There are many reasons why the Phoenix area is not a hotbed for children's and family music and to delineate them all would require a long essay filled with suppositions, sarcasm, and half-truths. And while I am no stranger to any of those, it seems a fairly negative topic for so early in the year.
So let us turn our attention to Chuck Cheesman, an honest-to-goodness Arizona kids and family musician. In a time-honored Arizona tradition, we can claim Chuck as an Arizona musician because we got him to move here from someplace else. Chuck lived in Chicago, taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music and even sang on three tracks on their Wiggleworms Love You CD until the call of the beautiful pines of Northern Arizona drew him and his family to Flagstaff.
This weekend, Chuck made his first foray to Phoenix for some kids' shows (he'd been here before, I believe, for his more adult-oriented folk shows), and my daughter and I caught him at a local bookstore. Cheesman played mostly traditional kids songs, accompanying himself on guitar. He clearly had many years of practice entertaining the small fry, memorizing the kids' names and trying to draw them into the performance. (I liked the hand motions Cheesman's family, who was in attendance, had for "Bling Blang.")
My daughter, who can be shy in new situations, spent most of the performance sitting behind one of the bookshelves. But she listened, sometimes singing to herself, and I enjoyed watching her peer between the shelves trying to catch a glimpse of something new Cheesman was doing.
Cheesman has a voice slightly reminiscent of James Taylor, clear and sweet. His first family release, A Family Songbook (2003), has a nice mix of Wiggleworms standards with newer songs (a fun "Rubber Duckie," a very bluesy "Big Blue Dog"). He's by no means reinventing any family music wheel on the CD, but it's a very well-done CD with the occasional track filled out with additional instruments. (You can find out more about the CD here.)
Of course, in a bookstore, you can't bring more than a guitar, but Cheesman has an engaging performing personality. There weren't many kids in attendance, but he's blazing a trail down here. When he comes through again (hopefully with a new CD, still in the works), I'll spread the word here -- he should definitely have a lot more people listening and singing along.