These are tough days for artists specializing in live performance, and I’m no exception. Libraries are among my favorite performance venues, and I’ve played dozens of them in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties since 2016. I haven’t played one since March 15, though, because the region’s libraries, clubs and other performance venues have gone on lockdown owing to the pandemic social-distancing precautions.
Life doesn’t stop during a crisis, however, and neither does art. I’m happy to announce that on Saturday, April 4, I’ll be performing “Tennessee Walt’s A Distant Country,” a new, one-time only live performance benefiting the region’s 149 libraries and available to every fan of classic country, on Facebook.com/tennesseewalt.
The program is being made available to all the other libraries in the tricounty area, either through a link to the Facebook page or as a recording for subsequent use. It’s my small attempt to boost the region’s libraries at a time of crisis.
These are tough times for libraries. Logistically, organizationally and financially, libraries are dealing with unprecedented challenges at a time when even the simplest library activity—going to the library and taking out a book—is impossible. I’m married to a library program director, so I know how hard things are. I’m hoping this show will be an occasion for people to get back in touch with their libraries via the internet, and—by staging a program similar to the ones I’ve done for dozens of libraries in the past—to strike a blow for normalcy at a time when we could all use some normalcy.
“A Distant Country” will be a concert of classic country music, live from the living room at Casa Walt in Steinway, Queens. The program will include some selections from all four previous Walt shows, but also from my upcoming “Three Chords and the Truth: Country’s Greatest Songwriters,” classic country songs I’ve s never before performed publicly and a few original songs, along with the stories behind the songs and the artists who created them.
Think of it as comfort food. We’re talking about songs by Hank Williams, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and more. This is great stuff, the best of the best, and some of these I’ve never done before. I’m really looking forward to this show.
Libraries matter to me. I’ve been a country singer since 2016, but I’ve been a library person since 1965 or so. I’ve been doing library shows since the 1970s, as a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island, and I’ve been performing as Tennessee Walt since 2016, doing 50-plus shows for library audiences. I love clubs, churches, senior groups and other venues, but I know the library audience best of all, and this is what they like. At a time when library shows can’t happen, when we can’t go to the library, we’re bringing the library show to your living room, your laptop, even your phone.
As soon as Marialisa Arnold of the Baldwin Public Library suggested the idea, it rang all kinds of bells with me. We all look forward to the day when we can meet again in person, and I know that day won’t be long distant. Right now, though, this is the best we can do, and we’re doing it. It’s going to be a great show, and I hope everybody—not just people in Baldwin, but people throughout the region, even around the country—will join us on Saturday for some of the greatest songs ever written.
A Distant Country (the title evokes the Book of Luke and a famous quote by Samuel Johnson, but also the current necessity of social distancing) will be presented live on Facebook.com/tennesseewalt on Saturday, April 4, at 2 p.m. Admission is free. Join us!