The ‘Just Wild About Harry’ Tribute Concert was initially scheduled for July 16, which was proclaimed “Harry Chapin Day” to honor the anniversary of the singer-songwriter’s death, but a rainy day stalled the event.
The event, rescheduled for Aug. 28, is now facing another roadblock that is forcing the concert to be further rescheduled: large signs bearing Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s name.
Multiple signs were posted at the venue of Eisenhower Park for both Blakeman and Chapin, which is typical for the event. But concert organizers have complained about the size of Blakeman’s signs, which are much larger than Chapin’s.
Concert Organizer Stuart Markus shared his statement about the issue on Facebook, which was shared with Newsday, which originally reported on the incident.
He said many individuals involved in the tribute concert, most notably the concert co-organizers, expressed “deep revulsion and consternation” about the large signs with Blakeman’s name, believing he was making the event more about him than Chapin.
Chapin, while a famed folk singer-songwriter, was also a notable humanitarian who fought world hunger. He was a key figure in establishing the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977 and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian efforts.
“What I, the co-organizers and the majority of musicians have a problem with is Mr. Blakeman’s turning the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre – a publicly owned facility – into an advertising platform for himself and his future election campaigns,” Markus said.
In a letter Blakeman sent to Markus on Aug. 23, the county executive alleges that the real issue is not the signage but rather that Blakeman is a member of the Republican Party.
Markus said that this is not the issue as he has previously been a registered Republican and is a historical “ticket splitter” when voting.
He said the problem is with the signage and the size of the signs with Blakeman’s name compared to those devoted to Chapin.
The Blakeman sign on the rear of the stage is larger than Chapin’s. Markus said the elected official’s sign “can clearly be seen from the parking lot and dwarfs the Harry Chapin sign underneath, which can barely be seen much past halfway up the field.” He called Blakeman’s signage “extreme” compared to other county executives, both Democrat and Republican, who have displayed their names at the event as well.
“For a politician of any party, this would be incredibly tacky and inappropriate,” Markus said.
He said the three new speaker scaffolds on the front lawn of the venue, the stage entrance on the side of the theatre and the stage’s lectern also feature Blakeman’s name, with Chapin’s not included.
Blakeman said in his letter to Markus that it was “ludacris [SIC]” to believe that he was implementing the signage for his personal gain.
In his letter, Blakeman did address the concern that television and social media ads for the event omitted Chapin’s name, which he said was a mistake and would be remedied.
Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) said in a statement this is an example that Blakeman’s ”rampant campaign of taxpayer-funded self-promotion must immediately end.”
Drucker proposed legislation in April 2022 to officially make July 16, the date of Chapin’s death in 1981, Harry Chapin Day in the county. This proposal has not yet been acted upon by the Legislative Majority.
“Harry Chapin was one of the greatest humanitarians who ever graced Long Island’s shores,” Drucker said. “County Executive Blakeman’s self-serving, vindictive dismissal of Harry as just a political operative grossly mischaracterizes the significance of his contributions to our society and the ongoing fight against hunger.”
Excluding its first year in 2005 and 2020 online-only version due to the pandemic, the event has been hosted at Eisenhower Park – the venue Chapin was slated to play at but never made it to when he was killed on his way in an accident on the Long Island Expressway.
Each year, 16-17 musicians perform Chapin’s songs to honor him and keep his memory alive.
In tandem with the musical performances is a food drive, which Markus said has collected about seven tons of food for Long Island Cares over the years.
Markus said that the Republican Party, with which Blakeman is aligned, has historically counteracted the humanitarian efforts that Chapin fought for, pushing actions “at the expense of programs that help the poor and working classes put food on their tables.”
“I am loathe to volunteer nor would I try to persuade anyone else to volunteer their time and efforts in a way that would abet the self-promotion of a politician whose platform would exacerbate the problem that Harry dedicated his life to solving,” Markus said. “It feels deceptive, dishonest, and frankly, rather dirty.”
He said while he does not feel good about the current status of the concert and the degree to which Blakeman has put his name on it, he is offering Blakeman a compromise: the concert will be rescheduled so long as all the signs, excluding the one historically beneath the proscenium, are removed. If not, he said the show can always be conducted virtually as it was in 2020.
Blakeman concluded his letter to Markus stating that he would continue to promote the event as it is the right thing to do, not for Markus’ approval.
“It is up to him to decide which is more important to him: honoring and promoting Harry’s legacy and mission or promoting his own name,” Markus said.