In Memoriam: Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

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Pete Seeger, the American folksinger whose clear voice entertained and inspired millions, died on Monday night at the age of 94.  Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, reported that he died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

I cannot hope to write an appropriate tribute to Seeger, a man with a tremendously long career who made many, many friends and lived his life with a sense of dignity and principle that I could only hope to live up to.  And, reading the obituaries that have been published since last night, most of them touch upon his work making music for families only briefly.

But with Seeger, distinctions between "kids music" and whatever you want to call music that wasn't "kids music" didn't exist.  He sang for audiences of all ages drawing upon the deep well of folk music of America and around the world.  His viewed his folk music as a way of communicating his ideals of community -- and if you were going to sing of a world where everyone was pulling with the same oar -- why wouldn't you want to reach the kids in addition to his parents?

Seeger was a prolific recording musician -- he recorded 38 albums for Folkways just between 1950 and 1964, for example.  He one one Grammy for his children's music, for 2010's Tomorrow's Children, but that was not his best work.  And while his Smithsonian Folkways work is essential, if I had to pick just one Pete Seeger family album to recommend to you, it would be his 1963 album for Columbia, Children's Concert at Town Hall (affiliate link). It's Pete at the prime of his career, a fine banjo player and his amazing voice (THAT VOICE!), all in service of bring an entire audience together in song.  It's joyous, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone of any age.

It is not hyperbole to say that without Seeger we wouldn't quite have "kindie" as we do today.  Set aside the artists such as Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell whose debts to Seeger are much more obvious and you'd still have countless others in genres often far afield from folk who carry on the idea that music can and often should be made for listeners of all ages.  We've lost a powerful voice with Pete's passing, but I think he'd expect us to pick up the melody and pass it along.

KindieFest: Not an Elegy

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" - Attributed (erroneously) to Dr. Seuss.

The e-mail landed in inboxes early Saturday morning:

Farewell.
Dear kind Kindie people,
After much deliberation, we have decided that we will no longer continue KindieFest.

There were a few more words, but no details on why KindieFest, the annual family music conference, was ending, only that the four conference producers, Bill Childs, Stephanie Mayers, Tor Hyams, and Mona Kayhan, would all continue to have "active roles in the family music scene" and that the KindieFest e-mail list would go to each of them.

Reaction from the kindie world on that 21st century bulletin board -- Facebook -- was swift and a little mournful: 

And that was just a sampling.  Many posts went on to thank the four head honchos for their efforts in putting together the conferences. 

No doubt that putting on Kindiefest was a lot of work -- months of prior planning and relatively little sleep during the actual weekend.  None of this was made easier, I'm sure, by the scattered geographical locations of the producers.  And whenever I saw them in Brooklyn for the conference, be it this year or in prior years, it was never entirely clear to me that they were having lots of fun, nor were they using $100 bills as Kleenex.

Transient

What started out as a bunch of musicians playing in Audra Tsanos' place in Brooklyn (which ended up happening at a local performance venue because the RSVP list became way too large) became the Stinkfest conference (sorry, guys, it'll cost you $2,195 to get that domain name back) in 2009, then KindieFest for the next 4 years.  This past year, they ended up at the freakin' Brooklyn Academy of Music.  That is some progression.

I can't speak for the musicians who attended and performed as to whether they found it useful (my sense is that they did, generally speaking, and the Facebook posts suggest that, though).  I can only speak for myself as one of those "interested" folks who attended all five years of the actual conference.  

Each of those five weekends was an opportunity for me to connect with people who felt that same need to celebrate music and families.  The connection could not have happened online -- it could only have happened in person, and by creating the gravitational field that pulled disparate musicians together, KindieFest created its own solar system, bigger stars, smaller planets, and interactions that might never have happened without that push.  That went not only for musicians but also for the rest of us.  I have friendships that I would not have were it not for attending KindieFest and I think about this kids music world in different ways thanks to my interactions there.

Listing personal memories from the conference would be indulgent and confusing to you, dear reader, so here are a few favorite Kindiefest-related posts of mine: 

It is clear that KindieFest is not the end, but rather the start of another chapter.  The Children's Music Network continues to host an annual conference, of course, and I think that other events will come to take KindieFest's place.  More importantly perhaps, one of KindieFest's enduring lessons is that in this new kindie world, it's up to you to write that new chapter.

