Kindiefest 2013: Finding Your Mississippi River

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Another Kindiefest has come and gone and all that is left are the bar tabs, sore legs, and hoarse voices.

The seventh annual confab of kindie musicians (fifth as a full-fledged conference) broke its own attendance record this year and moved into new digs, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher building.  But the basic concept -- meet, learn, and sing -- remains unchanged.

Every year, I am a little less interested in the panels and a little more interested in the people.  To a large extent, the reason for that is that I don't need to listen to a panel how to make a kindie music record.  It's great for the first-time attendees (of which there are always a lot), but as a veteran non-professional musician, it's not helpful.

What is helpful is talking to people.  I have always found the conversations outside the walls of the conference itself to be most valuable, because those conversations (sometimes aided by bar tabs, though not necessarily) tend to be more real, more likely to generate real sharing, real connections.  Instead of trying to sell a concept or an album, you're trying to understand the other person, and maybe, in that process share who or what you are as a musician (or writer or booker).  Even if you're not sure whether you like someone's music, or writing, or whatever, you can still make a genuine connection.

For my part at the conference, I was asked to present a curated list of kids music videos along with a brief presentation on the history and types of videos.  Frankly, it was just fun seeing all those videos shown on a big screen and through a nice soundsystem.

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One thing I only realized as I sat through the entire 40-minute, 13-song DVD I'd compiled was how much the artist's personality comes through in each of those videos.  That was not something I'd consciously done when I picked the videos, but I think it's clear that the artists that have found their band's or personality's heart in their video and it's that clarity that shines through.

The surprise of my video presentation was that I got to world premiere the first-ever video from Lunch Money.  It's for their song "Spicy Kid," and I found Molly's description of it as "half Mentos ad, half Blues Brothers excerpt" as being particularly apropos.  What's more, because it's funny at points, tender at others, it very much feels like Lunch Money, like Molly and the band had found another way to express themselves.

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Despite my comments above, I did sit through about half of the panels, and while there were lots of useful pieces of information and funny moments, only once did somebody say something that made me dig out my phone and jot down what they said.

It was Molly (natch), who on the panel on "What's Next?" talked about getting the Can You Canoe? disk from the Okee Dokee Brothers for the first time, popping it in the CD player, and listening.  She may have used a curse word in describing her initial reaction, I can't remember properly because that happened several times during the weekend (Kindiefest: Where Kindie Musicians Go To Curse).  But, long story short: she loved the album and felt the Okee Dokee Brothers had found something deep within themselves in singing about their trek down the Mississippi River.  She encouraged the attendees to "find their own Mississippi River," and if that wasn't a metaphor for what folks said all weekend, I'm not sure what is.  Kindie musicians -- and, heck, people generally -- need to let their personalities and artistic goals shine through, and I hope there was enough proof during the weekend of just how valuable that approach can be, certainly artistically, but also even career-wise.  Know your song, and sing it loud.

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Other notes from the weekend:

-- The industry showcase concert Saturday night was, as always, a combination of more experienced artists who might not have had the broader exposure of the industry stage and more relative newcomers.  The set that most impressed me was definitely Mister G's. He came up on stage with nothing more than a guitar, a kick drum, and his wife, and within 3 minutes (probably more like 2) had the entire crowd close to the stage, clapping and singing along.  By the end of his set, he'd filled the stage with other kindie musicians, and thoroughly entertained us all.

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-- Everybody was entertaining in one way or another Saturday night -- live shows almost always add to an artist's reputation -- so I'm hesitant to recommend any more, but a brief shoutout to Vered and the Babes (her backing band of 4 guys), who translated her simple songs focused on bonding with baby into something that worked surprisingly well in a much less-intimate setting.  Also, in the category of "sometimes being unknown is an advantage," newcomers Bears and Lions performed a set featuring songs like "I'm a Mediocre Kid" (much more upbeat and celebratory that the title would imply), people dressed up as bears and lions in track suits, and absurd songs and patter remiscent of other surreal duos like the Telephone Company, The Quiet Two, The Thinkers, and fellow showcase performers Ratboy Jr (pictured here with Dean Jones helping the boys out).

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-- I have said that my favorite part of Kindiefest is the connecting with others, and my favorite way of connecting at the festival is probably at the showcase.  It's the singing in 8-part harmony, it's the dancing, and, in the case of the concluding performance from Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, even a tunnel for audience to dance under.  It's a communal feeling that underlies the entire conference.  And it's a ton of fun.

-- Other things I liked: The empanadas at the food truck down the street.  Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at MOMA.  Underbirds at Symphony Space and Raffi at Town Hall (more on those separately).  Running around Prospect Park on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Getting to sing with Ella Jenkins.  Talking with fellow kindie folks (too many to name, but I will give a tip of the cap to Jeff Bogle and Dave Loftin).

