A Bruce Springsteen Concert through the Eyes of a Kindie Band

The Didner Family/Jungle Gym Jam Experiences Its Main Influence Live

by Jason Didner, leader of the Jungle Gym Jam, a Jersey rock band for kids and their grown-ups

CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 02: Singer Bruce Springsteen plays before Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) takes the stage during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall November 2, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. Obama continues to campaign against Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as Election Day draws near. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images. Licensed via iStockPhoto

Amy and I have seen Bruce Springsteen concerts together a few times now in our home state of New Jersey, which we share with The Boss. But the youngest member of our family, the inspiration for the very foundation of the Jungle Gym Jam, our daughter Holly had never been to an arena show until Tuesday, when she caught Bruce in the act. Only right, I figure, since she’s already performed at The Stone Pony! My mom had picked up these tickets for my birthday, since I had mentioned that I’m no longer really interested in getting “stuff”; I’d rather get “experiences” as gifts.

And what a gift this was! It was Bruce’s first gig back in New Jersey on this leg of his latest “The River” commemorative tour. He had just taken Europe by storm and returned to the audience who could most easily identify with his stories of his Monmouth County youth. Given that we had a 5-year-old child with us, and that we were booked to perform the next morning (at a preschool on Bruce’s beloved Jersey Shore) which would require us to leave the house by 8 AM, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t stay the whole show, but that we’d get in as much Bruce Juice as we could before heading home to prepare for the next day. I ended up loading the minivan with our instruments after helping Holly to bed.

Jason, Amy and Holly from the Jungle Gym Jam at the corner of 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar in front of a statue of Bruce Springsteen's signature guitar - a Fender Telecaster

My family/band at 10th Ave. and E Street in Belmar, NJ


Holly’s Take

Holly seemed positively awestruck for the first 15 minutes of the show as Bruce & band pulled off a sweeping rendition of his jazzy, orchestral “New York City Serenade” and the defiant “Wrecking Ball.” As she got accustomed to the enormity of the scene, she began belting out the audience participation – raising her fist for the words “Badlands,” answering “All Night” in Spirit in the Night, and marveling at the sax playing of Jake Clemons, who lovingly plays his late uncle Clarence’s parts perfectly, plus adds his own killer improvs when given the ball. When the crowd was on its feet, I held our child in my arms for as long as I could, then asked her to stand on her seat while I kept her steady.

The next evening, Holly was on the playground of her soon-to-be Kindergarten, spontaneously singing “Hungry Heart.” She told her friends, “I have Bruce in my head.” Mission Accomplished!

Bruce was in amazing voice and his E Street Band was right on point with every song, every texture, every tempo. Together, they served the mood and intensity from light-hearted to deadly serious as the moment called for it. The addition of a string section for “New York City Serenade” and then later on “Jack of All Trades” really stirred the emotions.

Making Moments

I am a student of the writings of Tom Jackson, live music producer. He helps live performers get a vision for their shows and turn them into memorable experiences made up of moments – not just a bunch of songs to be played. Tom has mentioned Bruce as one of the great visionaries of live musical performances; a frame of reference I have agreed with for a long time. But this would be my first Bruce song since reading Tom’s “Live Music Method” book. So, what did Bruce do onstage to create those special moments?

He made each song “look different.” – Tom Jackson mentions in his writings and his interviews that even if your songs sound radically different from one another, your live audience will stop noticing if the songs all “look the same.” Bruce handily avoids that trap. The first song had a string section at stage left. Then the string players left the stage. He featured different musicians, all with wireless gear, who were each free to come join him when they had their featured moments. He often put down his guitar and worked all sides of the enormous stage with a handheld wireless microphone, sometimes high-fiving the lucky fans in the front row.

Bruce also mixed things up by bringing an audience member up on stage to sing the song that the fan, a young man, requested – Bruce’s popular Jersey Shore rock rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” By the way, hearing that in the heat of the summer made me all the more glad I used that song’s influence in shaping my own tune “Summertime Santa!

In pulling out the “moments” in a song it often means changing the arrangement from the album, since things that are very noticeable when you’re listening to your favorite record through headphones would easily escape the notice of a concertgoer who has so much happening in the live environment. Bruce demonstrated a great knowledge of this when he sang “Wrecking Ball” – an homage to Met Life Stadium’s predecessor, Giants Stadium, before it was demolished. So whenever he made a Jersey, Meadowlands, or Giants reference he had to accept (and appeared to thoroughly enjoy!) the audience roaring its approval of those local shout-outs. So he arranged with the whole band to wait for those roars to die down (don’t step on your applause!) before continuing with the lyrics. That’s how you stretch out a moment in your song.

