Dr. Lori Morris, who was also the catalyst for ensuring that this year’s fireworks happened at all. The annual display was nearly cancelled this year after it was revealed the Town of New Paltz no longer had enough in its coffers to contribute to the event. Morris has been a longtime member of the Independence Day Committee – on and off over the past two decades – and not wanting to see the annual fireworks come to an end, she volunteered to take on the job of organizing it.

The Independence Day celebration was free of charge to attend, as always, but visitors were met at the gate with donation jars and a cheerful request to contribute. The jar later made its way to the bandstand, where visitors were asked to pitch in.

The sum total donated (mostly in dollar bills, according to Morris) turned out to be $1,000 (and fifty cents). This is a considerable jump from the amount collected at the event last year – just $150 – but still far from enough to put on the fireworks display again next year without some “serious” fundraising, Morris confirmed, noting that it costs approximately $12,000 to put on the annual summer celebration. The town used to cover half of the cost, with additional help from at-the-event donations, vendor fees and local business sponsorship. Organizers say every year that “they couldn’t do it” without ShopRite.

Robert “Cue” Gerhards and Sara Espinosa of Soul Purpose

Other donors this year included the New Paltz Police Benevolent Association, the Devine Agency, Green Mountain Energy and Copeland Funeral Home. There were also cash contributions facilitated by Mike Beck of P&G’s, who serves as treasurer of the New Paltz Community Foundation. And as always, parking assistance was provided by friendly and helpful teen volunteers from Jim Tinger’s New Paltz Youth Program, and the town fire department and rescue squad were on hand to assist if needed.

In fact, that type of community involvement is the other crucial component in all of this; Morris says she is willing to be a part of the organizing committee again next year, but only if additional volunteers throw their hats into the ring, too; the event is too much for one person to take on by themselves. “I would be happy to help, but we would need a committee of five to six people committed to working on it,” she says.

Fireworks on – or around – the Fourth of July have been a tradition in New Paltz for decades now, a part of many family memories for local residents who hope that this year’s show wasn’t the last.

As this year’s event came to a close, Soul Purpose performed right up until darkness fell. A stirring rendition of the National Anthem was sung, capped off by a 20-minute fireworks spectacle that was worthy of the effort put in, with boomers and bursts loud enough and visually striking enough to satisfy the most demanding of spectators.

Elise Ludewig and Sophia Tortorici

And even as the last embers fell and melted into the night sky, the celebration continued, with Soul Purpose taking the stage for another set so that attendees didn’t all leave at the same time and end up embroiled in traffic jams on Libertyville Road. The police did a great job of directing visitors as they left the property, and with any luck – and the generosity of this year’s attendees – it’ll all happen again next year.

Interested volunteers should send an e-mail to doctorlorimorris@gmail.com, while donations can be sent to the New Paltz Community Foundation at P.O. Box 1112, New Paltz, NY 12561 with “fireworks” in the memo to distinguish it from a general donation to the foundation.