Memories of A Fall Festival. Or Three

Fall is festival season in the Catskills

By which I don’t mean loud rock bands playing under bright lights
and inebriated revelers sleeping under canvas
(Though music and drink are an integral part of every such celebration)
I mean ‘everyone’s back in town after the long summer,
let’s get together and celebrate our community’

Over the last two weekends there was for us to choose from,
The Windham Autumn A-Fair
The Tannersville Street Festival
Taste of New Paltz
The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
And the Hunter Mountain Microbrew and Wine Festival
To name just the ones we noted



As we’ve attended the first and last in previous years
We skip those and, on a mid-September Saturday afternoon,
Drive into Tannersville
“The painted village in the sky,” they call it
For reasons that are patently obvious
When you visit it

The Spinning Room in The Painted Village: a disco yet to go the way of the wrecking ball

But Tannersville is a village in transition.
Long known as the “party town” during nearby Hunter Mountain’s ski season,
its rooming houses and discos have fallen into disrepair.
And several just been bought up lock, stock and barrel by the Catskill Mountain Foundation,
An increasingly dominant organization in the area
Given more to folk art and the fine arts than to pop art and pub culture
They’re building a theater in Tannersville called The Orpheum
And replacing one of the cheap hotels with a Fitness Center.
Tannersville can probably do with the improvement
Though I hope that the ski bums are not forced out entirely
Gentrification: You can’t escape it

The Tannersville Street Festival is more like a block party
There’s an incredibly loud PA deafening the vendors
A puppet show, some miniature sports cars,
Some food merchants, visiting bakeries and the like
The same plastic toy vendors who show up at all these events
(Campbell is drawn straight to them, as he is at all these events)
And local kids on bikes spraying hair dye on each other

I finally sample Maggie’s Krooked Café, which has always been closed
when otherwise we’ve stopped in the town.
It’s a juice bar, a bakery,
and an up-scale diner
With prices that make me pine for Manhattan
They must live off the tourists
‘Cause the locals sure can’t afford ten dollars for a plate of pancakes

Campbell and I head into the skate-bike store.
That never really has anything for sale
I’d tell you what they actually do here
(I think it’s custom orders)
But the hard core guys at the counter are too engrossed in latest bike catalogue
To talk to me
So I stand and listen to the music they’re playing
The Clash.
‘Capital Radio.’
It’s a long way from home out here.
Yet no distance at all
I’d like to chat with these guys about The Clash.
But they must figure me for just another ageing baldie
Because they don’t even acknowledge me.

We go watch the guy carving, with a chainsaw
Pumpkins, bears and a big fat Buddha
Out of tree trunks
Now there’s a dangerous form of art

Wood-carving of an artful nature

On our way out, our journey to Tannersville is rewarded:
Posie spies a high chair for Noel
Reclaimed from a junk sale
And repainted by the woman now selling it
For all of $50
Her husband helps me carry it to our car
Says their profit barely covers materials
But restoring furniture is his hobby
And painting it his wife’s
And selling it on gives them each a sense of satisfaction
Which we now share



Next day we head south
For Taste Of New Paltz
An annual food and drink festival in a picturesque town
known for its hippy-esque appreciation of such finer things in life
But we forget how far New Paltz is from our home
A full fifty miles
Like London to Brighton
And just like arriving in Brighton on a Sunday
The traffic slows to a crawl as we hit town

Such a crawl, on what’s now a beautiful September day
That Posie suggests we park and walk
(She like a walk, does Posie)
I check the map, and reckoning it’s about a mile to the Ulster County Fairgrounds, agree

And so,
we walk through town, passing all the cars in single-file slow-moving traffic
And we exit the town, and the cars now start passing us
And as the vista before us opens up into green fields a-plenty
It’s evident we have a fair old trek in front of us
Maps can be deceiving
Especially now we live in the country

After a thirty minute walk
We spy a couple of barns and a car park
That look small to be the Ulster County Fairgrounds
But Campbell and I race each other there anyway
Only to discover that it’s merely a glorified farm stand
The Fairgrounds must still be ahead of us
If only we could see them
But we can’t
So we turn the corner
Round another
Walk down the road
And up the hill
And even, eventually, try hitchhiking
But nobody stops for us
Despite how many people are driving otherwise empty SUVs

We’re on the road to nowhere….

