by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam rock band for kids and families
Over two years ago my wife Amy and I started out on a quest to create and share children’s music that expressed our then-baby-daughter’s sense of wonder and love for rock-n-roll in our brand new kindie project we called the Jungle Gym Jam. The pathways of that quest kept leading us back to Philadelphia, PA over and over again.
From our home base in northern New Jersey (in the suburbs of New York City), my earliest searches for places where children’s music is happening kept coming back with Philadelphia. The Peanut Butter and Jams concert series at the World Cafe Live repeatedly showed up as a booking to strive for. I’d see some premiere names in the children’s music game show up as performers scheduled to play there. Radio shows like WXPN Kids Corner in Philly were ones where I’d want my music played so families could hear it.
The Philly-based children’s musicians I’ve come across, like The Plants, Two of a Kind, Jonathan Sprout, Steve Pullara and his Cool Beans Band and Mr. David C. Perry were advancing the art form of children’s music each in their own way — The Plants with energetic, upbeat funk productions, Two of a Kind with their gentle and approachable style and the way they incorporate sign language into their songs, Jonathan Sprout’s proud way of singing about real-life heroes, Steve Pullara’s epic collaborative efforts to bring together children’s musicians at all levels of career development to put together stunning compilation albums for kids, and David C. Perry’s knack for embracing the silly to combine comedy, kids’ music and visual art.
The list of traveling children’s musicians from all over the U.S.A. and Canada who perform in Philadelphia’s venues reads like a “Who’s Who” of children’s music. At places like the Please Touch Museum, Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo and, of course, World Cafe Live, you can see and hear GRAMMY Award winners and nominees, children’s multimedia wizards, and rock stars who have successfully branched out to make music for kids and families. One truly amazing band, Recess Monkey traveled all the way from their home base in the kindie stronghold of Seattle to Philly to stage their album release party. That says something about the strength of the children’s music scene in the City of Brothery Love.
A big shift in the East Coast children’s music scene began turning our hopes of connecting with Philadelphia into a reality. Just as we were about to play our first-ever gig in 2013, we learned at the last minute about a children’s music career event that would take place in New York City, called KindieFest. I felt it would be helpful to attend as newcomers to the scene, but that I couldn’t take time off work last-minute for it. I told myself, “Next year, we’ll attend.”
A few months later, I learned there wouldn’t be a “next year” for KindieFest – it had dissolved before we ever got to attend. But then came the announcement that Kids Corner at WXPN Philly would host its own new children’s music community conference that would be called KindieComm! And it would be at the World Cafe Live, that venue we dreamed of one day playing. Amy and I took the leap of faith, amid an uncertain family health situation, and booked the hotel room. For the first time as a children’s music act, we were Philly bound – not to perform, but to transform our online social connections with the kindie community into a living, in-person involvement with performers, radio hosts, TV programmers, publicists and journalists all talking passionately about the current and possible future state of children’s music. We also learned a great deal from watching the conference’s showcase performers tear it up – we learned much about how to make a greater visual impact, ways of eliciting audience participation – all that stuff in kids’ music that matters much more than which guitar effects pedal you use. A second year attending KindieComm just deepened our relationships in the community and our understanding of what makes a great children’s music performance and more importantly, a great experience for the families in attendance.
I was fortunate to be introduced to the booking manager of the World Cafe Live’s other location – the historic Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, where we gave two memorable performances for kids and their grown-ups, both at well attended events. And then a very cool thing happened; the manager we were working with in Delaware took over the booking of the kids’ shows in Philadelphia as well. And now we’re less than a week away from our first performance at this magnificent showplace!
I hope to meet you at the World Cafe Live on October 10 for the Philadelphia debut of Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam!
Please share your favorite experiences with children’s music in and around Philadelphia in the comments below.