I live in Phoenix, which, as anyone who lives in Phoenix will tell you, is not the most scintillating of live music towns. There are many reasons for that, but I'm doing my best to change that, at least in the kids' music field.
There are certain venues across the country, however, that I draw inspiration from -- venues that manage to find space for both local and national artists, building a kids music community through live shows.
One note -- unfortunately, I've never been to any of these venues. My declaration of these sites as "the best" is based solely on the quality and diversity of their concert lineup. I should also note that this list explicitly excludes libraries and festivals as the former tends not to be able to bring in a bunch of touring musicians and the latter only gives you a weekend of music each year.
Of course, I want to hear about your favorite places to hear music with your family, not just for the quality of the music but also for the quality of the experience. Because no matter how good the show, if there's no place to change your kids' diaper, it's hard for anyone to be a happy camper.
On with the list...
Starting off in New York City, which as you'd expect has plenty of kids musicians and places to hear them, but there doesn't seem to be the one go-to place. I like what Symphony Space is doing -- their "Just Kidding" series has a nice mix of NY-area artists (Dog on Fleas, AudraRox, Gustafer Yellowgold, Deedle Deedle Dees) and out-of-towners (Captain Bogg & Salty, Ralph's World). That would be impressive enough, but the fact that it's over a 6-week period is much more so...
Moving on down the coast to Philadelphia, where one of the longest-running kids' series, Peanut Butter & Jams at World Cafe Live brings 'em in from near and far. Local acts like the Cats' Pajamas are found in between national and regional acts like Justin Roberts, Rocknoceros, and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Tickets are pretty cheap (typically $10/adults, $7/kids, with $2/ticket discount for purchasing with cash prior to the day of show), tours of the WXPN studios, and all-you-can-eat buffets available, they seem to have everything needed for a fun afternoon set.
It's really not fair that the Washington, DC area gets two of the five listings here, but sometimes life isn't fair. The Sirius-XM studios for Kids Place Live are one of the best places to see kids' music. It's not surprising that a satellite radio station with a cross-country reach would be a popular place for family musicians to play. Robbert Bobbert, Lunch Money, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo -- lots of folks have come through. Even better, most Rumpus Room concert series shows are open to the public. E-mail Sirius-XM to find out how you can get on the mailing list to secure tickets for future shows.
Not only can you see shows at Sirius-XM, you can see shows at the best kids music series in the country, hands down -- Jammin' Java's "Tot Rock" series. (The two entities enjoy a slightly symbiotic relationship.) I've long been
jealous from afar impressed by the events this suburban-DC club has managed to get. Rocknoceros, Brady Rymer, Billy Jonas, Recess Monkey -- the list goes on. And that's just the weekend shows. They also have kids' shows every weekday, including a standing Wednesday show with Rocknoceros, which apparently sells out on a regular basis. If there is any single club that shows that kids' music can draw a crowd, it's Jammin' Java.
Finally, my sole West Coast representative is McCabe's Guitar Shop, who do a great job of putting together a concert series that mixes local favorites with some touring folks. A glance at the upcoming concert schedule shows that David Tobocman, Zak Morgan, Courtney Campbell, Tom Freund, and Parker Bent are playing, and that's just in the next couple months or so. (If you can wade through their Performers' List, you can find a whole bunch more.)