Concert Review: Raffi (New York City, April 2013)

First off, let's recap Kindiefest 2013.  I'd already got to sing with Ella Jenkins, Dan Zanes, and Elizabeth Mitchell.  I'd got to play a bunch of cool kids music videos.  I got to see the debut live performance of Underbirds.  And I got to catch up some wonderful and interesting folks who make their living (or at least part of a living) making music for families.

So it had already been a pretty full weekend by the time Sunday rolled around.  And normally I would have been happy just to hang out at Kindiefest's Sunday public music festival listening to music from folks like Cat Doorman, Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, the Terrible Twos, and more before heading to the airport to catch a flight home.

But I had an even better plan.

I'd get to sing with Raffi.

That's right, the venerable Canadian troubadour, the man whose 1976 album Singable Songs for the Very Young literally created the concept of the kids music genre, was performing on tour, his first significant tour in a number of years.


Now, I was never a #belugagrad, as Raffi hashtagged this tour.  I only have my #belugaGED, as someone who came to his music after having a child of my own.  And, indeed, the biggest regret I have from the show is that one or both of my kids weren't there to enjoy it with me.

Because there were lots of kids there, and they all seemed very happy to be there, even before the show started.  They were calling out "Raffi."  And, then after a brief medley of prerecorded songs, the man himself strode out onstage.

I wish I could say how long he performed; the most honest answer is that I forgot to keep track of it (though in retrospect, it was probably about 60-70 minutes).  The more poetic answer is that I just lost track, watching Raffi and his guitar (and occasional piped-in backing music) keep the audience highly entertained.  Part of that may have been his large back catalog, so that he was able to play almost nothing but familiar hits.

Part of that also had to do with Raffi's youthful nature and voice.  He looks a lot like he does from album covers -- a little older perhaps, but no 3-year-old would at all be confused by who was up there.  And that voice!  Exactly like it sounded 35 years ago -- the best voice in kids music, certainly amongst the males, bar none.

I say that the kids were entertained, but for folks like me who spend a lot of time listening to kids music, I think we adults were entertained as well.  I sat next to Tim Kubart from Tim and the Space Cadets, and Taes and Nick from Splash'N Boots, and they were as thoroughly entertained as I was.  (Even Tim's girlfriend, the non-kindie-obsessive amongst the five of us, enjoyed it.)

The tickets are not cheap and would easily run upwards of $100 for a family of four.  But if your family are big into Raffi, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to plunk down the cash if you can afford it.  The only way it could have been better would have been if he'd been able to bring Pete Seeger onstage (thereby making my weekend utterly complete, sing-along-wise).

I had the opportunity to meet Raffi after the show, but there was a long line of VIPs before us, and nervous about making my cross-country flight home, I had to miss my opportunity to thank him in person in order to catch a cab to the airport.  So consider this my public thanks to Raffi for his many years of making families laugh and sing together, at home and in concert.

Set List

The More We Get Together

Six Little Ducks


Apples and Bananas


On Hockey Days

Yellow Submarine

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (sung by audience)

Brush Your Teeth

De Colores

Wheels on the Bus

Mister Sun

Peanut Butter and Jam (excerpt)

This Land Is Your Land

If I Had a Hammer

All I Really Need

Thanks a Lot

Baby Beluga

Shake My Sillies Out

Down by the Bay

This Little Light of Mine


Our Home

If You’re Happy and You Know It

May There Always Be Sunshine

[Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary ticket to the show.]

Concert Recap: Underbirds (New York City, April 2013)

I don't know how many artists I would have skipped a Laurie Berkner talk for in order to see them perform live.  Probably not many.

But a chance to see the debut live performance of Underbirds, the superduo of Morgan Taylor and Todd McHatton?  At Symphony Space, whose family programming I've admired from afar for awhile?  While it was a tough call, I found myself catching the 3 train to the Upper West Side last Saturday morning, knowing I'd be heading back to BAM Fisher and Kindiefest later.


