Brutally hot weather, topping 100-degree readings on both Saturday and Sunday, suppressed turnout markedly at the 2019 Rosendale Street Festival. But not one of the 80+ bands who signed up to play for free failed to show up on account of the heat, and not one attendee needed to be treated for heat-related illness, according to Festival officials.
With the exception of a couple of individuals with health issues, “Almost every single performer kept their commitment, turned up, played their heart out and kept the spirit of the Festival going,” event co-chair Carrie Wykoff said late on Sunday afternoon. “I’ve never seen so many people walk around and give each other water, remind each other to use sunblock, pass around wet towels. There was a real sense of community.” Organizers always make a point of providing bottled water to Festival staff, volunteers and performers, but this year demand exceeded supply: “We blew everything that we usually do in two days yesterday.”
Water was accessible up and down the length of Main Street in downtown Rosendale in a variety of ways all weekend, and not only for drinking. The Fire Department had a sprinkler running in front of the firehouse, and another one hooked up to a hydrant on Hardenburgh Lane alongside the municipal parking lot; several private homeowners along Main let sprinklers run in front of their houses as well.
Down a leafy alleyway at 375 Main Street, resident Ron Parenti was doing what he does every year at Festival time: keeping a rented inflatable water slide clean and ready for the waves of children who come by, sometimes as many as 10 or 12 at a time. This weekend was such a scorcher that even some adults could be seen emerging from the site with their shorts soaked from sliding. Parenti charges a small fee to help cover the rental cost, but “It’s a really bad business model,” he said. “It costs me about $300, and I get about $240 back.” Nevertheless, now that he has been hosting the slide for about eight years, he knows that the kids will miss it if he ever stops, so he keeps on doing it as a sort of public service, noting, “It’s always the hottest weekend of the year.”
Remarkably, attendees seemed to have heeded all the public health warnings about the heat emergency and taken care to drink plenty of water, stay in the shade and not overexert themselves. “Everyone’s keeping hydrated,” Andrew Russell of Mobile Life Services said late on Sunday afternoon at the first aid station at the firehouse. No one had needed treatment beyond a few bandages. “A couple of people fell, but we had no heat-related emergencies.”
There was some unwelcome excitement on Saturday evening, however, when a toppled tree brought down a power line and started a transformer fire near Fann’s Plaza on Route 32, triggering a cascading blackout that soon affected all of downtown Rosendale. The loss of power, and thus amplification, meant that most of the six stages had to wrap up the music earlier than planned. But two bands using acoustic instruments were able to continue playing unplugged, and audiences congregated in those spots for a more intimate concert experience.
“The Mountain Stage and the Café were the only ones that kept going,” reported Carl Welden, who ran the sound booth both days at the Café Stage, in the Rosendale Café parking lot. “Yard Sale had an upright bass, a banjo and a violin. They drew the biggest crowd of my day.” Meanwhile, Lara Hope and the Ark-Tones soldiered on at the Mountain Stage, situated in Willow Kiln Park. “People seem happy to be here,” Welden added. “They’re hot, but they’re not miserable. We’ve got hot people and cool music.”
For those brave enough to walk the whole length of Main Street in the blazing sunshine, there were plenty of other attractions to enjoy: food and drink vendors offering two-for-one specials to boost business; local shops and restaurants touting their air-conditioned premises; chalk art in front of Soy; various performances inside the cool dimness of the Rosendale Theatre; an array of homemade rhythm instruments in front of the Redwing Blackbird Theater that tempted passersby into impromptu drumming sessions; roller derby queens from the Mid-Hudson Misfits skating at a leisurely pace through the sparse crowds; an elegant antique carriage called a basket phaeton on display at the Century House Historical Society booth.
There was no shortage of fun to be had, but as Carrie Wykoff noted, low turnout makes organizing the following year’s Rosendale Street Festival — which costs about $60,000 annually to produce and relies entirely on voluntary donations and vendor fees — a bigger-than-usual challenge. “Our numbers were extremely low because of the heat and humidity. At the gates alone, we were down $6,000 from last year,” she said. “We’re going to have to rally and do some serious fundraising to make next year a reality.” She recommended that supporters follow the Festival’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rosendalestreetfest to find out about upcoming events, including a volunteer appreciation party in the fall where new recruits for 2020 are welcome to attend.