[Looking for Justin Roberts' Today show appearance? Go here for the link and check out the Justin Roberts links on the right for more Justin reviews.]
Since I couldn't actually attend Kidzapalooza/Lollapalooza, I thought I'd do the next best thing -- have somebody else file a report for me. The first of the two reports comes from Jackie Schimmel, who plays bass for Justin Roberts. Jackie's been reading Zooglobble for awhile now, and I thought she'd be a great person to give a "behind-the-scenes" perspective from Kidzaplooza. And she does, in spades. It's long, but it was a long day.
Many, many thanks to Jackie for taking the time to write this and for letting me publish it...
Hi! My name is Jackie Schimmel, and I play bass in Justin Roberts’ band, The Not Ready for Naptime Players. I first met Justin through our mutual friend, Liam Davis, and I started playing with Justin in February 1998. I’m on all of Justin’s cds except for his very first one, Great Big Sun. The Not Ready for Naptime Players have played A LOT of shows together over the years, and we have a great line-up for today’s show: Justin, Liam, me, Dave Winer on trumpet, melodica, percussion (and the BIG SHOES), and Gerald Dowd (who also plays with Liam in his “grown-up” band, Frisbie) on drums.
Lollapalooza is unlike any show we've ever played before. For one thing, at most of our shows, we're the only band on the bill. When we've played at other festivals, they've been specifically for kids (so the other performers have been folks like Hi-5 and They Might Be Giants). Appearing at a festival which is primarily for adults is definitely a first for us. Lollapalooza is an incredibly well organized event -- every single person we encounter over the course of the day is friendly, knowledgeable and thoroughly professional – and the Kidz Stage performers were treated like royalty. I really can't say enough about what a great experience it was!
Here's a timeline of my day:
7:00 AM: Time to get up!
When you play in a rock band for kids, you have the exact opposite schedule from a regular rock band: instead of getting to the venue at 8 pm, sound checking at 9 PM and going on at 11 PM, we do all of those things 12 hours earlier. One of the good things about this schedule is that we don't stagger home at 3 AM smelling like cigarettes. Another good thing is that we aren't exhausted this morning the way the rock stars playing on the other stages appear to be!
8:45 AM: Justin & Dave are scheduled to pick me up. (Michael, Justin’s tour manager, emailed a copy of the day’s itinerary to everybody in the band on Friday.)
9:10 AM: Justin & Dave actually arrive. This is a fairly common occurrence (Why? Dave is always – how shall I put it? -- late. We love him anyway.). On the drive to my house, Justin does an on-air phone interview with Bill & Ella from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. Most of this interview takes place while Justin & Dave are in the drive-thru line at Starbucks. This is also a fairly common occurrence -- I think you'll find that most kid’s rock artists are highly-caffeinated.
9:30 AM: We arrive at the Artist Load-in Area right on time! Beth, the Stage Manager, comes to meet us with a golf cart to bring our instruments to the Kidz Stage. Liam & Gerald arrive right then, so they follow us to the stage in Gerald's car. It's a nice big stage right near Buckingham Fountain with lots of shady trees around it. Lollapalooza is spread over a HUGE area (the entire Grant Park) and our stage is centrally located. This turns out to be very convenient as the day progresses. Because so many bands are playing on our stage today, Lollapalooza has arranged for a "back line" of equipment for everyone to use: a drum set, guitar and bass amps, guitar stands, etc. It's really nice to be able to show up with nothing but my bass! I usually use a very small amp for our shows, and the amp on stage today has a huge cabinet with EIGHT 10" speakers -- I do not need to worry about being loud enough today!
10:15 AM: We all pile back into Beth's golf cart to ride over to the "Artist Relations" area. Lollapalooza has lots of “Fest Express” golf carts available to ferry performers from Point “A” to Point “B” – we take advantage of this option several times. We all get our special "Artist" wristbands (which are the equivalent of an “All Access Pass” for all three days of the festival!) and vouchers for breakfast, lunch & dinner (!) in the huge catering tent. Beth shows us around the Artist Lounge area which has deck chairs and a masseur and a PlayStation tent (we are momentarily concerned that Dave will forget to come back to our stage to perform) and a huge open bar. This is all pretty overwhelming. We decide to have some breakfast and -- Hey, look! It's Perry Farrell! All day long I find myself doing double takes as I pass rock stars just walking around.
11:30 AM: Back to the Kidz Stage. ScribbleMonster is playing “Beautiful Day” and the crowd is rocking out while KidTribe are getting everybody moving with hula-hoops. Liam & I walk over to check out the other Kidz area activities -- there are booths where kids can do all kinds of stuff: play different instruments, make their own t-shirts, get temporary tattoos, record their own songs, etc. Why didn't they have something like this when I was a kid?
12:00 PM: A great young punk band from Nashville called Be Your Own Pet is playing on the Q101 Stage, and I talk them up so much that Liam and Michael (our crew guy) join me on the trek to catch their set. (NOTE: BYOP’s lyrics are definitely not kid-friendly!)
12:30 PM: Time to grab some lunch before our first set. Hey, look! It's Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips! Curiously, he's already in the outfit he'll be wearing onstage tonight.
