Summer Hoot Music Festival at Ashokan

By Pauline Liu, Times Herald-Record

OLIVEBRIDGE - If a hoot is a good time, then Sunday's Summer Hoot definitely lived up to its name.

According to organizers, more than 1,200 people attended the three-day American dance and music festival with pay-what-you-want admission.

The event was held at The Ashokan Center, a nonprofit educational retreat center.

The third annual Hoot featured more than 30 world-class musical acts that performed on two outdoor stages.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III was the closing act.

Recording artists Natalie Merchant and Simi Stone were in the audience for the festival kick-off on Friday night.

Much to the crowd's delight, both jumped onto the stage to provide Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers with some impromptu back-up vocals.

"It was a very professional festival which featured the type of music that I did not like, but now adore," said Steve Ostrow of Middletown.

Ostrow and his wife, Monica, were among the many baby boomers in the audience.

The performances also attracted a lot of families with small children.

"It's totally community centered and super family-friendly without anything cheesy for kids," said Annika Beaulieu of Phoenicia.

Tammy and Jason Haynes of Mount Tremper brought their two kids, ages 2 and 7.

"It's hard when you have young kids to find activities that adults and children can both enjoy - and I love this type of music," said Tammy Haynes.

The festival debuted in 2013 right after the Ashokan Center's new campus opened.

The Hoot is held twice a year. It's the brainchild of musicians Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar, of The Mike + Ruthy Band. Ungar's father is Ashokan Center board president Jay Ungar.

"We were inspired by the local music scene and this wonderful place," said Ungar. "It grows a little bit each year, but it wasn't like we started small. Natalie Merchant and Pete Seeger performed at the first festival," she added.

Despite the pay-what-want admission, the festival has always been able to come out ahead, said Merenda.

"The Hoot pays for itself, and if there's anything left over, it goes to the Ashokan Center's education programs," he added.

In case you missed the Summer Hoot, there's always the Winter Hoot at the end of January.

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