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October 26, 2016
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America’s got talent!

Owner Vinny Barbato, center, and Maximus joined friends and the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Barbato’s new business in Roscoe, NY.
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox

Okay, I admit it. I’m a reality show junkie. On the rare occasion that I find myself at home, rather than traversing the countryside in search of adventure, I can be found on the couch, remote in hand. Thanks to the Gypsy weddings, dance competitions and parades of bachelors seeking brides, I am never let down when seeking a guilty pleasure. It seems that any subject is fair game these days, and more than a few people have suggested that my crazy life here in the Upper Delaware Valley is perfect fodder for some Hollywood producer just waiting to turn Dharma the Wonder Dog ( into the superstar she is destined to be.

Meanwhile, neither of us is willing to let the grass grow under our feet (or paws), so our search for entertainment right here in the Catskills continues. For years now, I’ve heard about the legendary homegrown talent show that takes place annually in Hortonville, NY, and when Carol Montana ( called on Dharma to be a judge, I begged to be included. Montana sighed into the phone and acquiesced, mumbling, “if you must,” before disengaging. Choosing to ignore Montana’s blatant disregard for my wounded ego, I made a mental note to be on my best behavior and checked my calendar to see if there were any conflicts with the dog’s schedule.

Noting that I had arranged to schlep her to a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Roscoe, NY prior to the show, I called new business owner Vinny Barbato ( to confirm. “It’s the little dog we’re interested in,” he barked, “but sure, feel free to come along.” Sigh. Friends picked me up and off we went. Sure enough, Barbato’s big dog Maximus was in attendance, greeting guests and posing for pics with luminaries from the chamber of commerce ( Guns, ammo and all things “camo” were unveiled and a mob of well wishers showed up to check out the store, share a slice of cake ( and cheer as the ribbon fluttered to the sidewalk. Big Dog Arms is officially open for business.

Accepting reality, I stood by as the dog signed pawtographs. Experiencing a sudden desire to drown my sorrows, I decided to call on another new business ( that has sprung up in Roscoe, and even though their grand opening is still in the future, I strode to the door and pounded on it. Bootlegger 21 distiller John Walsh graciously invited me in, giving me a quick tour of the facility, housed in a retrofitted fire station built in 1929. “New York has become a hotbed for distilleries in recent years,” Walsh explained, while his partner Brian Facquet prepared a sample of gluten-free, handmade vodka. I know nothing about distilling liquor, but (IMHO) these guys have a talent for it and their motto, “Historically Smooth,” rang true. Since I wasn’t driving, I downed a shot (or two) and snapped some pics before heading out the door for Hortonville and its local talent show.

Now in its 27th year, the cavalcade of entertainment has been wowing sold-out crowds for decades, while supporting the Interfaith Outreach United Main Street Thrift Shop ( in Callicoon, NY. Held in the historic Hortonville Presbyterian Church, the lineup consisted of 16 acts. Singers, musicians, comics and storytellers took to the stage as master of ceremonies Richard Ross presided as he has done for decades. Ross was amusing and endearing and kept the pace moving along with wit and considerable charm. “This is the best little show in town,” he declared. “We’re all good at something, and tonight you’re going to see some unusual acts!” Between Jim Newton’s washboard rendition of “For No Good Reason at All,” little Curtis Brooks at the piano, the barbershop quartet and Joe Hoffsommer playing “School Days” on a pen (yes, a pen!), it quickly became clear that Ross wasn’t kidding.

Young re-enactor Brett Dirie’s salute to our troops brought a tear to the eye, as did Silvia Hoffmanbeck’s angelic voice, while Kathy Aleschus’ rendition of “Baby Face” with partner Andy White encouraged tears of laughter. Kathy Bernitt, Richard Barkley, Ken Rodgers, Lou Setren, violinist Amelia Brooks and future American Idol contestant Jeff Newton serenaded, strummed and strutted the stage along with the rest of the talented cast. Judges Montana and Dharma made sure that everyone (deservedly) received an award. Distillers, entrepreneurs and banjo players all have something in common in the mountains we call home, proving that reality TV has got nothin’ on us. These folks are America and boy, have they got talent!

[To view a complete album of pictures from the talent show, go to]