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Taste of Country brings thousands — of both people and dollars — to the mountaintop

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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Diana Tessler and party at The Hemlock on Main Street during the Taste of Country music festival.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Georgia and Chuck Russo, of Rensselaer County, at Taste of Country this weekend.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Samantha Giansamti and Alisha Gian, of Westchester County, returning for their second year at the festival.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Residents open their property to festival parking, charging $20 per car.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Security pats down attendees entering the Taste of Country Music Festival at Hunter Mountain on Sunday.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Dutchess County friends and country music converts Kylle Baker, Diane Potter, Ericka Ash and Britt Nystrom.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Cooperstown friends Naomi Testa, Taylor Keane and Scott Segit, leaving Taste of Country this weekend.
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    Carly Miller/Columbia-Greene Media Homeowners Bob and Cathy Winnie with Bella. They host repeat festivalgoers on their lawn during the music festival.
June 11, 2018 11:55 pm

HUNTER — The 6th annual Taste of Country Music Festival at Hunter Mountain continued through Sunday with headliners Eric Church, LeAnn Rimes, Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt sending an eclectic charge through the sold-out crowd.

Many stayed throughout the weekend in tents, recreational vehicles, hotels and in parked cars on every open lawn.

For savvy homeowners in town, the annual festival can mean thousands in extra cash.

As thousands of country music fans pour into town, homeowners on Main Street make a killing every year by opening their lawns and driveways to event parking. Bob and Cathy Winnie, 25-year Hunter residents, bring in a couple thousand every year parking 27 cars on their property.

“It does the whole town good,” Cathy said, petting her dog Bella. “Bed and breakfasts are full down from Palenville and beyond. It’s crazy, there’s no place for anyone to go.”

“It’s day three of mayhem and it’s wonderful,” Bob said.

Daisy Duke Tailgators, on the lawn of another Main Street home, has become its own attraction with line dancers and volleyball breaking out in the midst of an impromptu 90-car parking lot, manager Tucker Foti said. “Half of the festival is a tailgate party. It’s probably more fun than what goes on inside.”

Daisy Duke Tailgators brings in about $7,000 and comes with portable toilets and a handwashing station, Foti said Sunday as a line of cars waited to turn onto the grass.

“This is the first year the festival sold out — they should do one every weekend,” said second homeowner Diana Tessler. “It brings in revenue for businesses and residents. No one can complain about the extra money,” she said, noting that many rent their homes and locals can avoid traffic by using side roads.

On Sunday afternoon, cars sat bumper-to-bumper on Main Street as revelers marched toward the festival with folding chairs slung over their backs. After two days of sun, sleeping in tents, and parties on the mountaintop, campers emerged from shuttle buses and RVs, bleary-eyed and sporting fresh sunburns and cowboy hats.

“Every year the crowds are bigger and bigger and everything gets more expensive,” said Cat Natonio, of Dutchess County. The highest ticket item for the weekend is the 3-Day Super Outlaw Pass for $1,650, according to the festival’s website.

“Florida Georgia Line killed it,” she said. “We’re excited to see Sam [Hunt] even though he bailed last minute last year.”

Behind the scenes, cops, security and ambulance operators pulled the strings to keep the curtain open. And this year, security forces were a heavy presence with a light touch, according to some festivalgoers.

“The security has been phenomenal this year,” said Trinity Robin of Potsdam. “They’re more relaxed.”

Police included the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Hunter Police, state police, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms units, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and private security companies. Ambulances were on standby.

“Because of Las Vegas, there’s been additional training, staffing and heightened security,” said Josh Landsberg, event manager at private security company Green Mountain Concert Services, referring to the 2017 mass shooting at the Harvest Country Music Festival in Nevada.

Green Mountain staff, many who patrol the festival in plain clothes, receive training in evacuations and crowd control, and recently, guest services to create a “see something, say something” atmosphere, Landsberg said.

“Our approach makes a huge difference,” he said. “In between acts we interact with the crowd to address concerns without the intimidation of a uniform. We find that has dropped the number of incidents.”

Landsberg declined to comment on the number of officers on staff and specific incidents from the weekend, due to contractual and security reasons, he said.

Taste of Country ambulance crews, including Hunter Ambulance and Greene County Paramedics, don’t get much sleep on festival weekends as the number of hospital trips spike at night, said Hunter Ambulance Director Erika Bain on Sunday.

“It’s been busy but everything is running smoothly,” Bain said. “We sleep when we can get it.”

As crowds left the mountaintop Sunday, traffic snaked down Route 23A, with packed parking lots at nearby restaurants such as Selena’s Diner in Haines Falls and Dolph’s Village Market and Deli in Tannersville.

“We appreciate the business that festivals bring,” Selena’s Diner manager Jennifer Bart said, balancing armfuls of breakfast plates. The diner catches festivalgoers for breakfast on their way into and out of town. “We have more people on staff, it’s a fun energy,” she said.

Many festivalgoers return year after year for the rotating musical acts and the family atmosphere.

“We’ve been coming since the festival started,” said Ericka Ash, corraling her three friends. “You meet people and look forward to seeing them every year.”

“We were here years ago when they evacuated people off the mountain in a thunderstorm, it was so fun,” said Michele Guerra, reminiscing with friends. “I’ve watched people pee in puddles and cups in the front row because they can’t get out.”

“It’s a great festival,” said Georgia Russo with her husband Chuck, both decked on in festival T-shirts and cowboy hats.

“The sound system is great, it’s organized well,” she said, adding that the security has been especially courteous. “We’ve already bought our tickets for next year.”