By the time we get to the Fairgrounds
We’re a solid three miles out of town
Which isn’t much when you’re jogging
Or walking the shop-studded streets of Manhattan
But with a baby in a stroller and 10-year old in a mood
With no shade, no sidewalks
In the bright and unforgiving Indian Summer sunshine
It’s a pain
In the foot
Among other things

We arrive past 2pm,
Famished and thirsty
We are desperate to replenish and rehydrate
Which shouldn’t be hard at a food festival
Except you have to buy dollar tickets for the food
For which there’s a long line
Almost as long as the line at the pizza tent
Which is almost as long as the line at the Budweiser tent
Which is a sad reflection on the taste of the masses,
That, at a celebration of local food, wine and beer
Most people just want Bud and a slice

Campbell just wants a slice
But settles for a home-made Brownie
As we make our way round the various on-site stands
Compiling a smorgasbord of a hummus wrap, sushi, a superb butternut squash soup, edamane beans and cookies
From a variety of local restaurants, bakeries and farmers
Including The French Corner, The Village Tea Room, High Falls Café and Neko Sushi
I head off to the Shawangunk Wine Trail tent,
and emerge with thimble-sized tastings of all five of newcomer Whitecliff Vineyards’ wines
Of which the Awonsing, primarily Seyval Blanc with some Vignoles, is not only a refreshing reward for that long long walk
But the right blend of hybrid grapes for this region
Their Cab Franc seems fine too
But at $20 a bottle, I’ll stick to the Loire

After belated lunch
Campbell goes off playing in the kids’ area
While I head back to the wine tent for more of those miniature tastings
Make notes on all five wineries, of which I’ll post properly later
And hopefully visit some in person some time soon
Especially Adair Winery, which specializes in fine hybrid wines
(Which some of my friends would consider an oxymoron)
All Estate grown or from within five miles of the Winery
When too many other wineries buy in their grapes from all over the State
And then pass them off as local
To those who don’t know better
Think you can really grow Cabernet Sauvignon in the Hudson Valley?
Think again

Woodstock radio station WDST, a dominant presence everywhere in this region
from the Zoom Flume Water Park ‘up north’ to this food festival ‘down south’
has a stage set up in the middle of the Fairground
Most performers are pretty much as you’d imagine
But the last act catches my eye
A solo guy, I take one listen
And know he’s the real deal
As do others
It’s a funny thing about audiences
They may buy into the lowest common denominator
But they have an inherent human knack
For recognizing talent
When they hear it
This performer’s name is Rhett Miller
And as he announces, several times over
He plays in the Old 97s
The highly popular alt-country band from Texas
He’s also in the Ranchero Brothers
And is a successful performer in his own right
With albums dating back to 1989
Which is quite remarkable, considering that he looks about 25
Maybe it’s just that everyone looks that much younger as you get that much older
Later this same week (September 22), the solo Rhett Miller is headlining the Bowery Ballroom
Which is a long way from a food festival in the Catskills
Though not as far as Austin, Texas where, says Miller,
“I tend to get hassled on the streets”
Which is an uncool way of prefacing that he’s happy to be here and about to play a song he says always goes down well with the kids
By which he doesn’t mean “record buyers”
He means “kids”

Transplanted Texan and Old 97s front man Rhett Miller: calls the Catskills “the most beautiful place on Earth”

Why is Rhett Miller playing a food festival, you might ask
Turns out he just moved here too…
He calls it “the most beautiful place on earth,”
…And I thought I was upbeat about the Catskills!
Methinks he must have a love interest
Like the one he talks about in his song called ‘Nineteen’
(Not the Paul Hardcastle one)
He also plays a cool track about a lost cat
(Not the Catatonia one)
Called ‘The Back Door Remains Open’
Which someone requests
Despite the fact it does not appear to be on an album
Proving that he does indeed, have a following
And then he plays ‘Ziggy Stardust’ because he’s not too cool to pander
To the lowest common denominator