Taylor is, of course, a fairly regular live performer with his Gustafer Yellowgold gigs, but McHatton doesn't play live much at all.  Add to that the fact that Taylor and McHatton had only met three times over the past year in putting together their debut album, and I was very curious as to how it would sound.

As it turns out, pretty nice.  As a duo, they had an easygoing feel.  I would not describe the show as being especially dynamic -- essentially it was a couple guys with guitars -- but as Taylor does at his Gustafer gigs, they used visuals to help hold the attention of the kids in the audience, though these visuals were far more abstract.

The project itself is a little odd in that it's not entirely kids music.  It's not *not* kids music, either -- but if it hadn't been part of the "kids" series (and the presence of many kids, including McHatton's daughter on their "cover" of McHatton's own massive kindie hit, "I Think I'm a Bunny"), a listener could have been forgiven for thinking the concert was a curious set of hook-friendly songs about nature and gentle love designed for adults.

The duo joked that it might be their last concert, though because their debut is fairly brief they had to play several new songs just to make the concert long enough (The new songs "Frame" and "So Close to You" both fall in both that "not entirely kids music"  and "awesome" categories.)  While I doubt that Underbirds will be the side project that eventually dwarfs their main gigs, it'd be nice to see the two of them continue to develop their partnership and play a few more shows.  It'd be a shame to let such a good friendship go to waste.

Underbirds - "Bright Leaf" (Live at Symphony Space) [YouTube]

[Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary admission to the show.]

Raffi #Belugagrads Tour Hits United States


Kids music legend -- and I do not use that phrase lightly -- Raffi reaches the United States this weekend as he continues his #belugagrads tour.

After a long absence from the concert stage, the Canadian folksinger whose albums essentially created the kids music genre from a sales perspective (before him, there really was no separate category for retailers) gave a handful of concerts in Ontario, British Columbia, and Seattle in last year.  

Now, after a few concerts in Manitoba and Alberta last month, Raffi's heading to California to kick off a few concerts in the States.  On 4 weekends in April and May, he'll be playing shows on both coasts and the Midwest, starting with the Bay Area and Santa Barbara this weekend.  He's raising funds for his Centre for Child Honouring and promises to sing fan favorites including, of course, "Baby Beluga."  (I'll admit to preferring -- by a substantial margin -- his earlier work.)

He'll be in New York City during Kindiefest. Ella Jenkins and Raffi - what a duet that would be, right?

Concert Recap: Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band (Phoenix, August 2012)

On an August weekend in Phoenix, there's generally only one requirement for any activity:

Air conditioning.

But it also helps if you can play and listen to music.

Los Angeles' Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band made the trek out from the coast to play a couple sets at the Children's Museum of Phoenix on August 20, and since I help book the series, I was definitely eager to see 'em play.

One thing CMOP has started to do is put a few of the shows in their large atrium.  What it does is let a lot more people see a show at any particular point in time (that picture there doesn't quite capture the dozens more outside of the frame), or just let the people playing in the 3-story-tall Schuff-Perini Climber (which you can see just a very small portion of at the top left) hear music while they scamper around.  It would be a bad setting for a solo artist playing an acoustic set, but for the more active rock and pop shows, the kinetic and vocal energy helps encourage the kids who are there in front to move around and dance.  I think if artists are willing to accept the less-than-distraction-free environment it can be a fun show.

I'm a big fan of Lucky, of course, and he and wife/co-band member Alisha Gaddis made a fair amount of noise considering it was just a duo.  I was particularly impressed by the kick-suitcase Diaz had fashioned to give his songs a little bit of extra "oomph."

Anyways, here's a clip of the band playing "Lemonade Stand" off their latest album A Potluck.

