The owner of Poughkeepsie's Chance Theater, Frank Pallette, said on Thursday that community members upset about his decision to book the band Confederate Railroad should take a breath.

The band, whose set at the Ulster County Fair was canceled amid complaints, associates itself with the Confederate flag. Its logo is a steam engine donning the flag.

Pallette, a self-proclaimed "history buff," insists the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern culture, but not racism.

"I don't look at it as racist," Pallette said during an interview just outside the venue, "and I think other people maybe have to be a little openminded to it. That's all."

Community leaders around the region believe Pallette is the one who should open his mind.

"The Confederate flag is a common white supremacist symbol that evokes pain and hate as it is a reminder of our country's oppressive and racist past," wrote Ward 2 councilor Sarah Salem in an email to Spectrum News. "I don’t think it’s an appropriate symbol of the south or country music, and I don’t support its use in any form."

"I grew up going to the chance and saw bands like Third Eye Blind, the Wallflowers, Fuel, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and so many more," Salem said. "It’s sad to see this band booked at a venue I thought valued and respected the expression of the community for which they exist, that is, welcoming and inclusive to all." 

In July, just after the Ulster County Fair Board decided to pull the band from its lineup, another band, '90 Proof' of Saugerties, took the stage to play a Confederate Railroad song.

Lead singer Raymond Minew took off his button-down shirt to reveal a black T-shirt with the words, "90 Proof Supports Confederate Railroad," and yelled that local politicians who lobbied for Confederate Railroad's cancellation should "kiss my country ass," also the name of the CR song they played.

After video of the performance made the rounds on social media, the two bands made contact and decided to play a show together. Minew calls the concert scheduled for September 20 "an opportunity of a lifetime for us."

When asked about the emotions stirred up by Confederate Railroad's imagery, Minew said he is able to compartmentalize. He said he does not like the Confederate flag, but has always felt a connection to CR's music.

"It was simply supporting the band, their music," Minew said of the July 30 fair performance, "and people having the right to choose what they want to listen to. They have a ton of fans out there. People love to go see them and people should have the right to go see them."

On the streets of this outer New York City suburb, it was difficult to find anyone who would voice on the record their support for the decision to book CR.

"Come on now. It's too late in the day for that," said Barbara Whitfield, a recent import to Poughkeepsie from New York City. "I thought we were at a place already where we all felt the same way about that. It wouldn't fly in the city."

"We definitely need to move on now," said Kristina Bittner in Poughkeepsie. "It's the year 2019 now."

"If we know what it stands for and what it's about, why are we with it?" said Bobby Roberts, who is an import from Los Angeles. "Why do we allow it?"

Other members of the Poughkeepsie Common Council expressed sentiments similar to those of Salem. Ward 3 Councilwoman Lorraine Johnson warned against condoning racist symbols or philosophies in America's current political climate, as national debate rages about whether the passive acceptance of racism leads to violence.

She hopes community members actively voice their opinions on the Chance's booking of Confederate Railroad.

"I think they shouldn't do this," Johnson said over the phone Thursday evening. "If we don't speak up about this, I fear we might have some trouble there."

The band's agent told Spectrum News in an email on Thursday the band was unavailable for an interview, but he hopes to connect Spectrum News with the band for an interview before the September 20 concert.

Mayor Rob Rolison has been silent on the issue. Pallette, meanwhile, has no plans to cancel Confederate Railroad's performance, and said he means no harm by welcoming the band and its imagery.

"As far as anybody saying the band is racist or that we have any racist bones in our body is ridiculous," Pallette said. "There's room for interpretation that [the Confederate flag] represents the South, not necessarily racism. Like [the TV show] 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' "