Red Eyes and Nemeses: Kindiefest 2012

There are relatively few benefits of living on the West Coast from a Kindiefest perspective.  It's a long plane flight, which means reduced flexibility in choosing how you get to Brooklyn, how long you stay, and what you do when you get there.

One advantage, however, is that you get a 5-hour flight.  That's not so great when you're going there anticipating the conference (or when you have to do it on a red-eye as I did this year).  But when you're flying back, it's a lot of time to sit and think about all that you heard during the weekend.

It is hard to overestimate just how much listening one does at Kindiefest.  There are the panels, of course - those are more typically geared toward musicians, but if you are more broadly interested in how one carves out a career as kids musician, a non-professional musician can find nuggets of things to ponder.

Besides the panels, there is all the music.  The showcase performances on Saturday night, the public festival on Sunday -- it's more than 7 hours of music in total, from all sorts of genres and all around the country.

And depending on your personality or need, you can spend more time than either of those just listening to others in one-on-one (or more) talks. Conversations are two-way, of course, but as a member of the media who isn’t looking to do interviews but meets a lot of artists who want to say ”hi” or tell me about their album plans or just introduce themselves, I do a lot of listening then, too.  It's enough to make you want to see a museum or go out for a run on Sunday morning, neither of which I got to do this year.

What did I do at this year’s Kindiefest?  Well, I got into Littlefield, the conference's home for the past 3 years, about 12:15 PM Saturday after the aforementioned red-eye, so I missed the keynote on Friday night and the post-talk schmoozing.  Which meant there was even more schmoozing to do in the limited amount of time I was there.  I did a lot of it -- seeing old friends, like Jeff and Dave and meeting folks I had previously known only through the magic of the Internet (hi, Jeff Giles!). I also talked with a lot of musicians and booking artists and PR folks.  I don't think I talked with every single one of the 350 or so record-setting number of attendees, but there were times when I felt that I did.  The only way I know I didn't is that there were folks that I wanted to talk to whom I realized on the flight home I didn't.

Late in the afternoon, I moderated a lively panel on The State of Kindie, a free-flowing discussion on all things kindie music.  An hour-long discussion is way too short to even scratch the surface of the various topics covered, such as what's improved over the past 10 years (too much to mention), what concerns still remain (sometimes a lack of diversity in audiences), and whether or not the Grammys matter.  On top of that, people gave their one piece of advice to artists.  (Mine had to do cooperating and competing, out of which the notion of nemeses -- that one person who brings out the best in you in competition -- took hold.)  If this description sounds dry, I assure you the panel itself was not, as the panelists were funny and engaged.

The showcase was even more crowded this year, with 10 different artists taking the stage.  The number of artists meant that the performances themselves were shorter than in past years.  There were way too many (and probably too brief) to adequately give them all justice in a review, but a handful of memories from the evening:

-- Renee & Jeremy captivating the audience with their chilled-out lullabies (not to mention Chris Ballew joining in on their version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away).  For those of you wondering if the duo sounds as good live as they do on record, the answer is an unequivocal "yes."

-- Speaking of Chris Ballew, I was so glad to see Caspar Babypants play live.  As you might expect give how long he's been performing, he's very good at holding an audience's attention with nothing more than a voice and a guitar.

-- Lori Henriques playing a solo piano set, including a great new song, "Dinosaur," which was great as a kids' song about a dinosaur and also as a metaphorical song about a relationship breaking up (that was, to be clear, my interpretation and not -- I checked -- Henriques' intent).

-- Mista Cookie Jar put on an energetic performance with Ava Flava, the youngest performer of the night, rapping and singing.  All that and a roller-skating backup dancer.

-- Elska's performance, which between the music (electronic), costumes (sewn), and songs (fanciful), was the most eclectic and unusual of the night.

-- It is always good to see Dan Zanes perform; this time he eschewed his ”Friends” for a different set of friends, the Latin band Bomba Yo.  There was a 20+ (er, 10+) minute song featuring one of the band's female members dancing in front of the stage, then the pink-tutu-ed Sarah Shannon of The Not-Its joining in, then other women, then Chris Ballew, Rudy Trubitt - even I ended up joining in (shyly) near the end.

On a related note, I must say (again?) that one of the things I will always love about the Kindiefest showcase is that there is nothing like an audience of musicians for crowd harmonizing and fill-in hand-clapping.  Does my harmonizing, fill-in hand-clapping soul good.

After the showcase and some chatter at the venue, a large group of us went to a bar a couple blocks away and continued the conversations we'd all been having all day.  Artists, media, bookers, etc. -- while I learn stuff from the panels, I learn much more from these informal conversations.

I woke up too late and was moving too slowly to be able to take a jog through Prospect Park, so instead I went to see Recess Monkey play at 92Y TriBeCa.  I realized I hadn't seen them play live in a couple years, so I got to hear some newer tunes, including 3 off their upcoming album.  They are a fine-tuned machine playing live at this point.  They are, I would note, the model of the new kindie band.  Skilled musicians and songwriters, talented at more than just music (note how many videos they make), and always seeking new opportunities to have their music heard (they're playing with a circus, for cryin' out loud).  They are good nemeses for other musicians to have, though it's hard to curse them.

I skedaddled back to Brooklyn for the public showcase. Again, too many bands (and I missed Apple Brains, SteveSongs, and almost all of KBC Kids), so I'm not going to provide individual comments, but I will note that the hard work of publicity for the event paid off.  What was often a somewhat lightly attended event at least early in the afternoon in past years was completely packed when I walked in around 12:45.  Good to know word got out.

Why do I spend so much time talking about an industry-only conference, you might ask, particularly if you're not in the industry.  It's because this is one of the most significant events of the year and what transpires here leads to stuff you’ll end up enjoying for years to come.  Plans are hatched, songs are written, connections are made that will lead to some awesome experiences for kids and their families.  I'm sure I know but a small amount of everything that results from this gathering of artists, but even if you never come to Brooklyn, this weekend matters.

Hats off to the organizers, thanks for asking me to join y'all again.  Totally worth the red eyes.