Tom Jackson’s book gets quite a bit into the difference between a band “dating its audience” – meaning that a new band often has to play in front of people who haven’t seen them before — vs. a band “married to its audience.” Bruce and the E Street Band in front of its hometown audience is a long and happy marriage – so I certainly had to adjust my observations accordingly. Tom’s book is mostly for bands who are “dating” their audience.

Putting Inspiration into Practice

The very next morning we had a concert of our own – at the Shore Academy Preschool in Point Pleasant Beach. We’d drive there on shortened sleep and heads full of great concert memories. And for me, great motivation to keep pushing ahead with what Tom Jackson had taught me and what I had seen Bruce & band execute with such mastery the night before. When we sang our signature song of the summer, “Day at the Beach” and we had a line that “We’re headed for a Jersey Shore town,” I really punched out “JERSEY SHORE TOWN” in a shout the Boss would approve of! I made sure to get out from behind the mic stand when I could, and give the show all my energy. Amy and Holly performed with an equally inspired gusto that could only come from being in the presence of one of the greats!

Your thoughts?

Were you at the Bruce concert? Ever seen one before? Ever take the kids? How did seeing one of your heroes in action influence what you do? I’d love to read your comments below!

Want to catch our live show and see how we’re influenced by Bruce? Check out our Tour page!

This Saturday-Crossroads with Miss Nina

Miss Nina meets the Jungle Gym Jam at Mara's Cafe in Berkeley Heights, January 2016When Miss Nina joins us on stage, everyone in attendance has a great time – the kids, the parents, the grandparents, and of course us, the performers! Miss Nina brings storybooks to musical life while Amy and I deliver our combination of Jersey rock and family-friendly, humorous lyrics with plenty of interactivity and visuals.

You can help make this event even better by ordering your tickets in advance so the venue provides the appropriate staff and supplies. Get your tickets at eventbrite.com.

Show details:

Miss Nina Meets the Jungle Gym Jam

Saturday, August 27
4:30 PM (Doors open at 4)

Crossroads
78 North Avenue
Garwood, NJ 07027

Thanks for your interest in this fun event! We hope to see you there!

Musically yours,

Jason

Meet our Cause of the Month–Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia!

Jungle Gym Jam #SummerOfSharing Recipient July 2016 - Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Harborview/Cape May

Harborview/Cape May location to benefit from Lollipop Motel Album Sales

The #SummerOfSharing has entered a new month and with it has come a new cause our existing and potential fans can join us in supporting – the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Harborview/Cape May location.

This time, we reached out to our fans to vote on three possible causes to support in July and CHOP came out on top.

So, when you download a copy of our critically acclaimed new family rock album Lollipop Motel for $9.95we’ll donate 50% of the proceeds to Children’s Hospital!

If you’d rather order an autographed CD, I’ll personalize the disc to your family and donate 10% of CD sales proceeds. This also goes for souvenirs we sell at our live concerts and in our online souvenir shop. And it comes with a convenient album download!

Amy and I will be in Wildwood, along with our daughter Holly, at the very same Lollipop Motel that inspired this new album, the 3rd week in July. In fact, we’ll give a private concert for fellow motel guests on Friday evening 7/22, where I’ll be autographing copies of the beachy new album.

Thank you for helping the first two causes in this #SummerOfSharing – st. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in May and then Xavier Ross, a 5-year-old heart patient from Phialdelpha in June! You helped me make a difference I couldn’t have made just on my own!

Musically yours,

Jason

The Most Important Thing I Learned in College

Jason Didner as a sophomore at State University of New York, Stony brook with his council mates for the Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM) fraternity in 1989

That’s me on the left, with fraternity couclimates Rob Gordon, Steve Cash and Dennis Kastanis. I know, the hair, right??

In my college years, there was all kinds of learning: learning to manage my life on my own, academic learning, and social learning. Then there was this one lesson that stood above every lecture, paper, exam or personal experience. It was that together we can be a force for good way beyond what one person can do alone.

Late in my freshman year at Stony Brook University, a fraternity fell into my lap. We were to be founding fathers of a new chapter of a national Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM). I said yes, I’d give it a try.

The Fraternity didn’t turn me into a “frat boy.” I didn’t suddenly become a football hero and I didn’t get the desire to pull pranks on kids too shy to stand up for themselves. The experience of being in this fraternity at this time did something much more profound that still motivates me. It showed me the importance of giving back to the community through philanthropy, even when you’re a college kid on a low budget. And it taught me you could show people a great time while they’re participating in charitable actions.

