Kindiefest 2011: The Big Picture

I'm writing this (or at least starting to write) while at about 38,000 feet, heading home to Phoenix after another weekend of family music immersion at Kindiefest, the annual gathering of family musicians, radio folks, writers, and others. I spent a fair amount of time this weekend trying to think about if there was an overarching theme to this year's conference. What is the big picture? Last year, if you'll remember, it was about owning your [stuff], the year before it was about... well, a bunch of stuff.

And this year? There were always the random phrases people uttered during the weekend. In the entertaining discussion on using social media, Ashley Albert from the Jimmies mentioned how one children's media property allowed users to create avatars of themselves as potatoes, and I immediately wrote "potato avatar" as the name of a kids album or kids band, I'm not sure which. Daron Henry mentioned how Recess Monkey had at some point become a "jobby," a combination of job and hobby that captures, I think, the weird position of some kids music artists, for which this artistic endeavor has become something considerably more than a hobby, but maybe hasn't quite reached the point of full-time work. Yet.

Kindiefest co-founder Bill Childs tagged "authenticity" as the word for the weekend. I won't deny that that notion surfaced throughout the weekend, especially in the musical performances. (More on those tomorrow.)

But I'm going to call the word of Kindiefest 2011 "community." It wasn't a buzzword that rolled off everyone's lips immediately -- well, except maybe in my panel -- and it's not the word itself that I'm choosing. It was some that happened constantly. At least four or five times during the conference, somebody said to me (or I thought to myself), "I want to -- or I've been told that I need to -- meet [someone else]." And then I'd take it upon myself to find that person, and drag them (and you think I'm exaggerating, but it's not too far from the truth) to that other person.

That community could be found in the many after-parties post-conference events, where some folks did the small-level relationship building that long-term associations are built upon. Sometimes that involved serious discussions on how band finances really work or trading touring war stories or fond memories, and sometimes that involved making really bad (and/or off-color) jokes.

And probably most significantly, community was found in the showcases and public festival, where again this year many musicians were the most enthusiastic listeners. It was heartening to see the large contingent of kindie musicians on one side of the stage singing or clapping along loudly, for example, during Elizabeth Mitchell's set. Or when during the showcase from Shine and the Moonbeams -- and, goodness, you will be hearing much more about them -- the little boy on stage got a little stage fright and didn't want to dance, Tim Kubart and Ann Torralba got up and danced away. That's not even mentioning all the different folks who sat in on others' sets.
There were a lot of familiar faces at this year's event, but there were also new faces. The challenge to the long timers (and it feels weird to call those of us attending for 2 or 3 years to be long timers, but there it is) is to keep the inclusionary feel of the genre open, but it's also the challenge for the newcomers, too. There's a difference between community-building and networking -- it's the former that will get us to Kindiefest 2021.

My relationship to this community that's being created (or significantly expanded) is a little odd in that I am both a part of and yet separate from the community's largest contingent, that of the musicians. I believe firmly in the idea of making music for and with kids and families, but a significant component of my work here is to provide (my own subjective) qualitative distinctions. As a result, I still walk that fine line between encouraging everyone (because who knows who will become the next [name your favorite artist]) and recognizing (repeatedly) the artists I think best reflect the explosion of creativity we're seeing and hearing right now. It seems a little competitive for a collaborative community, but one of my hopes is that events like this help motivate everyone to try harder, dig deeper, and take artistic chances. (And that includes me. That even includes readers who have nothing to do with the music-making end of the community and just want to find more great music for their families.) In the end, that's one of the things that will make this community more visible to the community at large.

Thanks again to Stephanie, Mona, Tor, and Bill for putting on another excellent conference, the best Kindiefest yet. Learned some, and laughed and got inspired a bunch. That's a lot for 48 hours in the city.