Gun rights groups plan festival at fairgrounds

ALTAMONT — A new not-for-profit is hoping to rally people who say state government has overstepped constitutional rights, with country musicians and conservative speakers scheduled for an Aug. 24 festival at the Altamont fairgrounds.

“Freedompalooza” will be the first fund-raising event for the Freedom Coalition, founded by state Assemblyman Bill Nojay, a Republican representing western counties, and Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, with an ad-hoc group of what King described as “constitutionalists.”

Nojay said they were concerned over gun-control legislation passed this year — the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act — and what he called an effort to delay regulations on hydraulic fracturing by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. But he said the group’s push is for a broader concern over individual liberties and home rule.

Funds will be used toward a voter education and registration campaign for the 2014 election, modeled after MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign.

Nojay is up for re-election in 2014, but said no funds raised by the coalition would be used for his district.

“It’s basically going to be across the board, with both Republicans and Democrats, saying, ‘This is what they said, this is what they did — you decide whether they should be in office,’” Nojay said of the campaign.

Among offices that could have “viable choices” and be the subject of the campaign in 2014, he mentioned the State-Senate seat of Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk, who was narrowly declared the representative of a district covering most of western Albany County earlier this year. She has proposed legislation to ban the importation and treatment of hydrofracking fluid into the state, but she wasn’t sworn into office until after the SAFE Act had passed.

Nojay said the Shooters Committee on Political Education; the New York State Young Republicans; the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York, a public policy organization; and central and southern tier landowners’ groups are also part of the organization. King said Rochester area conservative advocacy groups from the 9/12 Project and the Tea Party are also part of the coalition.

 “This is not about a single issue,” said King. “This is about an endemic change for the entire United States…We’re trying to do our part here in New York State to change the views of the people of the country.”

The festival will come on the heels of the week-long, tri-county Altamont Fair, an annual tradition at the Altamont fairgrounds, and the reason for its existence.

Officer Christopher Lorenzo, a spokesman for the Altamont Police, said all officers in the department will be at the festival aiding fairgrounds security on foot, like any other large event.

Specific plans and briefings to coordinate police for the event haven’t been made yet, Lorenzo said. He said the country music concert Countryfest has attracted over 30,000 people at the Altamont fairgrounds in one day, where police did pat-downs and checked bags for illegal weapons.

King didn’t give any expected numbers for turnout or funds to be raised. “I think that the comment was, we would like to have 15,000, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” said King of Freedompalooza attendees.

Depending on the turnout, Nojay said, Freedompalooza could be replicated in other parts of the state. “It’s the transportation crossroads of Upstate New York,” Nojay said of the chosen location, where he expects people to come from Long Island.

Separately organized events billed as “Freedompalooza” have appeared throughout the country.

“We finally sort of gave up on finding something sort of unique,” said Nojay of the festival name. “We just decided to look at things that weren’t in New York.”

According to Nojay, musicians planned for the event so far are Chuck Wicks and Keith Anderson, with more performers to be announced in the coming weeks.

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