by Alexi Wilbourn
Atlanta is not exactly a hot spot for the kids’ live music scene, but the city is still home to some incredible talents who are dedicated to performing for kids and families. We searched far and wide to determine who’s who on the scene. We talked to parents, educators and musicians –
who sometimes led us to other kid-friendly musicians. And we spoke with venue managers who book live entertainment.
“There’s not much of a scene,” says Greg Roth of Mr. Greg’s Musical Madness. “Atlanta is a big city, but I don’t think there are a lot of quality kids’ acts really trying to do something. It’s hard to find.”
The band Laughing Pizza could be considered the big kid on the block. A family affair, Laughing Pizza is known and tours nationally, and currently only performs closer to home in Atlanta a few times a year. They, too, sense there’s something of a gap here when it comes to a well-defined kids’ music scene.
“Music jumps from Barney straight to Britney,” Laughing Pizza’s lead singer Lisa says. (The band declines to use last names, preferring their fan-given name of “The Pizzas.”)
Daddy A-Go-Go, who has been creating kids’ CDs since 1998 and has landed five times on Amazon’s top 10 kids’ CDs, is releasing a new album called “Grandkids Rock.” However, you won’t find lead singer John Boydston performing live.
“I haven’t performed in over a year,” he says. Instead, Boydston is making music videos and posting them on YouTube and other websites.
So, what exactly is kids’ music? Turns out, it can be almost anything, from rock ’n’ roll to pop to acoustic. Topnotch children’s music is centered on lyrics and on telling stories that resonate with kids. Songs often have a fun, carefree sound, although there can be a message that teaches values such as love, friendship or learning.
“My kids love being able to sing along and actually understand the lyrics without it sounding like baby music,” says Acworth mom Candria Easterwood of her children, ages 2 and 4. Her independent tykes love to pretend their fireplace hearth is a stage, and that’s where they rock out to their favorite kids’ songs.
When we started identifying kids’ music acts based in the Atlanta area, we learned that a number of the talents have backgrounds in the adult music world. Some of Atlanta’s current kid-happy musicians were once lead singers and killer guitarists who toured with rock bands. Some of these night owls traded in their mohawks for minivans when they became parents. The shifts in their lives gave way to new ideas, new priorities, new pursuits. Some musicians told Atlanta Parent that parenthood has helped them find and explore a whole new outlet for their creativity –
The seed for kids’ music was planted for Douglas Brake of Douglas Brake and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band when he and his son were singing goofy tunes while cooking bacon in the kitchen.
The band Kitty Wolf also began in the kitchen, with dad Scott Hall writing songs for son Colton while mom Robin lent her vocal skills.
Another common thread for these musicians seems to be the pure joy of performing for kids and having a positive impact on their lives. “I love seeing the ‘ah-ha’ moment in their eyes,” says Roth, adding that he’s already living a dream as a father and performer.
“I love to see the reactions of the kids who are dancing to our music and coming in with stick ponies and cowboy hats,” says Berné Poliakoff, also known as “Frenchy” in the family-pleasing band, Cowboy Envy. The band, which plays western and swing music from the 1930s and 1940s, is not exclusively for kids. Parents and grandparents are equal fans. The act has been a regular at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur since 1993, where they please the all-ages crowd with favorites such as “Happy Trails” and “Cool Clear Water.”
Some musicians seize the opportunity to lend a hand to charitable causes. Kitty Wolf has rough plans, in collaboration with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, to play at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egelston. The latest venture for the band Always Saturday: donating the proceeds of 10,000 iTunes downloads to Camp Sunshine of Decatur, which works with kids affected by cancer.
Many of the metro area’s kids’ musicians and bands may earn their living through other jobs, but they are often fixtures on stages at any number of local festivals, so keep your eyes out for those performance lineups.
Other bands arrange tour dates or play at places such as Eddie’s Attic, the Buckhead Theatre and the Red Door Playhouse in Roswell. Midtown’s Red Light Café sometimes is host to national kids’ acts, including Ralph’s World and SteveSongs.
Even the Punchline, one of Atlanta’s biggest comedy clubs, is getting in on the kids’ music action after years of adults-only fare. Mr. Greg’s Musical Madness is to appear at the Punchline on February 25. The last time the Punchline booked a kids’ show was 2006, and the headliner was Laughing Pizza.
As father of three girls, Punchline co-owner Jamie Bendall well knows the challenges of finding appropriate music for kids that is still enjoyable for parents. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Greg’s Musical Madness has the upcoming show. “What I like about Greg’s music,” Bendall says, “is that they’re frankly great songs – message-oriented and educational.”
Mr GregMr. Greg’s Musical Madness
Band Members: Greg Roth (vocals and instruments)
Where it Began: Roth initially started writing kids’ music for his son Elijah, now 5. The music dabbling soon turned into performances at Elijah’s school and grew from there.
Music Enrichment: His songs focus on providing an interactive musical experience for children, as well as providing education and enrichment through songs.
One example of the education aspect of Roth’s music is the song “Lots of Fun!” It teaches kids basic Spanish in a format that youngsters find enjoyable and easy to remember. The song teaches colors, counting and keeps kids laughing by prompting them to make a funny face.
Favorite Song: Though it’s difficult for Roth to choose, “Bounce Through Life” is a favorite. The lyrics talk of a “beautiful girl reading a book, climbing a tree as daddy cooks.”
“It helps to break the stereotypes,” Roth says. “There’s a girl climbing a tree and Daddy is cooking. It’s expanding upon what we think of gender roles.”
CD: “Lots of Fun!”