The event starts to wind up
And we start to ponder
How we’ll get home
Hitch-hiking is not a viable option
And we certainly aren’t walking again, that’s for sure
So I call a car service in New Paltz
Make that the car service in New Paltz
The dispatcher tells me ‘soon’ and I know how long is a piece of string
Fortunately, we brought the football along in the stroller
(If Campbell is reading this, as he’s started to make a habit of now
He’ll insist I call it a soccer ball
But it’s my site – and it’s a football)
And we amuse ourselves for the hour we await the taxi

And then we hang about to shop in town
Because New Paltz is an enchanting mix of rock-climbing stores, snowboard shops, health food stores, tattoo parlors
(every town in the Catskills has a tattoo parlor, some of the best names in the business work out of this region)
cozy chic restaurants, and old-style pubs
Kind of what a small country college town should be

I decide to drive home the back route
Avoiding the Thruway
Up through the country roads
All goes fine through High Falls, Stone Ridge, Rosendale, and up onto Route 28A
Which runs under the Ashokan Reservoir
The one you New Yorkers get your drinking water from
The one for which several Catskill villages were literally drowned under to create
Eminent Domain: You can’t escape it

All I have to do is turn west on 28A and follow its winding route till it joins up beyond the Reservoir with Route 28
But we’ve done this road before
And I know that if I turn east onto 28A, I should be able to find the one road that crosses the Reservoir
And which will cut off a few miles
‘Should’ proves the operative word
Because the sun has just gone down
And it’s getting hard to see where we’re going
But the full moon is rising behind the woods to light the way

Look how big and bright it is as it rises above the horizon to the right of us
Now look how big and bright it is to the left of us
Wow, the moon is now in front of us
How did it just sneak round behind us?
I think we’re going in circles

Campbell says brightly from the back seat,
“One thing’s for sure – we’re absolutely lost.”
He’s right
He’s also got homework to do
Which is proving very difficult, in a dark car at night driving through the woods
In circles
We’d ask someone directions
If we could find someone
To ask

It takes at least 30 minutes
And a decision to ignore the erroneous map
But we finally find our way across the Reservoir
About an hour after we would have emerged from it anyway
If we’d just gone the easy route

Posie points out that’s not once, but twice today
We’ve proven ourselves archetypal City Slickers
She’s right
But man, did that full moon look beautiful
Reflected across the Reservoir


The next Saturday, an even more perfect September day
We make a much shorter journey
Into Saugerties
For the 17th Annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
If you don’t know anything about this event
You might be tempted to ask:
How much public interest there could possibly be in Garlic
To merit a Festival?
And when I tell you that last year some 45,000 people attended the two-day event
You might realize the answer is:
A lot of public interest

We don’t park and walk at this one
The police wouldn’t let us
Even if we wanted to
Because, like a well-organized rock festival
(Another oxymoron?)
They have detours to avoid us driving into town
Provide parking lots a mile or more from the event
And offer shuttle buses to the park in town where it’s all taking place
They get 10 out of 10 for organization
Though they’ve had plenty practice

The Garlic Festival began, in 1989
By accident, as many of the best things do
When farmer Pat Reppert
Having attended a lecture at Cornell University about how to grow garlic
And realizing she’d got it all wrong
Threw a festival at her farm
To celebrate the little bulb that could
And it grew from there

The little bulb that could: Garlic in all its fall glory.

Want an idea of how big this event is?
Some 125 garlic growers take an individual stand to sell their produce to the public
125 of them
All selling garlic
Most charging just $1 a bulb
They’re not here to get rich
But they all seem happy to teach
And I learn more about garlic in one day than I previously knew in a lifetime
The most simple lesson being that of the two most popular kinds of Garlic
German Red is a hard head,
French White is a soft head
But of course there’s as many types of garlic as there seems to be wine grapes
Including Spanish Roja (which is not a wine, though one vendor does inadvertently spell it Rioja), Georgian Crystal and Chinese Pink

We take home a mixed bag of the following, all organically grown and only $1 a bulb:
Asian Tempest, Chesnok Red, Killarney Red and Inchelium,
How can we tell which is which?
The farmer kindly wrote their initials on a garlic leaf itself
We’ll let you know if we taste the difference