-- Things I'm sorry I missed: The KindieTalks (especially Laurie Berkner's).  The barbecue place around the corner from BAM.  Sleep.  Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with Lloyd Miller.  The Sunday public festival.  Stretching.  Bill Childs.

Back in the real world, I'm trying to remember the lessons of Kindiefest, but I think if I just keep searching for my own Mississippi River, I'll be OK.

Kindiefest: All Things Kindie (and Pizza)

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Details on the annual kindie confabulation known as Kindiefest are coming together and for those of us "in the biz," as none of us "in the biz" actually say, it looks like another great weekend of gabbing, listening, and eating.  (The pizza is not a joke.)

The full set of panels and panelists have been announced, and I think for the musicians making a living (or hoping to) who attend, you're bound to find a panel or four worth your time.  While some panels appeal to the creative entrepreneur in me ("Managing Self-Management Kindie Style"), as a non-kindie musician, I'm most looking forward to the broader items -- the "KindieTalks," for example, featuring Laurie Berkner, Dean Jones, and WXPN's Robert Drake doing TED-talks-style presentations.

Plus, I have three words for you: Ella Jenkins keynote.  I am seriously geeked for that.

So, yes, I am attending once again.  I'll be curating/presenting a video session currently titled $9.99: Kindie Music Videos in the Age of YouTube.  It'll feature, well, kindie music videos of both recent and, er, vintage vintage.  I'm really looking forward to putting that together and showing it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the conference is moving to this year -- the better to hold its 2 expanded days of panels and workshops.

I'm also looking forward to the Saturday night artists' showcase, which features a lot of artists I've never seen perform live. I'm particularly eager to see Stephen Cohen, Ratboy Jr., and Dan Zanes performing with Elizabeth Mitchell, and I'm always curious to see whose performance ends up surprising me.  And while they haven't yet announced the Sunday public concert lineup, based on which artists have been announced as attending the conference whose names haven't appeared on a panel or Saturday night, I think that's going to be out of sight.

Most of all, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in the kindie field.  There are friends, of course, like Jeff and Mindy, and all the Kindiefest braintrust, whom I look forward to talking with.  And while as a reviewer, I tend to consider my relationships with musicians as different from "friends," it's hard not to get jazzed by being in the presence of so many creative (and, usually, funny) people.  And music.

So if you are involved in making, presenting, or selling music for kids, I encourage you to register.  And say hello.  And come to my presentation.

Listening and Talking To Kids Music Folks Is Awesome!

As previously noted in this space, I'm lucky enough to heading back to Brooklyn later this month for Kindiefest, the annual family music conference.  They've been announcing details during the course of the past two months and they've now posted the full schedule here.  There are lots of great artists and other kids music luminaries attending, including folks from Random House Children's Books, Spotify, a whole bunch of venue representatives, Ralph Covert, Kathy O'Connell -- the list goes on.

I'm particularly geeked, of course, about the panel I'll be moderating -- "The State of Kindie" -- which will feature Dan Zanes, Mindy Thomas from Sirius-XM's Kids Place Live, Jeff Bogle from Out With the Kids, Christina Reffords from Cool Mom Picks, and Darren Critz from Symphony SpaceThat will be a blast, and hopefully will send people into the artists' showcase following that panel buzzing with big ideas and a little inspiration.

(Artists, by the way, if you haven't already filled out the brief and anonymous survey I'm doing on some "big picture" kids music industry questions, I'd encourage you to join the more than 50 artists who have already done so.  It's not officially related to Kindiefest, but I expect to use some of the results to help guide my moderating there.)

I'm also excited that Scott Schultz, co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba! (not to mention the new Aquabats Super Show!) will be giving the keynote presentation Friday night.  In the wake of Jack's Big Music Show, Yo Gabba Gabba! kept (and keeps) music for kids highly visible on TV, continuing to reinforce the idea of family music not as one of last-gasp effort, but fully viable alternate (or duplicate) career.  It's an important show for family musicians.

Finally, members of the general public in the greater NYC area shouldn't miss out on Sunday's public concert.  With artists like Moona Luna, Apple Brains, and WeBop from Jazz at Lincoln Center, it'll be a super-diverse show.  It starts at noon, with tickets (just $12-$15) available here.

So, I hope I'll see you there (register here).  It's always an adrenaline-soaked, throat-parched event from tons of conversation.  As someone who writes about the music (and helps bring some of it to Phoenix), it's a great chance to meet the far-flung makers of the music and see many of them perform.