Thank you Bill, Tor, Stephanie, and Mona for the memories and the work.  I will miss KindieFest, but I will see you on down the line. 

Spring Kid-Starter, er, Kindie Kickstarter Update

It's been a little while since we've had some kindie artists launch Kickstarter campaigns, but we've got a couple campaigns going on, heading toward the homestretch and seeking your help in pushing their own albums over the finish line.

[Edit: If you're looking for information on kid-friendly Kickstarter projects, I now have a whole podcast dedicated to that.  Check out Bake Sale.] 

The first is from New York's Joanie Leeds, who's trying to raise $15,000 for the full gamut of costs to record her fifth album for kids, Bandwagon .  (Apropos album title, I suppose, given the financing mechanism.)  As of this writing, Leeds has raised more than $10,000, nearly 68% of her goal.  She's got a week to go (the Kickstarter ends March 12).  There's a bunch of crazy (and crazy-expensive) backer levels, but $12 gets you a digital pre-order of the album, which'll be produced by Dean Jones.

 

The other project is from Seattle's Brian Vogan, who's seeking $5,000 to mix, master, print, and release his fourth album for families, Let's Go .  The rewards here are less elaborate, but $15 gets you a physical pre-order of the album.  As of today, Vogan has raised more than $2,300, just shy of half of his $5,000 goal.  He's got about 10 days to go (his Kickstarter ends on March 15.

In any case, you may now proceed to crowd-source your kindie.

Kindie-Chartin': Kids Place Live's Top Songs of 2011

Last year I reviewed the most popular songs of the year on Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live radio show. It was an imprecise attempt to gauge the popularity of artists and songs on a national level. Given that the show has nearly 17,000 fans on its Facebook page, its listenership is not small. Almost every weekend, the channel broadcasts its "13 Under 13" show, a Casey Kasem for the kiddos which counts down the week's top songs. As noted last year, the list is not totally objective -- there is a subjective nature to the list which takes into the station's directors' sense of buzz, for example, associated with each song. There's a practical limit to the number of times the station can play a song in a week without annoying its audience through oversaturation, a limit which may not totally reflect the demand for it via listener requests. Having said that, there does appear to be a rational relationship between the rankings and actual airplay. For example, the most recent "13 Under 13" had the Board of Education's "Why Is Dad So Mad?" at #1, Keller Williams' "Mama Tooted" at #7, and Caspar Babypants' "Sugar Ant" at #14. The total number of airplays (excluding double-counts) for the week that roughly corresponds to KPL's week, according to Dogstar Radio, was 25, 16, and 13, respectively.

Kindiefest, Schmindiefest

Kindiefest is over, but the memories linger on.  Did we have a great time?  Yeah.  But I always come back from Brooklyn with ideas of how I wish my Kindiefest experience had been different.

Don't get me wrong - I think Kindiefest is pretty darn great as it is; to make changes is akin to pulling a thread in a bulky sweater -- doing so would unravel the whole enterprise.  So consider these add-on suggestions, from somewhat serious to slightly less so.

KindieCamp: There is a big opportunity for musicians who are expert in a particular area to share that expertise with others in a concentrated format, far more than a 60-minute panel or even 2-hour chat can do.

Would it be possible, for example, to have a video camp with Recess Monkey?  Tell a dozen artists to bring an idea for a video, a camera of some sort for capturing video, and a computer of some sort for editing video to Seattle for 48 hours.  For a relatively low cost -- $1,000 per artist/band? -- the band -- known for its raft of low-budget, slick-looking videos -- could help other musicians formulate, create, and edit their own video, giving them both the fish and teaching them how to fish.

Or perhaps Jeni and Jim and Keli from Jiggle Jam go over specific details and budgets in putting together their own music festival.  Nothing too trade-secret-y, but enough info to get musicians (or interested families) going by themselves (with a follow-up all-access pass visit to the Jam over Memorial Day weekend to see it in action).

Songwriting weekends, app-development weekends -- there are many possibilities.  The added benefit?  Spending time with a core group of people working through the same issues you are.  Building capacity and connections.

KindieTalk: Hey, I love the panels - and as a perennial moderator, I appreciate their inclusion.  But as a non-musician, I don't get as much out of panels on, say, breaking into TV, as musicians might.  There might be some news/big-picture value to some panels, and sometimes they generate big laughs, but I don't take much away from them.  I often spend the majority of the panel time outside in the Littlefield courtyard gabbing with musicians and other attendees (or inside chatting loudly, sometimes to the chagrin of Kindiefest organizers).  It's where I learn most of what I take home with me - what's going on with the new album, how much touring are they doing, who they're recording with.

