Scores of libraries from Nassau and Suffolk Counties are teaming with others from Westchester County for a live internet concert on June 6, starring library-circuit regular Tennessee Walt and designed to encourage viewers to support their libraries, financially and otherwise, in a time of crisis.
“The libraries have been hard hit by the coronavirus lockdown,” explained Gayden Wren, the Garden City native who performs country music as Tennessee Walt. “The resources they might lean on in ordinary times—local governments, particularly—are facing their own crises, and libraries won’t necessarily be high on their list. This concert is designed to provide entertainment, of course, but it comes with a message. I’ve been a library person since maybe the day after I learned to read, and nobody’s coming away from this show without hearing a plug or two for our libraries.”
“A Distant Country 3” is the third web concert Tennessee Walt has performed to benefit the libraries, following ones on April 4 and May 2. They’re drawn thousands of viewers and have been co-hosted by dozens of libraries throughout the region. Sixty-seven different libraries have co-hosted the previous concerts or signed on for this one, Wren said.
“Of course, they’re happy to have people talk about the value of libraries to our communities, at a time when our sense of community is under siege,” he said. “But it also fills a gap in the current library calendar. The libraries have been reinventing themselves on the fly, taking an operations model based on books and in-person visits to the library and rebuilding it as an entirely online operation. Live cultural programs are a big part of libraries’ programming, and this is a way to provide their patrons with something that, of necessity, has been denied since the libraries had to shut their doors.”
The libraries which have co-hosted the earlier shows or signed on to this one include the Bay Shore-Brightwaters, Bayport-Blue Point, Bayville, Center Moriches, Central Islip, Chappaqua, Emma S. Clark (Setauket), Cold Spring Harbor, Commack, Comsewogue, Connetquot, Copiague, Cutchogue-New Suffolk, East Hampton, East Rockaway, Elmont, Elwood, Farmingdale, Field (Tarrytown), Floral Park, Franklin Square, Gold Coast, Great Neck, Hampton Bays, Harborfields (Greenlawn), Harrison, Hart Memorial (Shrub Oak), Hicksville, Hillside (New Hyde Park), Island Trees, Levittown, Lindenhurst, Locust Valley, Longwood, Lynbrook, Mamaroneck, Mastics-Moriches-Shirley, Mattituck-Laurel, Mineola, Montauk, North Babylon, North Bellmore, North Merrick, North Shore, Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Pelham, Plainedge, Plainview-Old Bethpage, Port Jefferson, Port Washington, Pound Ridge, Purchase, Quogue, Riverhead, Rogers Memorial (Southampton), Sachem, Shelter Island, Smithtown, South Huntington, Valley Stream, West Hempstead, Westbury and Westhampton Beach libraries. That represents close to half the region’s 149 libraries, and more are expected to join by June 6.
“It’s a region-wide approach to a region-wide problem,” Wren said. “It started back in March, when Marialisa Arnold of the Baldwin Public Library asked me about the possibility of doing an online performance. It occurred to me that, while online performance lacks the immediacy of in-person performance, it does have the advantage of letting you be more than one place at once. So we figured, why not try? It took off from there.”
Streaming live on Facebook.com/TennesseeWalt at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, “A Distant Country 3” will include songs associated with Hank Williams, Garth Brooks, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells, along with audience requests and a few Walt originals, plus interesting anecdotes about the songs and the artists who created them.
“It’s the kind of show that I’ve done at libraries scores of times,” said Wren, who began performing as Tennessee Walt in 2016 and since then has performed at 34 different libraries in the tri-county area, as well as for churches, temples, senior groups, parks and clubs in the area and also in Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas. “Long Island’s library audiences are among the most knowledgeable groups of people around, and they’ve been deprived of live performances for months now. If we can entertain them and maybe put an idea into their heads about supporting their local library in its hour of need … well, it’s an honor and a privilege.”