Kindiefest 2011: Final Thoughts

IMG_5267.jpgWelcome to Brooklyn, home of Kindiefest, the annual confab of kids musicians, writers, radio folks, promoters, bookers, and other folks trying to figure out where they fit into this new universe. I've already given you my thoughts on the weekend's big takeaways, the Saturday industry artists' showcase, and the Sunday public concert. My comments below are mostly a notebook dump -- that is, if the notebook were my brain. I need to get this out of my brain and onto paper (sort of) so I can move on and do more awesome stuff. IMG_5182.jpgFirst, props go out once again Stephanie, Tor, Bill, and Mona for putting on this conference. They seemed much more relaxed this year than last, so we'd actually see them throughout the weekend, maybe even enjoying themselves. If there were glitches, they were minor (sound problems before Aaron Nigel Smith's set) or well-hidden. It left more time for conversing instead of worrying what sort of weird thing would crop up. That's them at the registration table on Friday evening, by the way. I think that might have been the most stressed they appeared to me all weekend. IMG_5186.jpgI hadn't previously mentioned the Friday evening keynote from SiriusXM cut-up/high-level manager Kenny Curtis, who gave a pep talk to the crowd about the value of kids music, complete with bingo cards. (The trick? Identify phrases on the bingo cards and shout "Bingo!" when bingo was, in fact, achieved. That was in the middle of one giant schmooze-fest that essentially ran from 6 pm or so 'til past midnight for some of us. I forgot until I got there how much talking I end up doing. Pretty good for a shy guy like myself.

Kindiefest 2011: Sunday Concert in Videos and Pictures

IMG_5313.jpgIf Kindiefest's Saturday night showcase was about introducing new(-ish) names (and one longtime favorite) to a new crowd, the Sunday afternoon public concert was more about a lineup guaranteed to draw in, you know, the public. There was indeed a nice crowd, both of conference attendees as well as local families. (It's not a coincidence that the conference is held in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, famous (and perhaps occasionally reviled) for the sheer number of families who live around there. And unlike the showcase, with its brief 20-minute sets that may subconciously lead artists to forgo contemplation for excitement, the public concert, with 30-minute sets, and a more passive audience, allows for more variation in styles. IMG_5279.jpgFor example, the concert kicked off with a set from Oran Etkin, who tells stories (either more traditional stories or about the instruments themselves) via jazz. He was very engaging with his young audience. Most of his songs are originals, but here he is with a take on a piece Dizzy Gillespie made famous... Oran Etkin - "Salt Peanuts" [YouTube] IMG_5280.jpgNext up was the delightful Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band. The Brooklyn iteration of the band included Phillippa Thompson (who sometimes plays with Elizabeth Mitchell) and multi-instrumentalist Dean Jones. The set was similar to the one she played here in Phoenix in January, but the more enclosed nature of the performance here led to something occasionally hushed. I spoke with Elizabeth Mitchell a little bit later and she, too, enjoyed it... Heidi Swedberg and the Sukey Jump Band - "When You Get Old" [YouTube] And that was just two down...

Kindiefest 2011: Artists' Showcase in Video and Pictures

Be it SXSW or Kindiefest, there are different reasons to see an artists' showcase at a music conference. You can see your favorite bands, or perhaps bands you're familiar with but are curious to see and hear them live. And sometimes you stumble upon a new favorite. The Kindiefest 2011 artists' showcase on Saturday night was for me a combination of all three, which suggests how well the lineup was put together. Now, I should note that though the lineup featured several artists I'd consider my favorites, I'd never actually seen any of them perform live. (That would have to wait for Sunday's public performance, for whom I'd seen half the lineup live.) But as someone who puts together shows here in the Phoenix area, that live aspect is important to me. This summary is long, but I encourage you to skim the entire thing, you never know when you'll find your new favorite artist. IMG_5210.jpgThe lineup kicked off with Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs, faced with the unenviable task of starting the show while everybody filed back from dinner or a run to their hotel rooms. That and selecting from a bunch of great songs. They went meta ("This Is The First Song" -- they should close with that one day), sweet ("Family Garden"), doubly sweet ("Pen Pal," duetting with Lunch Money's Molly Ledford), and classic ("The Legend of Johnny Box"). The last song featured none other than Johnny Box himself, played by... well, let's just say by someone very familiar to Zooglobble readers. Good stuff. IMG_5216.jpgFrom there it was on to The Pop Ups, whose set was basically a very abbreviated version of their PASTA! musical. Were there puppets? Yes! Were there apes in capes? Yes! Was there lots of hand-clapping? Yes! Was there lots of pasta? Well, you'll just have to see the musical for yourself to see the answer. But it's hard not to see how the musical would be very popular with the 5-year-old set. The Pop Ups - "Pasta" [YouTube] But we were just getting started, with six more artists to go...