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Stepping Out

Always 'Wild About Harry'

Local musicians and fans gather in tribute to the social activist and his music


Harry Chapin’s tragic death is now decades behind us, but his music and philanthropic contributions remain at the forefront. Stuart Markus, a longtime fixture on the local folk and acoustic scene, continues his role of overseeing Chapin’s legacy, organizing the yearly memorial concert in Eisenhower Park.

Markus, who is based in Malverne, remains passionate about Chapin’s music and his humanitarian zeal. He shares Chapin’s legacy with fans once again, on Monday, July 23, at “Just Wild About Harry,” now in its 15th year.

Despite the many years that have passed since the troubadour’s death on the Long Island Expressway en route to that ill-fated performance in Eisenhower Park in July 1981, Chapin’s music still resonates with audiences and the music community.

“The concert has become sort of an institution now,” says Markus. “I never expected it would go this long. It is such a wonderful concert and everyone has a great time, which is a tribute to what a great man Chapin was. Over the course of the year, I’ll hear from people telling me how much they love the show.”

“The opportunity to hear his music played live still means a lot. It’s as if the Long Island music community comes together to give the concert he never could. Everyone has so much support for it.”

Markus and his trio Gathering Time, which includes Hillary Foxsong and Gerry McKeveny, are supported by many musicians who join him yearly. Among the participants are returnees Frank Walker and Robin Eve, Grand Folk Railroad, Friends on the Journey, Robin Greenstein, Sid Cherry and Helene Schreier Pandal, Patricia Shih, MediaCrime, Karen Bella, Christine Solimeno, Jerry DeMeo, Debra Lynne and Melanie Fink, and Joe Iadanza.

“I’m always happy to be able to bring in some new talent I’ve had my eye on for the past couple of years, and to welcome back people who have been in and out over the years,” says Markus.

Newcomers Toby Tobias, Robinson Treacher and Mike Barry. join this year’s lineup.

“I never want the show to get stale,” Markus says, “and I like to recognize up and coming talents who approach the songs with new stylings.”

Among them is Treacher, of Oceanside, “who is becoming well known in the northeast folk scene and Long Island’s music scene,” says Markus. “Toby Tobias is also such an interesting performer. He grew up in South Africa, then moved to Israel before coming here. He’s a great songwriter, I’m so glad to be able to bring him into this.”

The set list features mix of the classic hits, “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Taxi,” along with some of Chapin’s lesser-known songs, including ‘The Rock” and “Flowers are Red.”

Among the highlights, the popular children’s performer Patricia Shih, who is a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter, is back with “Flowers Are Red.” “It’s becoming her signature,” says Markus, of the tune, which tells the story of young boy on his first day of school.

As they’ve done for a number of years Markus and Gathering Time will once again play “Taxi.”

“It’s such an epic ballad,” he says, “and his breakthrough song. And the middle really allows Hillary to shine on those vocals. It’s a heartugging song that’s not maudlin. It’s just a masterwork of songcraft.”

And, as always, in the true spirit of Harry Chapin, the show concludes with the entire group on stage doing their rendition of “Circle.”

“That was Chapin’s traditional closing and so it is fitting that we honor that tradition,” Markus says.” It’s a celebration about the continuity of life. And through this concert we are continuing what he started. Everyone looks forward to it every year.”

“Harry Chapin was a great example of someone who took his fame and fortune and put it into serving the greater good. That’s what makes this concert is so special. It’s a chance for so many local musicians to honor a great musician who was such a good person. There is a real sense of community among all of us and a sense of appreciation among the audience.”

More than simply a concert, the event, as always, involves a food drive. Concertgoers are asked to bring donations of nonperishable food items to support Long Island Cares, Inc., the regional food bank and humanitarian organization founded by Chapin in 1980.

“We want people to have fun but we always want to keep the focus on helping the people that Harry wanted to help,” Markus says.

“The annual Harry Chapin tribute concert is always a very special event for all of us at Long Island Cares because so many of Harry’s fans attend and are extremely supportive of Long Island Cares and the work we do to assist the more than 316,000 Long Islanders struggling with domestic hunger and high food insecurity,” Paule Pachter, the organization’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 37 years since Harry’s untimely passing.”

The event is scheduled rain or shine.

“Just Wild About Harry”

When: Monday, July 23, 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Where: Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre, Eisenhower Park,

East Meadow. Contact (516) 572-0200 for further information.