Artists’ Soapbox Derby rolls again in Kingston

Everly Johnson and Sienna Cruz make their way down Broadway in their entry, The Rock Lobster. (Photos by Phyllis McCabe)

The heavens smiled down on the revival of one of Kingston’s favorite summertime traditions, the Artists’ Soapbox Derby, August 15. The oppressive heat and humidity of the earlier part of the week had finally broken, and crowds came out in a festive mood to line the lower blocks of Broadway, seeking a shady spot or a place to sit while awaiting the 1 p.m. order for the entrants to roll (or, in a couple of cases, simply to amble).

Near the start line, at the corner of Spring Street and Broadway, the Brasskill Band was tuning up on a patch of lawn beside the Rondout Community Center. At 20 minutes before start time, Sarah Bissonnette-Adler, who has organized the event in some past years, was seated at the registration table, attending to late signups and selling 2021 Derby tee-shirts. “We’ve got ten cars lined up and three more that are on the way,” she reported. “I’m really excited it’s back. The turnout and the creativity of the cars are wonderful.”

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Anticipation was mounting throughout the crowd as the band gathered at the start line and started to play. At 12:55 they began marching down the hill toward the Strand as spectators cheered and danced. Though mostly white, the crowd was diverse in age, including bearded veterans, middle-aged ladies with dogs, kids and teens and young couples carrying infants. Few wore COVID masks, so it was fortunate that the crowd was less densely packed than normal for this perennially popular event. Brimmed hats were a popular accessory in the bright late-summer sunshine, and here and there in the crowd a tee-shirt from some past year’s Derby could be seen.

Ben and Lizzy Baird in their LEGO kart.

Once the final entrants were buckled into their weird array of homemade vehicles, it was Derby time at last. Radio Kingston’s Nadine Ferraro gave the go-ahead and the Pace Car with its big color wheel — the Derby’s trademark — set off down the hill. A drone buzzed up to meet it, looped around and then followed it down.

The first entrant to roll was dubbed Winky the Winged Whale, piloted by Tilly Serras and Tallulah Thurman. The team was all dressed in purple Spandex, with glittery silver narwhal horns affixed to their foreheads to match their fanciful, crystal-spangled vehicle. The giant whale itself spouted a thin stream of water ahead onto its path.

Marine creatures were a recurring theme this year; another go-kart was the Rock Lobster, steered by Sienna Cruz and Everly Johnson. “Everybody clap your claws!” cried Ferraro as the handsome wheeled arthropod cruised down Broadway, and everybody did.

Another crowdpleaser was the Millennium Falcon, with Ethan and Tori Parks in the cockpit garbed like Han Solo and Princess Leia and a banner reading “Just Married” draped across the rear bumper. “Stick Together!” was the legend displayed across the front of the next entry: the LEGOKart, steered by Ben and Lizzy Baird. No one dared yell “Step on it!” as they rolled by, for obvious reasons.

Newlyweds Ethan and Tori Parks in their Millennium Falcon.

The biggest hit with spectators, gauging by its win in the People’s Choice award category, was Ghostbusters Ecto 1. Upon accepting the award — plus another for Best in Show — its creator, Felix Olivieri, noted that he had built Ecto 1 as one of several props that he’s preparing for this year’s My Kingston Kids Halloween party.

The rest of the awards — conferred by judges Nancy Donskoj, John Allen Blue, Lester Cohen, Erin Keating and Dave Rosenberg — included Most Artistic for Winky the Winged Whale, Most Clever for the LEGOKart and Best Adult Entry for the Millennium Falcon. The Rondout Reject Award went to longtime entrant Jim Fawcett for ROY G BIV, an odd assemblage of rolling chairs in a rainbow of colors, held together by magnets and nudged along by a magnet at the end of a stick.

Four awards were handed out for entries in the Kids’ category, including an Honorable Mention for Rock Lobster, Third Place for Brooks Pettersen’s Kingston Kid and Second Place for the Arvidson-Hunter SpeedMobile. The Best Kids’ Entry award went to the Energy DC Express, a rolling version of an “old-school boombox” created by Avery LaRoach  of the Energy Dance Company.

Michael Lalicki with his “Brakes, I Don’t Need No Stinking Brakes, Don’t Need No Stinking Steering.”

Brook Pettersen, age 3 1/2 of Kingston, waiting for the lineup of soap boxes in his The Kingston Kid entry.

The Crustacean Crew for the Rock Lobster entry.

Lilo Oliviero, age 8 of Kingston, is getting last-minute instructions from his father, Felix, while sitting in his Ghostbusters. Lilo won the People’s Choice Awar for his Ghostbusters ECTO 1 entry.

Bob Johnson, co-chair of the derby, rides his pace car, Anonymous Big Wheel, down Broadway.

The Rosendale Improvement Brass Band and Social Club leads off the derby.

Winky, the Winged Whale, spouting water from its blow hole, with Tilly Serras and Tallulah Thurman-O’Brien as drivers and Valentine O’Brien greeting the crowd.

Brook Pettersen, age 3 1/2 of Kingston, and his dad, Nick, making their way down Broadway.

Ruby Crimmins, age 7 of Rosendale, and her dad, Sean, rolling down Broadway in The One Week Winooden Wonder.

Jim Fawcett of Kingston with his ROYGBIV entry.

Ruby Crimmins, age 7 of Rosendale, is relaxing before the race on The One Week Wooden Wonder entry she’ll be riding.