Kindiefest 2013: Finding Your Mississippi River


Another Kindiefest has come and gone and all that is left are the bar tabs, sore legs, and hoarse voices.

The seventh annual confab of kindie musicians (fifth as a full-fledged conference) broke its own attendance record this year and moved into new digs, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher building.  But the basic concept -- meet, learn, and sing -- remains unchanged.

Every year, I am a little less interested in the panels and a little more interested in the people.  To a large extent, the reason for that is that I don't need to listen to a panel how to make a kindie music record.  It's great for the first-time attendees (of which there are always a lot), but as a veteran non-professional musician, it's not helpful.

What is helpful is talking to people.  I have always found the conversations outside the walls of the conference itself to be most valuable, because those conversations (sometimes aided by bar tabs, though not necessarily) tend to be more real, more likely to generate real sharing, real connections.  Instead of trying to sell a concept or an album, you're trying to understand the other person, and maybe, in that process share who or what you are as a musician (or writer or booker).  Even if you're not sure whether you like someone's music, or writing, or whatever, you can still make a genuine connection.

For my part at the conference, I was asked to present a curated list of kids music videos along with a brief presentation on the history and types of videos.  Frankly, it was just fun seeing all those videos shown on a big screen and through a nice soundsystem.


One thing I only realized as I sat through the entire 40-minute, 13-song DVD I'd compiled was how much the artist's personality comes through in each of those videos.  That was not something I'd consciously done when I picked the videos, but I think it's clear that the artists that have found their band's or personality's heart in their video and it's that clarity that shines through.

The surprise of my video presentation was that I got to world premiere the first-ever video from Lunch Money.  It's for their song "Spicy Kid," and I found Molly's description of it as "half Mentos ad, half Blues Brothers excerpt" as being particularly apropos.  What's more, because it's funny at points, tender at others, it very much feels like Lunch Money, like Molly and the band had found another way to express themselves.


Despite my comments above, I did sit through about half of the panels, and while there were lots of useful pieces of information and funny moments, only once did somebody say something that made me dig out my phone and jot down what they said.

It was Molly (natch), who on the panel on "What's Next?" talked about getting the Can You Canoe? disk from the Okee Dokee Brothers for the first time, popping it in the CD player, and listening.  She may have used a curse word in describing her initial reaction, I can't remember properly because that happened several times during the weekend (Kindiefest: Where Kindie Musicians Go To Curse).  But, long story short: she loved the album and felt the Okee Dokee Brothers had found something deep within themselves in singing about their trek down the Mississippi River.  She encouraged the attendees to "find their own Mississippi River," and if that wasn't a metaphor for what folks said all weekend, I'm not sure what is.  Kindie musicians -- and, heck, people generally -- need to let their personalities and artistic goals shine through, and I hope there was enough proof during the weekend of just how valuable that approach can be, certainly artistically, but also even career-wise.  Know your song, and sing it loud.


Other notes from the weekend:

-- The industry showcase concert Saturday night was, as always, a combination of more experienced artists who might not have had the broader exposure of the industry stage and more relative newcomers.  The set that most impressed me was definitely Mister G's. He came up on stage with nothing more than a guitar, a kick drum, and his wife, and within 3 minutes (probably more like 2) had the entire crowd close to the stage, clapping and singing along.  By the end of his set, he'd filled the stage with other kindie musicians, and thoroughly entertained us all.


-- Everybody was entertaining in one way or another Saturday night -- live shows almost always add to an artist's reputation -- so I'm hesitant to recommend any more, but a brief shoutout to Vered and the Babes (her backing band of 4 guys), who translated her simple songs focused on bonding with baby into something that worked surprisingly well in a much less-intimate setting.  Also, in the category of "sometimes being unknown is an advantage," newcomers Bears and Lions performed a set featuring songs like "I'm a Mediocre Kid" (much more upbeat and celebratory that the title would imply), people dressed up as bears and lions in track suits, and absurd songs and patter remiscent of other surreal duos like the Telephone Company, The Quiet Two, The Thinkers, and fellow showcase performers Ratboy Jr (pictured here with Dean Jones helping the boys out).


-- I have said that my favorite part of Kindiefest is the connecting with others, and my favorite way of connecting at the festival is probably at the showcase.  It's the singing in 8-part harmony, it's the dancing, and, in the case of the concluding performance from Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell, even a tunnel for audience to dance under.  It's a communal feeling that underlies the entire conference.  And it's a ton of fun.

-- Other things I liked: The empanadas at the food truck down the street.  Edvard Munch's "The Scream" at MOMA.  Underbirds at Symphony Space and Raffi at Town Hall (more on those separately).  Running around Prospect Park on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Getting to sing with Ella Jenkins.  Talking with fellow kindie folks (too many to name, but I will give a tip of the cap to Jeff Bogle and Dave Loftin).

-- Things I'm sorry I missed: The KindieTalks (especially Laurie Berkner's).  The barbecue place around the corner from BAM.  Sleep.  Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with Lloyd Miller.  The Sunday public festival.  Stretching.  Bill Childs.

Back in the real world, I'm trying to remember the lessons of Kindiefest, but I think if I just keep searching for my own Mississippi River, I'll be OK.