KindieFest, Day 2

I have to just start by saying WOW, what a talented and diverse field of colleagues I have out there in the world of kid-friendly rock. It can be daunting, sitting at home alone and listening to Laurie Berkner’s 37th super-platinum album and thinking “I’ll never be that good or that famous or that successful.” But to hang out with the amazing musicians who came to KindieFest is inspiring, galvanizing, and a whole lotta fun.

Day 2 was chock full o’panel discussions. My schedule kept me from attending the morning sessions, of which there were four: Marketing, Videos, Recording and Distribution. All very important topics and I’ll be pestering my fellow attendees for their notes in the days ahead. The word I got from the Distribution session was that they didn’t delve into digital distribution at all, which seems odd considering the state of the modern music-distribution model. I may pass a note along to the organizers to suggest that as a panel topic next year.

The panel I did get to sit in on, “Old School Meets New School,” was wonderfully inspiring. Four of the Old Guard sat on the panel: musicians Elizabeth Mitchell, Suni Paz and Bill Harley, and kid-radio personality Kathy O’Connell of WXPN in Philly. They shared their stories of how they got started, and the common thread was: There was ever a huge vacuum in the area of music for kids. In schools, in the media, on the radio, no one seemed to know quite what to do. Conversely, that left these creators and their peers a lot of freedom to explore and try things out. Suni Paz, for example, was told that there weren’t any kids’ songs in Spanish, so she tracked some down and wrote some more when she couldn’t find enough. Elizabeth Mitchell was simply happy singing to her students as she pursued her career in “grown-up” music, until the recordings she made of her classroom songs one afternoon became much more popular than her other stuff (an echo of Dan Zanes’ story fro the night before).

They told stories of their failures: Suni Paz spoke of being rejected by the Folkways people at the Smithsonian (“you’re not Joan Baez,” she was told); now she sits on the board. Kathy O’Connell was fired by WNYC on Christmas, and has hosted Kids’ Corner in Philly for over 20 years since.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph how daunting it can be to face one’s own shortcomings in the face of greatness. Sitting hear listening to Grammy-winning performers tell of their humble beginnings, it was easy to hear the little voice in my head that tells me “it’s all been done, you can’t duplicate what they did and you can’t do anything new either.” But then I thought of the way NJ’s governor has cut education budgets, and I thought of the the Hoboken teacher who e-mailed me about the possibility of the Fuzzy Lemons bringing music into the school system, and I thought about the intense racial issues that are rocking Arizona this week, and I thought “Hell YEAH I can do this. I MUST do this.”

Kids today face the same lack, the same ignorance, that their parents did a generation ago. It’s my duty and my privilege to sing with them the way that Bill and Suni and even Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie did before me. And it’s an exciting time to be doing so because we have so much support and such a growing, vibrant community.

Whew. After that, the panel on Venues seemed like an anticlimax, so I had a Coke on the patio with some folks instead. The Fuzzy Lemons have played some pretty diverse venues, from theaters to bars to outdoor festivals to parking lots to seaweed-strewn beaches, and we’ll even be at a zoo this summer, so I think we’re pretty well covered in that department. I spoke to the guy from ZooGlobble about reviewing our CD, and he said he already had it and did we have anything newer? which is surprising and disappointing because the durn thing just came out 5 months ago. Not sure how to respond to that.

I did slip a CD to Kathy O’Connell for her radio show, then introduced myself to Boogie and Coach from Rocknoceros (finally). They’re just as friendly as my sister described them (they’re from her neighborhood in VA), though we did catch ourselves using some salty language. From there we embarked on a colorful discussion about which band member had the worst mouth, and in fact we think that the way we comport ourselves behind the scenes would make an entertaining panel discussion next year.

The last panel was about PR and it was another daunting one, as Beth Blenz-Lucas, a high-powered PR agent from Sugar Mountain PR, listed her amazing clients and described how awesome they are and how incredible anyone has to be to even make her interested in representing them. It was a bit of a turn-off, honestly, and quite a reversal from the experience we’ve had with the good people at Pressler Collaborative, who are excited and eager to help us BECOME the kind of clients that Ms. Blenz-Lucas would deign to notice. Also, I happen to think that we’re that amazing already, and anyone who disagrees with me is obviously a philistine.

But that panel closed on a high note as Mr. Ray reminded us all that we’re in a diverse and supportive community. Someone asked the panel “What should we be called?” As in, Children’s Music? Family Music? Clearly a genre title that includes the Sippy Cups, Uncle Rock and Sugar-Free Allstars is going to have to be pretty encompassing. Mr. Ray suggested “Kindie Rock,” which is kinda cool. Then he admitted that he has owned the kindierock.com domain for two years now.

I wasn’t able to stick around for the performances after the last panel, sadly. It’d been a long day and I really wanted to get home to my wife, who was under the weather, and my adorable child–who has since come down with a fever also. Next year the Fuzzy Lemons are going to buck for a slot in the showcase.

I think KindieFest was a vital event and a huge success and I look forward to seeing what comes out of it, and to going back next year!

~ Dave

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