On top of that, the conversations at the end of the evenings on Friday and Saturday night are often highlights of the weekend for me.  They're funny, insightful, and, well, more honest than the panels, which for obvious reasons tend to avoid the warts of the business.  When I come stuffed to the gills with ideas, it's from these after-hours and sideline conversations.

Add to that the fact that there are tons of people I would have loved to have had conversations with and didn't, or people who might have wanted to catch up with me and didn't, and it contributes to a feeling that there was a lot more I could have spent time with.

Is it possible to have a conference that doesn't consist, you know, of anything that a conference typically has - panels, keynotes, name tags?  Can you have a conference with a big gaping hole at its center?  Probably not.  But I could probably definitely fill 48 hours just talking and listening one-on-one and in small groups.

KindieSing: As nice as it was to hear 10 artists on Saturday night and 8 on Sunday afternoon, the downside was the artists -- more so on Saturday night, not so much on Saturday -- didn't get a lot of time to play, to settle into a groove.  And the audience was similarly short-changed.  I've never been to a performing arts showcase, one of those two- or three-day affairs where bookers from across the country watch acts perform, aside from Kindiefest, which is a shorter version of that.  And it strikes me that extending the length would make it less likely that other artists would spend as much time listening, singing, and dancing along.  It's one of the great joys of the conference dedicated to making music for kids (and families) that the artists in the audience often act as joyfully as the kids they normally play for.  So much harmony and clapping along.

MindyFest: Someone e-mailed me after the conference asking if Sirius-XM Kids Place Live's Mindy Thomas could be assigned to every panel next year.  I totally agree.  Mindy is a hoot and a half, and not only on my panel when she spent most of the time audibly wondering whether she should say something, then saying it.  She's a genuinely nice person who bears the burden of being the person everyone wants to talk with lightly and with good humor.  So why not make it all Mindy, all the time?

KindieFelt: I just want to echo what Jack Forman and I said before we introduced Hand Aid's "Felt Around the World" (thanks, Kindiefest organizers!) -- next year, a panel of puppets.  Tell me you wouldn't pay to see that.  Conference gold, my friends, conference gold.

Red Eyes and Nemeses: Kindiefest 2012

There are relatively few benefits of living on the West Coast from a Kindiefest perspective. It's a long plane flight, which means reduced flexibility in choosing how you get to Brooklyn, how long you stay, and what you do when you get there. One advantage, however, is that you get a 5-hour flight. That's not so great when you're going there anticipating the conference (or when you have to do it on a red-eye as I did this year). But when you're flying back, it's a lot of time to sit and think about all that you heard during the weekend. It is hard to overestimate just how much listening one does at Kindiefest. There are the panels, of course - those are more typically geared toward musicians, but if you are more broadly interested in how one carves out a career as kids musician, a non-professional musician can find nuggets of things to ponder. Besides the panels, there is all the music. The showcase performances on Saturday night, the public festival on Sunday -- it's more than 7 hours of music in total, from all sorts of genres and all around the country. And depending on your personality or need, you can spend more time than either of those just listening to others in one-on-one (or more) talks. Conversations are two-way, of course, but as a member of the media who isn’t looking to do interviews but meets a lot of artists who want to say ”hi” or tell me about their album plans or just introduce themselves, I do a lot of listening then, too. It's enough to make you want to see a museum or go out for a run on Sunday morning, neither of which I got to do this year. What did I do at this year’s Kindiefest? Well, I got into Littlefield, the conference's home for the past 3 years, about 12:15 PM Saturday after the aforementioned red-eye, so I missed the keynote on Friday night and the post-talk schmoozing. Which meant there was even more schmoozing to do in the limited amount of time I was there. I did a lot of it -- seeing old friends, like Jeff and Dave and meeting folks I had previously known only through the magic of the Internet (hi, Jeff Giles!). I also talked with a lot of musicians and booking artists and PR folks. I don't think I talked with every single one of the 350 or so record-setting number of attendees, but there were times when I felt that I did. The only way I know I didn't is that there were folks that I wanted to talk to whom I realized on the flight home I didn't.