Here’s what I else I learned about garlic:
There is simply no food that can not be made with garlic
At least not at the Garlic Festival
Check the pictures for proof

There’s the obvious food
Garlic Sausage, Garlic Burgers, Garlic Soup
I choose a delightful plate of wild mixed mushrooms with garlic from ‘Aunt Debbie’s
Posie picks up shrimp-and-garlic kebabs from our new fave restaurant, Saugerties’ own ‘Miss Lucy’s
They both get the thumbs-up

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

There’s also the novelty foods
Garlic spreads, garlic quesadillas, garlic mustards, garlic pretzels
I have a garlic and potato focaccia
From the famous and revered bakery Bread Alone
Which might actually be better sticking to bread only
As they have not only pre-burned the garlic on my focaccia,
they then burn the actual focaccia in the grill
and as one farmer notes on a poster by his stand
Garlic must never be burned
(Or it becomes acrid)
Besides which, this focaccia probably has 50 cloves of garlic on it
Which, even when they’re roasted, and that much less pungent
Is about 45 too many
As my stomach (and my breath) has been reminding me ever since

And then there’s the you-can’t-be-serious foods
Garlic shooters (for which I see no takers)
Garlic ice cream (a highlight of the festival that draws a lengthy line)
And while I can’t bring myself to try either of these
I do opt to dip three garlic heads
Into a chocolate fountain
For a dollar
And you may think I’m insane
But they tasted excellent
There really is no food that can not be made without garlic
At least at a Garlic Festival

Garlic Shots: I did not see anyone try. Garlic in chocolate: I did try. And liked.

This being a festival in America
(or at least in this part of it)
Music is an integral part
(For say what you like about the USA, it lives for live music)
And though I don’t watch much of what’s on stage
Being that I’m too fascinated by what’s for sale
I’m drawn to Bells & Motley
Known to each other as Sondra and John
Bromka, husband and wife
Who specialize in Medieval Music from Europe
(It could hardly be Medieval Music from the USA)
Which they play not only with love and care and passion and knowledge
But on mostly handmade instruments

“Mama’s got a Squeeze Box, she wears on her chest”
Sorry, I waited ages to take the picture just to write that caption.

Sondra introduces an instrumental from Champagne
Which she performs on a crumhorm and Squeeze Box
While John plays his hand-made Hurdy Gurdy
Which he shows me afterwards,
While explaining that he also makes medieval fiddles by studying antique drawings
I buy a copy of their CD Bransiez! Arraye of Court & Country Dance Music 1450-1750
Which spans a greater time frame than everything that has come since
To keep it in perspective
Bransiez (pronounced Braun-lay) is an old French call to dance
And in the couple’s devotion to Breton, Gaelic, Flemish and English music
I’m reminded of Alan Stivell
Who I was turned on to by Geoffrey Armes
Who I went to see perform in Kingston on Friday night
And who has a fair appreciation of the Norman and Celtic strains himself
If you’re a fan of music
You can’t but appreciate a couple who are so devoted to one form of it
That they make so many of their own instruments
And then play them so well

We leave laden with garlic, a garlic keeper, garlic spreads, garlic jelly
Fresh peppers, honey, jalapenos and more
With a special nod to the Grey Mouse Farm of Saugerties itself,
Who sell dried vegetable chips, sugar-free preserves and a lemon-dill garlic spread
The quality of which we’ve rarely tasted before
And are also busy collection donations
To buy a ‘mangy’ horse from a neighboring farmer
Who, now that his animal is unproductive
Wants to sell it for slaughter
The kids at Grey Mouse want to adopt it
I wish them well

There has been not a cloud in the sky all day
And in a crowd of maybe 25,000
The only outburst we’ve witnessed
Has been a three-year old’s end-of-the-day meltdown
It’s easy to see why the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival
Has become one of the region’s star annual attractions
Because a Fall Festival
Gets no better than this
Pardon my breath

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1 Comment(s)

  1. 26 September, 2005 at 7:13 pm

    Just an FYI when I clicked on the Clash link it took me to the Microsoft web site. I really liked what you wrote about the garlic fest. My fav dish with garlic is fondue with lots of Galic ail.


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