During the week, Joe Spena is your average middle school music teacher, spending his days lecturing students on music history and giving guitar lessons at the Middle Country Central School District.
But on the weekends, the teacher trades in his slacks for jeans and cowboy boots to perform for eager audiences across Long Island as a country rock singer.
“It’s not something that I really advertise at school,” said Spena, 58, of Middle Island. “Occasionally one of my students will catch me at a show, and they love it.”
Spena’s band Six Gun performed for dozens of country music fans this weekend at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, where the group has become one of the winery’s most popular and in-demand acts.
“They’re a great, great band,” said Christine Battelli, the music coordinator at Martha Clara Vineyards. “They’re always a crowd pleaser. People really call .?.?. to request information on when Six Gun will be here again.”
The vineyard hosts free live music events featuring local musicians every weekend throughout the year in addition to their ticketed summer and winter concert series.
“We love country music,” said Caitlin McGinn, 28, of Massapequa Park, after she finished dancing to a cover of “Footloose.” “They really are good.”
Spena started the country-rock outfit 32 years ago, and since then the group has performed with acts like Alabama, The Charlie Daniels Band, and other popular country artists for crowds as large as 35,000 people. Last year, the group played at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill and several other Long Island music festivals.
“It's a wonderful venue,” said Spena of Martha Clara Vineyards. “It’s really nice sometimes playing to an audience that really wants to listen. They get a little rowdy, they have a good time, and it’s fun.”
Audience members cheered, clapped, and danced while sipping Martha Clara wines as Six Gun performed a mix of original songs and covers of famous tunes by Johnny Cash, The Zac Brown Band, and more. The group has become so popular at the winery that they will be appearing regularly as part of this year’s weekend music program.
“I always have a good time,” said Terry Hallock, the lead guitarist of Six Gun. “I love playing. It’s great to entertain and be able to get out there and make people forget about their troubles for an hour or two.”
The family friendly show drew country music fans of all ages and helped to bring some excitement on what would have been a rainy Saturday afternoon.
“It’s beautiful, I’m having a great time,” said Carlo Corriera, 55, of Centereach, who came to the show with his granddaughter Angelina. “I just love [country] music. It’s American.”