Harry Chapin was a Long Island treasure. A talented singer and songwriter who had a gift for musical character studies, Chapin was also a noted humanitarian, known for his efforts to battle hunger in the United States. He died way too young, at the age of 38, in a tragic automobile accident on the Long Island Expressway.
For the last 15 years now, various forces have come together on the anniversary of Chapin's death to perform a free benefit concert at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in Eisenhower Park. The concert features local Long Island musicians, and collects food for Long Island Cares, the Harry Chapin food bank.
I've never actually attended the event before, largely because it's a bit of a distance away -- the park is in East Meadow, and I'm out in Patchogue -- and because it's usually held during the week. (In fact, I had never attended any shows at this venue until two summers ago when Blondie played there.) And also because, let's face it, I'm usually more inclined to catch artists playing original music than I am to watch them cover another's person's work.
But this year, some friends invited me to attend the concert with them to celebrate one of their birthdays. And a bunch of the musicians who were playing the show were old friends I haven't seen in a long time. So I figured it would be worth the trip.
As I mentioned, my niece is in town for the week, so Denise stayed home with the kids. (And she'd just worked a full day, and was working again the the next day. There are some advantages for me in that I work from home these days.) I headed out solo a little after 5:30.
I got stuck in just about the amount of rush hour traffic I had expected, and made it to the venue with a few minutes to spare. Once there, I located my friends, including Rich Da Drummer, my friends Sue and Bruce, and Bobbi and Sandy Peters, the wife and daughter of keyboard and theremin whiz Chris Peters (who was playing the show as a regular member of the band, MediaCrime).
There were a number of old friends playing in the show, including Chris and the rest of MediaCrime, Robin Eve & Frank Walker, Toby Tobias and Lisa Itts. There were also many musicians I either knew a little, or didn't know personally but whose work I was familiar with, such as Debra Lynne (who I haven't seen since the Zen Den days), Stuart Markus (who was both the organizer and MC of the show, and who played on several of the musical numbers), Martha Trachtenberg and Judith Zweiman (who played as part of the band billed as "Folk Goddesses"), acclaimed Long Island harmonica phenom Ken "The Rocket" Korb, and Pete Mancini (formerly of the band Butchers Blind).
There were also a ton of musicians I knew in attendance who weren't playing the show this year (although many of them have played it in the past). These included Hank Stone, Todd Evans (of He-Bird, She-Bird and The Hank Stone Band), Jessica Upham, Patti Morrone (who I haven't seen in a decade, and now saw twice in the last three days - go figure), Valerie Griggs, and Sal Lazzarino. Apologies to anyone I accidentally left out. (These are the kinds of things that torture me when I write these blog posts.)
The show included 17 songs in all, some of them among Chapin's best-known tracks, others more in the category of obscure gems. At the end of the night, the full cast of the show came together to perform two of Harry's classics as a finale, "Cat's in the Cradle" (which was sung along with a rare tape of Harry himself performing the song live), and "Circle".
It was a beautiful night, both weather-wise and music-wise. There were at least a few hundred people in attendance, although it wasn't so crowded as to make everyone feel crammed in.
Not to in any way disparage anyone's performance, but due to both my relationships with the performers and the excellence of the performances, I'd have to say that I especially enjoyed the Robin Eve & Frank Walker version of "A Better Place to Be", a particularly strong musical treatise on loneliness, and the wild MediaCrime version of "The Rock".
With many thanks to the wonderful lady who came around with the programs (since I remembered to bring a notebook, but forgot to bring a pen), here was the full bill for the show:
Folk Goddesses - Remember When the Music
Debra Lynne - Dancin' Boy (with Cyndi Hazell)
Toby Tobias - Story of a Life
Mike Barry - Mail-Order Annie (with John Cardone)
Lisa Itts - I Wanna Learn a Love Song (with Stuart Markus & Frank Walker)
Jerry DeMeo - Bluesman
Sid Cherry & Helene Schrier Pandal & Emily Pandel - Old College Avenue
Travis McKeveny & Pete Mancini - Mr. Tanner
MediaCrime - The Rock
Chris Solimeno - Old Folkie (with Stuart, Frank, Sue Christian, Vicky Liotta & Ken Korb)
Patricia Shih - Dreams Go By (with Stuart, Frank, Christine & Ken)
Robin Eve & Frank Walker - A Better Place to Be
Robinson Treacher - Empty
Karen Bella - Saturday Morning (with Mara Levine)
Gathering Time - Taxi
Full Cast - Cat's in the Cradle (with 'Harry')
Full Cast & Guests - Circle
Nice job by Stuart Markus and everyone who worked to put this show together.