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Artists’ Soapbox Derby returns to Rondout this Sunday

The Kingston Artist Soapbox Derby tournament arrives on Sunday.

We’ve all heard stories of annual parties so legendary that potential guests kept showing up on the doorsteps of bewildered new tenants, years after the original hosts left. Apparently, the last hilly stretch of Broadway in Kingston, ending at the Strand along the River Rondout, achieved this iconic status, thanks to a quarter-century of gravity-fueled chaos known as the Kingston Artists’ Soapbox Derby . Even the 2020 pandemic couldn’t stop it completely.

“We got it last year. A few die-hards showed up. We kept it alive, ”said Michael DiPleco, a professional photographer who is chairing this year’s Soapbox Derby, which takes place this Sunday. “I have been participating in the event since 2004 – as a participant, as a technician. Some years I did Gravity Control for them.

If you’ve ever been to a Derby since its debut in 1995, you’ll know that those hardworking volunteers in Gravity Control T-shirts are sometimes the only buffer between a fleeing rolling object and the vulnerable spectators who fill the sidewalks lining Broadway under Spring. Street. The Derby is not a race, and participating non-motorized wheeled vehicles, like skiers, are never expected to lose control; but minor steering accidents have been known to occur on occasion. It’s all part of the silly fun.

The small 2020 rally was unofficial and did not involve closing the street to regular car traffic. Although it was slow to get started due to uncertainties last spring regarding the safety of public gatherings, this year’s event is a reality. The street will be closed for a few hours, but the route will be a bit shorter and end at Abeel Street, as some of the restaurants on the last block of Broadway are now dependent on their customers being able to eat at curbside tables. (If there are any benefits to COVID-19, the rise of a European-style beer garden culture in America has to be one of them.)

The first Kingston Artists’ Soapbox Derby was founded by George and Nancy Donskoj, who owned an art gallery on the corner of Broadway and Spring, which became the starting line. The event turned out to be very popular and the crowds have increased every year. Entrances ranged from the most basic go-karts built by kids to ambitious rolling works of art designed by renowned Hudson Valley sculptors. This provided an irresistible challenge for DIY enthusiasts to reuse piles of garbage accumulated in their garages into imaginative assemblies on wheels.

But then the couple broke up and a succession of other organizers took the helm. A few years ago, the derby didn’t take place at all – much to the chagrin of local businesses, who love to feed the crowds that flock to see the action. It is a great way to encourage new visitors to discover the Rondout district, with all its summer attractions; many of them return for further exploration.

According to DiPleco, the management of the Derby has strayed somewhat in recent years, including a misguided attempt to repackage it as an “Artist’s Derby”, without the DIY aspect that has always been its charm, in order to make it profitable. . “They tried to turn him into something he’s not,” he says. “You can’t mark it. It’s a fun event.

This year, says DiPleco with palpable relief, the Derby is back under the auspices of the non-profit Hudson Valley Community Productions, which also hosts the annual Sinterklaas community celebrations in Kingston and Rhinebeck. He and the other current organizers are hoping to start their own 501 (c) (3) organization to keep the Derby going for the foreseeable future. They are also looking for volunteers to help on the day of the event, Sunday August 15th.

The Derby itself will take off at 1 p.m., but the street will close and the festivities will begin at noon. The Brassroots Band will walk around and play while late entries register at a table on the Spring Street start line. Radio Kingston will provide the master of ceremonies for the event.

Organizers hope that same-day registration will ensure an impressive harvest of soapbox vehicles, given that many manufacturers have started late this year, as well as enthusiastic participation from spectators. “We are optimistic,” says DiPleco. “We have been locked out; we want to go out and do things!

Due to the late green light date for this event, there will be no food vendors on site this year. But there are plenty of great restaurants in the immediate vicinity, the owners of which should be smiling after a difficult year and a half.

As the Derby coincides with the regular Kingston Waterfront Farmers Market on Sundays in TR Gallo Park, the Derby Awards Ceremony will take place in the neighboring pavilion. There will be prizes for adults and youth, as well as the Audience Award, voted on by the participants, and the Rondout Reject (a / k / a the Horse’s Ass Award) for the preferred failed attempt.

It costs money to make all of this happen, so if you want to donate, visit https://gofund.me/44cdbdd2. To register your vehicle online before Sunday, go to https://kingstonartistsoapboxderby.com. Admission is $ 25 for adults, free for children 12 and under.


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Justine T. Smith

The author Justine T. Smith

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