Lynbrook resident Joe Horowitz wanted to use his talents to give back to the community, while also doing something far-reaching.
Every Sunday for 11 straight weeks, he took his guitar, a microphone and his cellphone into his garage and performed hour-long concerts on Instagram. While the performances started as something to entertain his friends, they soon blossomed, and brands such as the Long Island-based Notorious Pink, a wine company, contacted him, asking to sponsor his shows. He accepted, requesting that they use the sponsorship money to purchase gift cards from local businesses for front-line workers and first responders, and soon after, more brands got involved.
“Everyone in the neighborhood knows someone who’s a doctor, a nurse or a firefighter,” Horowitz said. “Everybody knows somebody that they wanted to help, and I thought involving the restaurants was a nice way to help out the small businesses.”
For Horowitz’s friend Michelle Mastrande, the assistant principal at Oceanside Middle School, the concerts provided a distraction during the madness of the coronavirus. She described Horowitz as a passionate guy who does plenty of good.
“He found a way to take his kindness and turn it into something far-reaching,” she said. “It was a way to bring everybody together, even though we were far apart. It made it special. It made us feel more connected than we could ever actually be.”
She added that she believed Horowitz could have survived in Nashville with his country-singing chops, and that she is pestering him for a summer series.
What started as an hour-long jam session to entertain loved ones and bring friends from across the country together quickly grew into a weekly event that more than 800 people tuned into at a time. Horowitz began taking recommendations for songs, and people had the chance to nominate a first-responder or front-line worker to win one of the prizes. Names were chosen from a hat, and gift cards from local businesses were donated. One time a person from Canada even won a drawing, and Horowitz was able to coordinate with a business near that person to send a gift card via email.
Each week from March 22 until his “season finale” on May 31, Horowitz donated 30 to 40 gift cards from local businesses to first responders and front-line workers during his concert from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. while also playing about 10 songs.
“They deserved something special,” he said of the community. “A night of happiness.” With the death of George Floyd and protests happening nationwide in a fight for equality, Horowitz said, he thought it was the right time to put a pause on the concerts out of respect for what is happening in the country. He noted that he hoped to return sometime soon, and to possibly find another cause to play for.
Horowitz said his musical influences include Bob Seager, Bruce Springstein and other “gritty, rock, soul story-teller”-type musicians. He mixes in covers and original songs, which he said have an Americana rock and soul vibe to them. While the concerts started for residents of Lynbrook, where Horowitz lives, and Oceanside, where his wife teaches, they eventually ballooned, and people from Ireland, Scotland and Australia began tuning in.
When he learned that his friend, Alex Witherill, died of coronavirus complications at his home in San Diego in May, Horowitz dedicated his show to him on May 17. During that evening, he played songs in Witherill’s honor, and his late friend’s mother, sister and other family members tuned in and shared emotional messages in the comments.
“It was a cathartic experience that was such an organic thing,” he said. “I dedicated the evening to him still while giving away these gift cards to front-line workers because he was a very generous man and I know he would have wanted it.”
Andrea McDevitt said the concerts provided hope for her and her family, who went from mourning the death of her brother-in-law, Matt McDevitt, a former FDNY firefighter who died of cancer in October, to dealing with the coronavirus. McDevitt and her husband, Garrett, who is also an FDNY firefighter, won a bottle of wine during one of the concerts, and Horowitz helped raise awareness for the McDevitt Strong foundation, created in Matt’s memory.
“His empathy just oozes through the screen,’ she said of Horowitz. “You could tell he loves what he does and he just wanted to bring people together with his voice. Not only were we down with Matt’s passing, but then the pandemic on top of that . . . and Joe just made us feel like we were sitting in his garage with him.”
Horowitz said it was an honor to lend his talents and efforts toward helping essential workers. “That’s the ultimate success as a human,” he said. “What else could you ever ask for given the hard work you put into it? For it to benefit the community, that’s the reason you do anything. I want to do more. You get a little itch for it, you get a little taste of it, and I have to figure out how to do more of that.”