Kitty WolfKitty Wolf
Band Members: Scott Hall (guitar) and Robin Hall (vocals) and son Colton (vocals, guitar, drums)
The Music: The songs tell stories that kids find amusing, such as “Blue Ridge Giant,” which is about a family car trip when the parents are too busy to notice the giant outside the window. The sound is upbeat, featuring a variety of instruments.
Pop-Up Video: “Circus Song,” part of the second CD, is Kitty Wolf’s newest music video. The artsy backdrops, adventure and upbeat music keep the kids watching the screen until the very end. Colton even gets shot out of a cannon! And then the kids might even want to watch it again.
CDs: “Jump the Tracks”; “Pancakes”
Laughing PizzaLaughing Pizza
Band Members: Lisa (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Billy (guitar, bass, drums and various other instruments) and daughter Emily, 15 – aka “The Pizzas”
The Music: Up-tempo, bubbly songs that encourage kids to jump around and dance. They also sing an assortment of ballads, including one titled “Daddy,” which brings tears to the eyes of parents in the audience.
Let’s Talk: One topic that could keep Lisa and Billy talking forever? Their daughter. Emily plays five instruments, writes songs, raps, sings, and designs clothes. She’s also excelling in her online school. Oh, and she “died” four times when she was a baby due to trachea complications. Such a crisis has the power to tear families apart, but the family grew stronger through surgery after surgery. The move to Atlanta from New York came after Emily was finally healthy. Atlanta was viewed as a sort of “do-over place” and a chance at a normal life, Lisa says.
The family has reached some pretty big milestones, including winning six Parents’ Choice Awards.
CDs: “Let’s Go Play!”; “Love Makes a Family”; “Pizza Party”; “Meet the Pizzas”
Douglas brakeDouglas Brake and the Sizzle, Hiss, Pop Band
Band Members: Douglas Brake (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Greg Peay (bass, backup vocals), Tony Tiberia (drums, percussion, backup vocals), Chuck Bell (keyboards, accordion, percussion, backup vocals), Greg Ratzel (electric guitar, lead penny whistle, backup vocals)
The Music: Brake compares his music to “campfire songs.” The catchy, humorous tunes have even earned him a station on Pandora Internet radio.
Kids Say the Darnedest Things: At one show Brake noticed a child staring at him during the entire performance. When he went up to ask if she was having a good time, the little girl responded: “You need to take a shower.”
CD: “Sizzle, Hiss, Pop”
Always SaturdayAlways Saturday
Band Members: Dan Fishman (drums, percussion, backup vocals), Marc Castelo (writer) and Donny Todd (vocals, acoustic guitar)
The Music: This group of dads (Todd has one on the way) plays the kind of light-hearted music that makes you feel like sprawling on the grass in the sunshine and closing your eyes. “Big Kahuna” features steel drums and a reggae tone, while “Lime and Sunny Shine” is pretty certain to brighten a dull day.
All in the Name: Today’s kids no longer have to wait until the weekend for cartoons, thanks to DVR and TiVo. “So now, it’s always Saturday,” Castelo says.
Learn More: Fishman, Castelo and Todd started creating music for Play 2 Grow programs to get the kids excited and moving. What initially started out of necessity grew into family music for everyone to enjoy.
“One of the goals as we developed is to have an avenue for kids and their parents through music to talk about important things,” Fishman says of their songs and spoken stories.
CD: “Love is Plural”
Missing PieceThe Missing Piece
Band Members: Seth Decker (vocals and instruments) with additional help from wife Leah (vocals)
The Music: Seth’s smooth voice has a distinct quality to it, in a Matt White meets John Mayer sort of way. His acoustic guitar makes for the perfect partner-in-crime for these catchy, laid-back tunes. One can imagine listening to the songs at a summer cookout or playing beach volleyball.
The Story: The Deckers own and run a children’s theater company called Red Door Playhouse. Working with children daily, the couple knew that not all so-called kids’ music is enjoyable.
The Missing Piece was born when the Deckers realized that parents sometimes have to listen to kids’ music, and sometimes in small, confined spaces such as the car.
Whether crooning about sailing down the river in a “Cucumber Canoe” or singing about poor “Edna the Elephant” who was told she could never be a dancer, the Missing Piece always tries to tell stories that kids will identify with.
“Kids dress up like our characters and come to our shows,” Seth says, noting that Edna and “Roger the Alien” are fan favorites.
Feel Like Family: The Deckers have quite a following through the Red Door Playhouse. “When you get to know the Deckers, it’s so much about hospitality,” says Alpharetta mom Sarah McCrory, who has been taking her little ones to the “RDP” for seven years. “They have this deep, deep hope to inspire and motivate the children toward the arts and they make you feel like family.” McCrory adds that she also loves watching how the first-time visitor is made to feel just as important as the long-time RDP fans.
CDs: “Homemade Radio Show”; “Intergalactic Tour”; “Through the Red Door”
More Kid-Friendly Music
Just like “the beat goes on,” so does the list of kid-friendly bands based in Atlanta. Here are a few more that the whole family might enjoy:
carolineherring.com, folk music
cowboyenvy.com, country-western-swing music
daddyagogo.com, rock music
Ericlitwin.com, guitar/folk storytelling music
The Baby Grands
thebabygrands.com, rock and acoustic music
These national acts may not be coming to a venue near you anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t listen to their music. Their CDs are available at most major retailers.
Farmer Jason, rock ’n’ roll with humorous lyrics from a Tennessee “farmer”
Kidz Bop, kids singing top radio hits
Laurie Berkner Band, “rocking music” for kids
Mindless Behavior, pop-R&B group of teens
Radio Disney Jams, featuring Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez and more
Ralph’s World, rock ’n’ roll feel with kid-friendly lyrics
SteveSongs, of PBS, sings kid-friendly songs
Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith sings songs pre-teens will love.