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With YouTube guitar videos, county executive hopes 'music brings us together'

County Executive Mark Poloncarz has managed to evoke the illusion he’s been everywhere at once, every hour of the day, during the full emergence of the coronavirus crisis in Western New York over the past few weeks.

While we’re used to his official updates and safely distanced news conferences by this point, some among us might be surprised to see him popping up on YouTube with a guitar in his hands.

“Be safe everyone. We can be distance from each other physically, but do not disconnect socially. Everyone, we're in this for the long haul. I'm here for you.

That was Poloncarz's message shortly after concluding a tender, empathy-soaked rendition of the Goo Goo Dolls’ alt-folk-infused ballad “Iris.”

Unsurprisingly, the version is a deeply moving one, the backstory of our present situation underscoring songwriter John Rzeznik’s plea for human connection. Surprising for some, however, is the fact Poloncarz, in addition to his positive intentions here, actually sounds good. Very good, in fact. His rendition is nuanced and sung in a voice that rings true in its ability to inhabit Rzeznik’s idiom.

The county executive’s efforts have reached an audience and forged a connection with a populace that is dealing with a collective plunge into the unknown. If the deepest purpose of music is to provide inspiration to those who want it and comfort to those who need it, then Poloncarz seems to have fulfilled that mandate, based on the Twitter responses to his efforts.

“Well we know who you are now, you have some heart,” wrote one.

“Thanks for your great work. You are inspiring! Please, please keep it up!” said another.

“I feel you're a good leader. Keeping us informed and drilling it into the citizens to stay safe. And you're a pretty good guitar player. Thank you,” opined a third.

Here’s my personal favorite:

"Marriage tip: Find yourself a woman who looks at you the way my wife looked @markpoloncarz when he started singing that song."

What has inspired Poloncarz to reach out to his constituents through music?

"After a long, stressful day of responding to the coronavirus, I need to decompress and relax, and the best way I know how is to pick up my guitar and play,” he said. “I've been playing and singing at friends' events in recent years, and one of them recently commented that it will be some time again before that happens, due to the pandemic.

“So I decided to record a song and post it. I had no idea what the response would be, but I'm glad people are enjoying the videos so much they are requesting me to do more of them.”

Poloncarz responded by tackling a Johnny Cash classic, “Folsom Prison Blues,” and he prefaced the freshly released take on the tune by indulging in some guitar geekdom.

“I decided to put the acoustic away and bring out the twang, with my original Senn T-model Pomona. Jeff Senn is a custom guitar manufacturer based out of Nashville. He’s made guitars for (Bruce) Springsteen, (John) Fogerty and Vince Gill – and I’ve got one, too,” Poloncarz said, while cradling his guitar with obvious pride.

Of course, wherever you are in the world, the odds of you finding a Buffalo connection are high, and so it should shock no one Senn is from Cheektowaga, and he also happens to be Poloncarz’s cousin.

“Music brings us together, and at this difficult time, it is even more important that we remain socially connected, even if we are physically distant,” Poloncarz said. “If my playing and singing can play a small role in helping people get through this crisis, then I've accomplished something worthwhile."

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