Organizers say signs for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman have flooded the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre in Eisenhower Park. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

They're just not wild about the signs.

Organizers of "Just Wild About Harry"— a long-running tribute concert honoring the late Harry Chapin — are less than thrilled with the signage at the Nassau County venue where they have declined an invitation to play Monday.

The Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in Eisenhower Park has new, larger signs promoting another figure: Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who took office in 2022.

A sign on the stage's back wall bears Blakeman’s name above a much smaller sign naming the Chapin theater. Large speakers on either side of the stage feature signs welcoming people to the park, with Blakeman's name and title prominently displayed.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Musicians invited to perform at an annual Harry Chapin tribute concert at Eisenhower Park have backed out of the Monday event.
  • They cite concerns with new, large signs at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater that promote Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who took office in 2022.
  • Blakeman defended recent upgrades to the venue and accused organizers of playing politics.

Judith Zweiman, a musician and singer-songwriter who helps organize the event, said there have been "county executives in the course of the time we have done this show for, and there’s never been humongous signs all over the parks and all over the stage" bearing their names.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Frank Walker, of West Babylon, an acoustic guitar player and regular performer at the concert.

“One sign is fine. It's been that way for 40 years. There's no need for more than one," Walker said.

The original concert was scheduled for July 16 but was rained out. 

Organizers said they are looking at a live stream and other venues, and that they didn’t agree on the rain date after the county proposed rescheduling the event for Monday. 

Organizer Stuart Markus of Malverne said he reached out to the county parks department about removing the signs because of "grumblings" from musicians that the county had taken the signage to an “extreme.”

In a letter to his critics Wednesday, Blakeman defended recent upgrades to the venue and accused them of playing politics.

"But let's get down to the real issue, and that is you don't like the fact that a Republican was elected County Executive ..., " according to the letter signed by Blakeman.

"[Chapin's] work was worthy of praise. I never held a grudge that he was a Democrat operative. Unlike you, I celebrate our political differences as part of the American process," the letter said.

A sign at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in East...

A sign at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in East Meadow features County Executive Bruce Blakeman above one naming the theater. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Markus said politics played a role in his decision not to participate.

“Knowing that so much of the Republican agenda has been pushing tax cuts for the wealthiest and the corporations, and cutting programs that help poor people put food on the table, like the child care tax credit, it feels dishonest and dirty," Markus said.

He confirmed Sunday the group was not planning to play Monday.

Blakeman spokesman Chris Boyle provided a copy of the letter. He did not respond to questions about the signs or the event. 

A folk musician, Chapin was known for writing the hits "Cats in the Cradle" and "Taxi." He also was a well-known philanthropist who founded Long Island's first food bank, Long Island Cares.

Ira Kantor, author of "Hello, Honey, It's Me: The Story of Harry Chapin," recalled Chapin singing at the funeral of former New York congressman Allard Lowenstein, a Democrat who was fatally shot. Chapin served on the first-ever Presidential Commission on Hunger, under Democrat Jimmy Carter.

"He became a mouthpiece for causes he really cared about. He would lobby anyone who would listen," Kantor said. “Harry was very much of a folk music tradition, kind of [like] the peace seekers of the world. He embraced their viewpoints as well."

Beginning in 2005, musicians and performers have gathered at the Chapin theater each summer around the anniversary of his death. 

Chapin, a Huntington Bay resident, died on July 16, 1981, in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway on his way to the Lakeside Theater at Eisenhower Park. A month after his death, parks officials named the venue in Chapin's honor.

The county's “Harry Chapin Day” concert on July 16 was rained out. County officials proposed a new date of Aug. 28, Markus recalled, prompting him to contact the county about the signs.

Signs display the name of County Executive Bruce Blakeman at...

Signs display the name of County Executive Bruce Blakeman at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater in East Meadow. Credit: Howard Schnapp

He wrote to Parks Commissioner Darcy Belyea about performers' concerns and received a response from Blakeman.

In the letter, Blakeman called Markus "arrogant" and defended what he described as spending on critical theater upgrades because it was in "poor condition from years of neglect."

He said he "immediately ordered new paint, the repair of rotted wood and new landscaping. I also noticed that the signage concerning Harry Chapin was small and in disrepair."

He said he ordered "new and larger signage ... depicting Harry Chapin's name and likeness."

Blakeman acknowledged that Chapin's name was omitted from social media and TV ads promoting county concerts, "which I will remedy," he added.

He continued: "I have no political agenda other than to memorialize the name of Harry Chapin and help feed hungry people. The fact that you would suggest I am using Harry Chapin's name to promote myself is [ludicrous] and incredibly arrogant on your part."

Zweiman said the controversy was frustrating.

"It’s not like we’re sitting here staging a protest against all county executives," she said. "We’re donating our time in memory of Harry Chapin."

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME