Dan Zanes Rocks the Playhouse at UCSB

Kiddie Concert Gets Crazy

It began sweetly enough: balloon animals, face-painting, and a wave of smiling young children shuffling into Campbell Hall in their Sunday best.

But Dan Zanes & Friends’ recent UCSB concert ended in a raucous toddler rock show that left fewer bodies planted in seats than dancing in the aisles.

Spindly, kooky-haired, and zany-suited Zanes led the 1980s pop-rock outfit the Del Fuegos before turning his artistry, and tuning his guitar, toward folksy family rock. An example of Arts & Lectures’ new commitment to family-friendly programming—including the Ziggy Marley show earlier this month—the Zanes show drew a packed house of fans, from infants to adults.

The guy knows how to get kids fired up. His foolproof formula starts with arresting stage visuals: three beautiful female bandmates in bright cotton frocks and a sharp-dressed drummer dude who spins his sticks between thwaps.

On bongos, fiddles, trumpets, and a stand-up bass, the grinning band shakes down good-time bluesy rock in a hootenanny style. Call-and-response instructions on the swingin’ sea chantey “Cape Cod Girls” and the worker song “Pay Me My Money Down” had the crowd hollering in sing-along synch. (How can you not love a band that sings “Late last night, we went into a bar” and “Pay me or go to jail” to a roomful of three-year-olds?) Zanes was full of surprises, switching from his electric axe to banjo to mandolin, and from bluegrass to gospel to mariachi.

The pacing dipped when he invited two area children’s groups to join him onstage: the polished Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi and the earnest Son Jarocho Pantera, performing the music of Veracruz, Mexico.

But Zanes kept inciting the crowd to turn the concert into a “wild dance party,” his soft voice calmly suggesting “stomping, clapping, jumping out of your seats, and dancing in the craziest ways.”

So they did. As the show progressed, the audience’s din grew nearly as loud as the band. More than 50 kids formed a mosh pit—er, mush pot?—in front of the stage. Others climbed on their parents’ heads and hung upside-down from their shoulders. Still others wiggled, scampered, and even, quite literally, crawled through the aisles. I heard one frazzled-looking mom tell her son, “We’ve got to find your sister. She took off, and that’s not okay.”

It was musical madness. It was rock-and-roll pandemonium. It was in-Zane.

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