By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Sometimes all it takes is 17 evening gowns…and a sheer love of live music.
Just ask Aquanetta Wright, or the “Ferry Godmother” as she’s more affectionately called.
Wright spoke Friday night at Calabash Restaurant on Liberty Street in front of a crowd of her loyal supporters about the humble beginnings of a music series that has potently altered the fabric of a City for the past decade. Reflecting back to a phase in her life when she was surrounded with 17 evening gowns and little, immediate purpose for them, Wright further unraveled her passions for live music and bringing people from all walks of life together (in fact, her namesake’s origins lie in her clad in some of those gowns at sunrise, greeting ferry commuter riders at the Waterfront with coffee and donuts.) It wasn’t long before an idea was born: delivering live, outdoor music to the City of Newburgh. Only one piece remained to the elusive puzzle: insurance. Enter: lawyer Geoffrey Chanin.
“I knew if I could get that one thing, insurance, we could make this happen,” said Wright, adorned in one of those evening gowns, a lovely powder blue color.
And the rest is history. Now, 10 years later the statistics speak for themselves: 1,459 musicians, 193 concerts, 169 bands, and 100,000 people attending those venues. It’s numbers that have had a human effect, something Wright also spoke extensively about to her guests in the packed restaurant’s back room.
“We have been restoring the magic, one community at a time; it’s something I promised my mother I would do, make a difference,” stressed Wright, who leads Ferry Godmother Productions. “Have I created a positive image for Newburgh?” Wright enthusiastically queried her guests.
The ensuing, overwhelming applause as well as head nodding quickly answered her question.
Among those in agreement were musicians from shows over the years, media personnel as well as political dignitaries. One of those figures was Stephen Gould, the former Mayor of Beacon, who presently works for Frank Skartados’ office. A frequent attendee of the concerts, Gould was on hand to present a Certificate of Appreciation to Wright, as well as personally thank her.
“This is a real pleasure and honor; Frank wanted to be here tonight, and respects all you have done,” said Gould, as he faced Wright. “A lot of people have great ideas, but they never put them in effect; what is so special is you have done just that and stuck with it over the years.” Continuing, Gould added, “Newburgh is becoming the place that it is because of people like you and those who you have inspired.”
Another politician, one who has worked very closely with Wright, especially in assisting with her return to the Newburgh Waterfront, Judy Kennedy, City of Newburgh Mayor, was also brimming with accolades.
“There is one word you can apply to Aquanetta and that’s tenacity, truly sticking to things she believes in,” said Kennedy, smiling as she looked at Wright next to her. “Here is a woman who knows how to keep it going when things get really tough; I can’t tell you how much respect I have for that.”
It’s that very same level of respect that Wright carries for her supporters. Friday evening was all about her gratitude for them. Providing trays of ethnic dishes, music accompaniment by the Christopher Dean Sullivan Trio, and even a youth singer, belting out an opera number, Wright, who referred to herself as a “behind-the-scenes” person, takes the greatest joy in bringing people together.
“If you look around this room, there are people from all races, economic backgrounds, cultures, you name it,” said The Ferry Godmother, “That’s really what it’s all about.”
Incited by the night’s energy, Wright concluded her talk by alluding to some future, “bigger” things coming up in the future.
“You have now created a monster,” said Wright, adorning a broad smile. “I just really hope we can continue to do this for many, many years to come.”