'Library Pete' spreads love of reading
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pete Carden, the Nashville Public Library's "Library Pete," wants to help get kids excited about reading. The Hurricane native recently launched a Kickstarter site to fund the production of a children's music CD meant to inspire.
Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, where artists and innovators seek out financial resources through the direct support of the public. Carden hopes to raise $8,000 by Nov. 25. He has about $1,550 right now.
Hurricane is a long way from Nashville, but it's where Carden got his start, learned to read and discovered a love of theater and music.
He said, "I got into drama class in high school and ended up going to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.
"We had an artist in residence at the high school who was from the circus, and he sort of urged me in that direction. He thought I might be a good candidate for that."
Carden didn't run off to join the circus, though. Instead, he came back to West Virginia and worked at the short-lived Mountaineer Dinner Theater in Charleston, which opened in 1989 and closed about nine months later.
"I did props and stage management," he said. "I even started getting up on the stage a little bit toward the end."
When the end came, Carden went to a conference in Florida where he auditioned for jobs where he could use his theater and clowning background.
"I ended up with a whole bunch of different jobs," he said, but they took him from West Virginia.
Carden said he bounced from place to place for a couple of years before deciding that he really needed a place that was sort of central to the path his different entertainment jobs took him.
"Nashville seemed like it was in the middle of the path, and there were theater opportunities," he said. "But once I moved here, I got a lot of work and just never left."
For the past 12 years, Carden has been a puppeteer and performer at the downtown branch of the Nashville library.
"It's a real job," Carden said and laughed. "Forty hours a week.
"You think puppet show, and you imagine some little something off in a corner somewhere, but we have a real theater, with sets and a carpentry show where we build things. It's really kind of a big deal."
On the weekends, Carden helps put on marionette shows in the children's theater.
"We do everything from 'Mother Goose' to 'Hamlet,'" he said.
During the week, Carden is part of a trio that read books, plays music, juggles and entertains mostly younger children during the library's story time, which is how Carden got the name Library Pete.
He said, "I guess I'd been there for four or five months, and there was this one time when I was absent. I don't know why, but one of the little girls who usually came to the show kept asking, 'Where's Library Pete?' Well, that got around and sort of stuck."
Carden liked it, too. "So I just ran with it."
He built a character around the name. He took his own friendly, fun-loving persona and built on it. He put together a costume and eventually began writing songs encouraging kids to go to the library and read.
"I played music when I lived in West Virginia, but it was really just for fun," he said. "I was never in a band or anything. It was just a couple of us goofing off in the basement."
A little more than a year ago, he found David Adkins, an old friend from home, through Facebook.
"We were in the Cub Scouts together," Carden said, "and now he was living in Murfreesboro, which is like 45 minutes from Nashville."
Carden invited Adkins to Nashville for lunch and to bring his kids to see the puppet show. At lunch, Carden told his old friend he really wanted to record those library songs and maybe try to distribute them, but he had no idea where to start, and it sounded expensive.
Carden's old friend turned out to be an audio engineer.
"He told me, 'Why don't you come down, and we'll put down some tracks.'"
After a year of going back and forth and getting friends to help out, he finished recording. But to professionally master the recording, pay for artwork and duplicate the CD, he needed money.
Another friend told Carden about Kickstarter.
"I've done everything else I know how to do," he said. "I've posted things on Facebook, put flyers in coffee shops, and I'm still trying things, but maybe this will help."
If Carden reaches his goal, his plans are modest. He's not looking to get rich from the CD, just encourage a few more kids to read and check out what their local library offers.
"I'd love to do a CD release here in Nashville," he said, "and maybe a concert."
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.