The Ulster County Fair kicks off tomorrow, but controversy has already started. The performance of a band initially scheduled for Thursday was cancelled last week, following outcry over the group’s name and logo.
The board of directors of the Ulster County Agricultural Society decided on July 24 to cancel Southern country-rock group Confederate Railroad’s performance at the fairgrounds in New Paltz. The decision came following requests from Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, the county’s human rights commission director and a county legislator as well as concerned citizens regarding the appropriateness of the name of the band and its logo, which features a steam locomotive flying Confederate flags.
“It’s really about the kids, at this point,” Newkirk says.
Amy Newkirk is with the fair’s office staff. She referred WAMC to the fair’s July 26 Facebook post for direct response to the cancellation. That statement says the decision was not taken lightly and factors such as security concerns for fairgoers, long-term consequences, and the mission of the Ag Society were taken into account. The post also says the mission of the Ag Society is to promote education and agriculture, and the youth of Ulster County work hard all year for the opportunity to exhibit their projects. The post concludes by saying regardless of the board’s decision, and whether one agrees or disagrees, the hope is that there is support for the efforts and passion of the region’s young people.
“And there’s so much more to the fair. Exhibitors are getting ready to come on out with their animals, at this point. They have prepared all year long. They belong to different 4-H clubs and organizations,” Newkirk says. “And a lot of these kids look forward to the fair all year long. They take a week off to come out here. A lot of families have their campers out here, and, really, the fair becomes a family for this whole week.”
The Confederate flag has come under increasing criticism as a racist emblem of slavery and segregation. William Aldridge is NAACP Mid-Hudson regional director.
“I agree with the decision. The NAACP has long took a stance against anything that had to do with the Confederate flag,” says Aldridge. “So, in this particular instance, yes, I applaud them in being sensitive enough to realize that that may very well create discomfort for some people who may be attending the fair.”
Confederate Railroad front man Danny Shirley has echoed supporters who say the flag represents history and Southern heritage. Democratic County Executive Ryan announced over the weekend that Americana band The Felice Brothers will perform instead. Ian and James Felice grew up in the Hudson Valley. James Felice says he has been attending the Ulster County Fair for 25 years and his band recorded its first three records just a few miles from the fairgrounds. Ryan was unavailable for comment Monday but said in a previously issued statement, in part, “The Ulster County Fair must be an event that everyone can enjoy while representing the values of all members of our community. Any showcasing of a symbol of division and racism runs counter to that principle and will be vigorously opposed by my administration.” Again, Newkirk:
“The fair is the same fair that everyone loves. Nothing changed. We have the same volunteers. We have been running the fair for over 30 years,” says Newkirk. “A lot of these people that are volunteers, a lot of the volunteers are 4-H members that grew up exhibiting at the fair and now are part of organizing the fair.”
The Ulster County Fair runs from July 30 through August 4.