A Music Festival for the Sippy-Cup Set
Creating music for kids that adults also love has a long, honorable tradition. Prokofiev did it with Peter and the Wolf, Disney did it with Dumbo, Nilsson did it with The Point, and Woody Guthrie did it with “Riding in My Car” and dozens of other classics.
Jamarama Live!, a kids’ fest for toddlers and tikes that comes bounding into Santa Barbara for the first stop of its West Coast tour on March 4, has taken the idea of music for the jammies generation a step further — or perhaps a step backwards — to the good old days when the parents of these young children attended their own youth-oriented rock festivals.
The slogan of this brand-new concept is: “If they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to rock.” Co-creator Dana DuFine, whose own kids are 31⁄2 and 11⁄2, said, “Jamarama is one of my babies.” The idea came to her when her daughter was watching music videos for preschoolers on Noggin (a Nickelodeon spin-off), and announced, “I want to see these bands.” When asked which band she wanted to see, she replied, “Mommy! I want to see all of them.” Being a modern mommy, DuFine not only set out to gratify her kid’s desire, she organized a national tour of popular children’s performers with partners Noggin, Creative Artists Agency, and My Gym fitness centers. After adding face painting, karaoke kiosks, a tumbling arena, coloring floor, and characters from TV shows, DuFine and partners launched it on the road.
Thus was born the first preschool kids’ festival of music, a Lollapalooza for lollypoppers, an Ozzfest for the sippy-cup set, a Vans Warped Tour for hip-high hipsters.
Performing at the Arlington before naptime will be headliner Dan Zanes and Friends, along with the Ohmies and Milkshake. Milkshake, comprised of vocalist Lisa Mathews and guitarist Mikel Gehl, lists among its influences Rodgers and Hammerstein and The White Stripes. Or as Parenting magazine put it, “Think of what would happen if the B-52s and Cowboy Junkies visited your child’s preschool.” Milkshake evolved from the new wave ’80s band Beyond Words and the popular ’90s melodic rock of Love Riot into its current form after Mathews and Gehl both became parents. Underneath their kiddy songs, there’s a real rock band at play, giving the lyrics “shake it up baby” new meaning.
The Ohmies is a Baltimore-based group that introduces kids to both world music and yoga. Their interactive musical adventures meld engaging humor, drama, music, and yoga moves, using butterflies, snakes, dogs, and grasshoppers as learning tools. They have had highly successful runs from Off Broadway to the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
Kids may know Dan Zanes from his rootsy, folky, winsome CDs like Rocket Ship Beach, House Party, and All Around the Kitchen, but their parents will know him as the former lead singer of the esteemed Del Fuegos. As DuFine said, “I was a huge Del Fuego fan, and now to watch my kids enjoy his music is just a thrill.” After the underground rocker became a parent, he found his true calling as a musician for the very young at heart, mostly in reaction, he said, “to songs about tooth brushing … and worse.” The New York Times Magazine described him as “Mr. Rogers if Mr. Rogers had spent time opening for Tom Petty instead of studying in a seminary.”
Milkshake’s Mikel Gehl put it succinctly when he said: “In the music business, even success can leave you disillusioned. The key to survival is to try and balance the threefold joys of family, friendship, and music.” Jamarama is a celebration by performers who have taken this path.
Asked to describe her favorite part of the show, DuFine doesn’t hesitate. “The parents dancing in the aisles with their kids,” she said. “It’s the amusement ride of music we’re doing here.”