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band - "Lemonade Stand" (Live at the Children's Museum of Phoenix) [YouTube]


Concert Recap: Justin Roberts (Getty Center, Los Angeles, August 2012)

I can get so wrapped up in the constant thinking about kids music -- the planning of shows locally here in Phoenix, among other things -- that sometimes it's hard to simply relax and enjoy music. (I do see "adult" artists every now and then, but not as often as I might otherwise if I didn't have, you know, a family.)

So it was oh-so-pleasant to be able to go to Los Angeles' Getty Center last weekend to see a performance from Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. It was the first of three weekends of concerts in the Getty's annual "Garden Concerts for Kids" series.

I can't think of too many nicer places to see a kids music show, and evidently many Angelos agreed.

There were many -- many -- families wandering around the expansive Getty grounds.  They were in the exhibits, the courtyards, and they were on the lawn that overlooks the Getty garden.  (That picture at the bottom of the page shows the crowd after a number of them had left following Roberts' first set.  Really, the place was packed.)

Before getting into the show itself, a word about the Getty Center as a concert venue for family shows.

The weather was about 75 degrees, the lawn is huge, and they gave out lawn blankets to sit on.  Let me repeat: they gave out lawn blankets to sit on.  What drawbacks were there to the venue?  Hm. Let's see... I suppose that if the sun were blazing, the unshaded portion of the lawn might be a tad uncomfortable.  And, um, the nearby snack cart stopped selling ice cream at 5 PM, before Roberts and the band had even finished the concert.

And that's it.

Seriously, if this were a series that went on through the year (it's only 3 acts over the span of 16 days, primarily to preserve the lawn's health), it would be hard to think of a nicer free concert series anywhere in the country.




But you're probably reading to hear a little bit more about the show itself.  After finding a blanket with Lucky Diaz, wife Alisha Gaddis, and daughter Ella near the stage, we settled down through a long set featuring Roberts' many hits, not to mention a couple new songs from Roberts, one about being a robot, the other about being an alien.  They were fun songs (one had a particularly '80s-synthesizer sound associated with it), and I look forward to hearing them on disk.  (Roberts said after the show he's still recording a few songs for the next "rock" album; the lullaby album should be out this fall.)

The five-piece band is a finely-tuned piece of entertainment machinery at this point, with an excellent sound, interactive hand movements for many songs, and wildly digressive puppet interplay from Tim (drummer Gerald Dowd), Little Dave (multi-instrumentalist Dave Winer), and Willy the Whale (guitarist Liam Davis), who has a fallback career as a Billy Joel cover artist should Justin call it quits.



Aside from getting a kick out of watching Diaz and Gaddis enjoying the show with handclaps and accompanying hand motions (Gaddis and I bemoaned the loss of the "trick-or-trick-or-trick-or-trick-or" hand motions on "Trick or Treat"), a couple of personal memories:

1) Miss Mary Mack singing along with a fair number of the songs.  Just goes to show that even if your kids reach double digits and are out of the target range of kids music, if they've listened to it enough (and it's memorable enough), good kids music can appeal even to the tween set.

2) Little Boy Blue lost a tooth -- that's how hard Justin rocks.  OK, he doesn't really rock that hard, but I'm going to remember for a long time the look on Little Boy Blue's face when finishing up his ice cream bar (one that required a long walk back to the main courtyard) and losing a long-wiggling tooth.

So, your takeaways:

1) Justin Roberts, fun as always in concert.

2) Justin Roberts' new songs -- good stuff based on one listen.

3) The Getty Center Garden Concerts for Kids: don't miss.

Lovely all around.

[Disclosure: Thanks to Sarah W. McCarthy at the Getty Center for extending us a welcome to the Getty.]

Review: Cirque du Soleil KOOZA (June 2012, Phoenix)

It has been awhile since I saw my first (and, 'til now, my only) Cirque du Soleil show -- Mystere, the first Cirque show, if I recall correctly, to set down roots in Las Vegas.  I don't remember much about the show (of course, the web is now a big help in that regard), but I do remember being vaguely stunned as I left the theatre.   The $60 or so per ticket we paid more than a decade ago, which seemed expensive -- hey, it is expensive -- felt like a bargain after watching the show.  Some of the acrobatics of the Montreal-based troupe made the crowd gasp in ways you just don't often hear outside a sporting event.

