Tom Chapin, multi-Grammy-winning folk singer who lives in Rockland County and runs his office out of Dobbs Ferry, says he's playing in his “backyard” when he performs at the . Saturday is his birthday and he's celebrating number 67 here with an all-ages event complete with card-making, songs, stories, cake...and canned goods.
In a career that spans many decades (since he and his brothers heard another local legend Pete Seeger on an album in 1958, to be exact) and covers the country, Chapin most likes to play closer to home where he always makes a point of giving back. There's a food drive coinciding with the show, but you don't have to have a ticket to come into the lobby of the Music Hall whenever it's open and donate canned or boxed nonperishables to the Food Bank for Westchester.
“Instead of just coming to celebrate Tom's birthday,” Chapin said, “bring a can of food. The purpose is twofold: one, we'll collect food and, two, we can make some noise and get kids thinking about how their neighbor might be hungry.”
We talked with Chapin leading up to the show this week, which is not only family-friendly but full of members of his own family, including his daughters who perform nationally as the Chapin Sisters (they toured with Zooey Deschanel last year and have two CDs out), and his 92-year-old mother (who will not be singing on stage but probably hang back, he said, in a more anonymous fashion).
Music is definitely in Chapin's blood, as his mom is an opera buff and the daughter of a music critic; his dad, Jim Chapin, who passed away a few years ago, was well known as a jazz drummer. Chapin got his start with his two brothers before he was even in his teenage years. They called themselves the Chapin Brothers. His band now consists of some local guys: Jon Cobert of Chappaqua and Michael Mark, also of Rockland County. And to make things really local: Saturday's show features a whole Rockland County chorus (of Valley College Elementary School) joining in on a song, as they did on the album Give Peas a Chance.
While he's played all over – from schools and churches, an adobe in Phoenix, and earlier this week, a school in Arizona where he did three “Building Bridges” theater shows that bused in thousands of kids in the audience – he loves the “classic theater” we have here. “I'm always thrilled to be there; the acoustics are great, the seats. It has this old theater magic to it, plus the people who run it now have become friends, so when I get the chance, it's like, 'oh cool.'”
If you miss the birthday event, there are other chances to catch him soon: for the Clearwater/Earth Day benefit concert/Tribute to Woody Guthrie, and the Clearwater Festival itself, scheduled for June 16 and 17 at Croton Point Park, an event which he calls, “one of the great treasures.”
Sixty-seven isn't old by most standards, but it still might slow some folks down. People with normal jobs tend to retire. Not Chapin. “This is my world," he said about his relentlessly-performing path. "It's more than a career, it's my life.”
How family-friendly is the show? He recommends ages four and up. “I'm not interested in being a babysitter or a clown,” he said, but he does want to fill the musical void that exists “between little duckies and Lady Gaga.”
Chapin said he got his start making music for a younger set when his own kids were in this pre-middle-school-age not served by pop radio (all about “rebellion and love songs"). The songs are meant to be entertaining for big people too. “Parents and kids can listen together in a concert, in the car, and maybe get a dialogue going about it.”
As so many regional folk singers are apt to do, Chapin made a river reference. Playing kids' music and adult music, of which he does both in abundance, “are two tributaries of the same river," he said. "It's not different subject matter just a different conversation. I talk to both.”
Tickets to Saturday's 1 p.m. show ($20, $30) are available from TicketForce 877/840-0457 or www.tarrytownmusichall.org. For more information on Tom Chapin click here. Don't forget to bring nonperishable food donations for the Food Bank of Westchester!