1:30 PM: I run into several members of Candy Band in the Ladies Room – Tammy (a/k/a Starburst) and I chat for a bit. Justin and I catch a Fest Express cart back to our stage. Hey, look! It's Carl Newman of The New Pornographers!
No matter how many shows we play, Justin is ALWAYS nervous before the show. He's a perfectionist, and I know he wants to be sure that he always puts on a great show for his fans, so it's just his nature to get a little stressed-out. Happily once we get on stage, he tends to relax. Justin heads backstage to warm up with some vocal exercises while I change into my stage outfit.
The amazing living legend, Ella Jenkins, is on the grass in front of the stage, performing with Asheba before a rapt crowd. I remember going to see Ella perform when I was a kid -- she's undoubtedly influenced generations of children to become musicians and to be unafraid to sing out loud. She is able to command a crowd’s complete attention in a way that few performers can. It just so happens that it's Ella's 82nd birthday this weekend -- Asheba leads the crowd in a special birthday song for her!
2:00 PM: Another great feature of Kidzapalooza is the interactive family Drum Circle. Ordinarily, the words "drum" and "circle" in such close proximity make me want to head for the hills, but this is really cool: the leader hands out percussion instruments to the dozens of kids and adults in the circle and everybody joins in! There is something utterly charming about kids banging on drums and shaking shakers and making NOISE with their parents right alongside them (rather than being told to pipe down). Judging from the big grins on everybody's face, the Drum Circle is a big hit.
2:15 PM: It's time for our first set! Usually, our shows are around 55 minutes long (we find that’s the attention span limit of our audience -- any longer and kids start to get a little antsy), but the Kidz stage sets are 30 minutes long. As a result, both of our sets today are heavy on the faster, punkier songs in Justin’s repertoire (which suits me just fine – I love to play the fast songs)! We open with "I Chalk,” the first song on Justin's latest cd, Meltdown! (it's one of my favorite songs to play, because the bass part is very busy), and follow it with my very favorite Justin song, "Our Imaginary Rhino.” It's so fun to play shows with Justin, because everybody in the crowd is always very enthusiastic, and they all seem to know the words to every song! It's great to see kids and their parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends and complete strangers singing and dancing together. We end the first set with one of Justin's biggest hits, "Willy Was a Whale" off of his second cd, Yellow Bus. Last Summer we went to Los Angeles to film a really cool video for "Willy Was a Whale" -- watch for it on Noggin!
3:00 PM: Time for a quick visit with my partner, Tamara, her sister Shannon and brother-in-law Marc and their kids, Maeve (10), Liam (8) & Molly (6). Everybody’s having a great time! Tamara and I run into Justin’s wife, Chris, who’s just arrived at the festival – we all head back to the Kidz Stage.
3:30 PM: We return just in time to catch the last few songs of Chutzpah’s set – they bill themselves as “The World’s First Ever Jewish Hip-Hop Supergroup” and they are FANTASTIC! While they’re on stage, the Brickheadz are breakdancing in the crowd.
3:45 PM: Almost time for our second set! Hey, look! It’s Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth! Justin is a huge fan and he nearly has a heart attack. Our friend, Piper Parker, who sang with us at our Ravinia show last month, just happens to be attending Lollapalooza today, so she comes onstage for our second set! We play a completely different set of songs this time (happily, after five albums, Justin has a LOT of great songs to choose from!) We open with "My Brother Did It" from Meltdown! and close the show 30 minutes later with Justin's signature song, "Yellow Bus" -- the crowd goes crazy!
4:30 PM: One last Drum Circle and the Kidz Stage closes up shop for the day.
4:45 PM: Time to drop off our gear at the Artist Relations area so we can go watch some other bands. Tamara and I load up all of Justin’s and my stuff and catch a ride in a Fest Express cart. Hey, look! It’s Jamie, Kaori & Ian (or possibly Sam) of The Go! Team! We love them! We shout "Yay! Go! Team!" at them and they shout "Yay!" right back at us. My one disappointment about this fantastic day was that The Go! Team was on opposite us and I couldn’t see their show!
5:30 PM: Time for the Smoking Popes! I convince Justin and Chris to join us for this great power-pop band’s set. Justin leaves the show as a new fan.
6:15 PM: We make the lengthy trek over to the other side of the park to catch the highlight of the day: The Flaming Lips. Fans dressed like aliens and Santas dance onstage while two enormous inflatable astronauts and an inflatable alien and Santa move about toward the rear of the stage. There are streamers and confetti and big blue balloons being tossed around the crowd. Wayne stumbles through the crowd in his “Space Bubble,” which looks a lot like an enormous hamster ball (Note to Self: Convince Justin to buy an enormous hamster ball).
7:15 PM: We make the trek all the way back to the other side of the park again to grab some dinner and hopefully catch most of The New Pornographers’ set. We run into Jim and Brian of ScribbleMonster and have a delightful chat over dinner. Hey, look! It’s the Smoking Popes!
8:30 PM: We walk over to catch a bit of Kanye West’s set and then call it a night.
Whew! What a day! We’re exhausted but had an incredible time! I can’t say enough about what a great experience it was to play at Lollapalooza!