Fast forward more than a decade, and the Canadian-based Cirque has 21 shows currently (or shortly) in performance all around the world.  This month, their show KOOZA set up their tent in the parking lot of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale (suburban Phoenix), and my wife and I went to the show's first Phoenix-area performance.

I have no doubt that there are Cirque du Soleil fanatics who have definitive preferences for particular shows, and who rate the stories in each show as part of their overall enjoyment.

I am not that person.  Although I am generally a person who buys into highfalutin descriptions of cultural themes, the themes for Cirque shows seem a little... too much.  I mean, I buy "an adrenaline rush of acrobatics in a zany kingdom" as a tagline.  But stating that "[b]etween strength and fragility, laughter and smiles, turmoil and harmony, KOOZA explores themes of fear, identity, recognition and power" oversells the narrative a bit.  Sure, I think I could identify the sketch that touched on each of those issues.  But that's not why I (or, I suspect, most of the attendees at any given performance) attend.

It's to see the "Wheel of Death" and other feats of acrobatics which will literally take your breath away, if only temporarily.  If you want to see what the "Wheel of Death" is, you can Google for YouTube links which, theoretically, are prohibited by the terms of agreement of seeing a Cirque show.  But I wouldn't do that, not for any legal reason, but because a good part of the joy and excitement of seeing these shows is the not knowing what might happen next.  I wouldn't say it's like people who go to a NASCAR race in the ever-so-slight hope of seeing a big car crash, though watching one of the teeterboard artists fail to nail her landing was an unintentional reminder that these are people doing physical things that might not succeed.

Most of the acrobatics are stunning -- besides the "Wheel of Death," which, trust me, will cause you to gasp several times, audibly, the High Wire, Balancing on Chairs, and the totally-underselling-its-appeal-named Hoops Manipulation acts were my favorites.  To some extent, the show takes classic circus acrobatics and amps up the entertainment value by adding crazy costumes and hair extensions and innovative stage design.  I'm not saying this as a criticism -- I'm saying this to illustrate the fact that Cirque du Soleil has figured out how to improve these forms in each and every way -- both talent-wise and presentation-wise.  It's the difference, frankly, between a $25 ticket and an $80 ticket.

The clowning interludes, while occasionally pretty funny, are less essential to enjoying the show.  There's a pickpocket, an annoying tourist, a king, and a bad dog.  They are funny, occasionally employing a little PG-13 humor, and most of the time, I just wanted them to get off the stage so we could enjoy another acrobatic entertainment.

As for the story, the show "tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world."  I am here to tell you that the story is irrelevant to your enjoyment of the show.  I think the Innocent found his place in the world - I just can't tell you where that place is.  And throughout the whole piece there's a six-piece band (and vocalists) playing along.  The music and lyrics are very non-specific in their sound -- it's vaguely Indian "World Music," which no doubt makes it easier to translate the show from country to country.

Should you bring your kids to KOOZA?  Well, we didn't have our kids with us, but there were more than a few slightly older kids there.  While it is no means a slow-moving show, it doesn't move fast enough to consider bringing your preschooler or more antsy young elementary school student.  Kids ages 7 and up will probably ooh and aah over the gymastic/acrobatic portions.  Their mileage for the clowning portions will vary.

As for you, kindly adult reader, KOOZA may be over the top at times, but to a large degree, that's just the point. As long as you're willing to be awed by some incredibly skilled performers, you will, in fact, be awed.  

KOOZA plays in Phoenix through July 15, and continues its tour in Houston, Dallas, and Tampa before heading to the United Kingdom in 2013.  Tickets and more information are available hereNote: My wife and I received complimentary tickets for a performance.  No review was required or expected in return for our attendance.