Interview: The KC Jiggle Jam

JiggleJam08TMBG.jpgReminder: Go here by tonight for a chance to win free Jiggle Jam stuff -- you don't have to live anywhere near KC to enjoy the shirt, hat, and compilation CD!

I was totally impressed with the lineup for the 2009 KC Jiggle Jam, to be held this upcoming Memorial Day weekend. When I saw Jeni and Jim Cosgrove at KindieFest 2009 in Brooklyn a couple weeks ago, having as much fun if not more so than the kids on hand, I had some small idea of the enthusiasm and passion the two of them bring toward putting together a most excellent kids music festival. But I also wanted to get a sense of just how much work and planning putting on an event like takes. So I decided to ask them (in the midst of their final preparations). Jeni and Jim, along with Keli Wenzel, answered a few questions about Jiggle Jam's past, present, and future...

Zooglobble What was the genesis of the Jiggle Jam?
Jeni Cosgrove: Jiggle Jam Family Music Festival is a non-profit, 501c3 agency committed to gathering generations and communities together to experience musical performances and educational activities in a positive atmosphere that the entire family can enjoy.

The idea of Jiggle Jam began with three people who shared the same vision, Jim and Jeni Cosgrove and Keli O'Neill Wenzel. Jim has been leading the children's music scene in Kansas City for more than a decade. Jeni Cosgrove has been there right beside him as a wife, booking agent, tour manager, and event planner. Jeni had successfully organized five smaller children's music festivals prior to Jiggle Jam. Keli Wenzel works under the umbrella of O'Neill Communications, a public relations, marketing and event management firm. Keli is also the Executive Director of the highly successful Kansas City Irish Fest -- the city's biggest and most awesome festival.

After casually discussing a family music fest for several years, the three of us finally sat down together one day in September 2007, and decided to make it a reality. Crown Center, a shopping, dining, and hotel complex adjacent to the headquarters for Hallmark Cards, gave us the push we needed. They too wanted to see some kind of family festival on their grounds. They knew Keli made it happen with Irish Fest, and they knew Jim and I could pull together some of the best acts in children's music.

Jim Cosgrove: Jeni and I produced our own music fest -- Family Peace Jamboree -- for three years. It was all local acts performing on a big stage in a local school parking lot. It was successful (about 1,000 people the first year) and a lot of work. Just when we decided we couldn't do it by ourselves anymore, Hallmark/Crown Center approached Keli and us about creating a signature event for them.

Crown Center has the perfect festival facilities. Keli knows festivals (and how to squeeze corporate dollars) better than anyone. Jeni and I know family music, and we know what families want and how artists deserved to be treated. It's a winning combination.

Jeni: The three of us reached out to more close friends and formed a tight board of directors who pounded the pavement, reached out to the community, and made the details come together. It's a team effort.
How many folks attended the first Jiggle Jam in 2008?
Jeni: The inaugural Jiggle Jam Family Music Fest at Crown Center was tons of fun. It took place over Memorial Day Weekend 2008. The entertainment was fabulous, and the turnout (23,000 kids, moms, dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends!) was fantastic. Kids and parents listened to great music (including a crowd of over 6000 just for They Might Be Giants), bounced on the inflatables, participated in the workshops and left with huge smiles on their faces. Jiggle Jam sold over 100 hotel rooms at the sponsoring hotels, with visitors coming from 16 states.

What did you learn about festivals from last year's festival, and how did that change -- if at all -- what you did for this second go-round?
Jim: I learned (yet again) that you can't please everyone, so don't fret trying. And if something works, don't tweak it too much. When guys like Tom Chapin and Keith and Ezra from Trout (who have 30 + years of experience in family entertainment) tell you that this is the best festival they've EVER been to, then we must have done something well. Jeni's good about reminding me to keep doing what works and keep doing what we do well.

Keli Wenzel: There were few surprises because of our knowledge and experience with outdoor festivals. All along we knew that we were targeting much smaller children and hoped to add more "tween" attractions. This year we have tweaked the American Heart Association tent to gear more towards the older children, with Dance, Dance Revolution, line dance lessons, play station corner and musical chairs. In addition we added a activity area that will have a group called Theatre of Imagination orchestrate rock videos, as well as Funky Munkey music that will have instrument lessons. Other than that, we did not change much - just preparing for larger crowds

May2008JiggleJam.jpgDo you have any guess as to what percentage of the attendees were there primarily to see the "national" acts (e.g., TMBG) and what percentage were there primarily to see the more regional acts (e.g., Jim, Funky Mama, etc.)?
Jeni: It was definitely a combination. I strongly believe that without the local acts, we might not have drawn as big of a crowd. Kansas City has an emerging family music scene that reflects the flavor of the Midwest. Our local acts like Funky Mama, Dino O'Dell, The Doo-Dads, Bongo Barry, The Jazz Storytellers, and Jim Cosgrove all have their different followings. We knew each act would attract a crowd even if we did not have a national act like TMBG. But, while we had Kansas City's attention, we wanted to add some surprises into the mix. So, we looked for bands that had a following in Kansas City, and that people did not normally have the chance to see on a regular basis, like Justin Roberts, TMBG, Trout, etc. Some people came out not knowing some of the national acts, but they felt this must be something good if all the local acts were involved.

What do you and the Jiggle Jam board look for when finding artists?
Jeni: The acts we book truly reflect the various tastes of our board, which we feel represents what the communities want to see. We look for acts that are energetic and will get families up and dancing together. This is not a festival where the entertainment is just for kids. The whole idea is that families participate in the concert experience together. We also look for acts that provide interactive and educational programs for our "Kool-skool" workshop tents.

Jim: My philosophy has always been that I am not the star of the show -- the kids are the stars of the show. And I like to find other entertainers who perform with that in mind.

Do you have any estimate of the number of work hours the organizers (ie., you and the rest of the board) put in order to make the festival happen?
Jenil: Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of hours go into organizing Jiggle Jam. I don't think anyone has totaled up the hours. But, I can tell you from September - May we work on Jiggle Jam daily. By February we are meeting 2-3 times a month as a board and committee. Keli and I are in contact with each other weekly, and sometimes daily from March until the day of the festival. From April - May I will spend several hours a day on Jiggle Jam-related work.

Jim: More hours than most people would be willing to not get paid for.

JiggleJam3.jpgWhat aspirations do you have for Jiggle Jam in the future?
Jeni: We want to show Kansas City that Jiggle Jam will continue to provide affordable family entertainment that rocks, whether they are national, local, or emerging acts.

Jim: We want to make Kansas City a cradle of solid family music. We want people to think of KC as the home of good barbeque, swinging jazz, and awesome family music. We've got our own solid home-grown scene here now, and we want to continue to attract regional and national acts. And we're centrally located, so it's easy to drop by.

I think we'll see Jiggle Jam continue to grow as a destination event for families from all over the country.

Keli: We also want to grow it to be a regional destination for families on Memorial Day weekend. So far we have booked over 175 rooms at the hotel and still counting. We want Jiggle Jam to become one of Kansas City's favorite festivals.