One of my favorite charitable event we did was the “Singing tuck-ins” where those of us in the fraternity who were musicians (most of my band with its various lineups had joined) would be requested to knock on a co-ed’s door and tuck her into bed while performing a Bon Jovi or Guns n Roses power ballad acoustically. The money raised would go to a local charity. I didn’t have lots of my own money to donate, but I had a skill that was worth money to enough people that together – my fraternity brothers and our ‘customers’ – we made a difference.

A more outlandish example of what we could accomplish together was our “lunar beach party” in a dorm suite. On a winter night about 20 of us went out to the beach and each scooped up a garbage bag worth of sand and brought it back to the suite. We laid the sand on the floor and put up a volleyball net. We stuck a glowing moon and stars to the ceiling. So we had a real indoor beach party on a winter night. This was the kind of crazy thing you could only do in a group of people committed to the same rewarding result. I don’t think the idea would have even occurred to me alone, but together because of someone’s zany, brilliant idea, we made a lasting memory.

Today, some things have stayed strikingly the same. I still love to help people with my talents, but can’t take out the checkbook and quietly write a big check like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi can. If I want to make a real contribution, I rely on the help of people like you participating with me. This is why I decided to start #SummerOfSharing with the release of my Lollipop Motel album.

This is why I felt compelled to help Xavier, a 5-year-old Philadelphia boy who has been in and out of the hospital all his life for the heart condition he was born with. He’s been through multiple surgeries and a cardiac arrest that stole his developmental gains from walking to speech. I pledged 50% of album download proceeds in the month of June to Xavier’s family and now today’s the last day of the June campaign to help Xavier.

Will you help Xavier today by downloading my critically acclaimed family-friendly album Lollipop Motel for $9.95? 50% of proceeds go to his family.





The most important thing I learned in college is that together we can make a real difference in the lives of real people who need it – in ways we can’t do alone. And I still want to do this with you – maybe even more now than I did back then.

What’s the most important thing you learned in your school days or young adulthood right after school? Please comment below – and chip in to help Xavier!

Thanks,

Jason

Why I’m helping Xavier (and why I hope you’ll do this with me)

Campaign ends at midnight tonight! Please get involved now!

Xavier Ross, a 5-year-old heart patient at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who we're helping with Jungle Gym Jam's #SummerOfSharing 2016Five years ago, Nate and Jackie Ross were expectant parents who were anxious and eager to learn how their unborn son was developing inside of Jackie’s body. They were totally unprepared for the news they were to receive – that their boy had a life-threatening heart condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) that would require medical intervention while he was in the womb and life-saving surgery in the first week of his life.

In HLHS, the left side of the heart is underdeveloped and the blood flows backward, meaning that the blood delivered to the brain and muscles lacks the much-needed oxygen that would have been in forward-flowing blood. CHOP’s methods involve strengthening the right side of the heart to compensate for what the left side is unable to do.

Just a generation ago, this diagnosis would have been an unquestionable death sentence. But in the 21st century, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has established a solid track record of surgical and medical interventions to give these children legitimate hope of a normal life expectancy. The Ross family made the unselfish decision to move to the Philly suburbs from their New York home to give their baby Xavier every chance at a normal, healthy life.

Will you help Xavier by downloading my Lollipop Motel family beach rock album today? 50% goes to the Ross family to help pay for transportation to and from the hospital, household supplies, physical and occupational therapy, nursing care for Xavier when he gets home from this long hospitalization and many other expenses you can only imagine.

Xavier made it through multiple surgeries for his heart and was growing, developing, thriving. Of course he’d need to return for regular checkups for his heart and there’d be another surgery for the 3-year-old as he and his heart grew. In recovery from a successful surgery, Xavier suffered a devastating cardiac arrest, which he survived because of his surgeon’s quick response, but he’s been left with long-term damage from the oxygen deprivation to his young brain. His speech and mobility have been lost and have not returned, nearly 2 years later. He’s in a wheelchair and communicates primarily through his facial and emotional expressions, which are as strong as ever.

As the father of a 5-year-old myself, my empathy runs high for these parents; Xavier’s dad’s a musician like me. In fact, that’s how I came to learn of his story. I’ve been following his family’s updates on Facebook for over a year and have been continually moved by this family’s ordeal.

The latest update (from our mutual friend Mousey, a great sound engineer at Montclair’s Just Jake’s) came just as I had launched a #SummerOfSharing campaign for my new album Lollipop Motel, where I’d share 50% of album download proceeds with a good cause. I had just finished a May campaign to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital when I saw a new update at just the right time. I made a choice on the spot to help Xavier and family this month.

Will you help Xavier by downloading my Lollipop Motel family beach rock album today? 50% goes to the Ross family.




 

If you prefer the physical CD, I can personally autograph it to your child and I’ll donate 10% of those proceeds to the family. Get the CD here.

Please comment below on why you’re helping Xavier too!