As Long As the Grizzly Bears Are OK with It…

Jungle Gym Jam Passes One Tough Audition at the Bronx Zoo

Grizzly bears at Bronx ZooLast weekend’s performances at Bronx Zoo brought our band in front of a group of very discerning judges. No, I’m not talking about the celebrity critics on American Idol. I’m speaking of the four grizzly bears in the habitat right next to our tent. In between sets we learned from the zoo’s event coordinator Sashah Harbin that when the music is too loud or unpleasant these bears get up on their hind legs and growl. Sashah was pleased to inform us that the bears were just chillin’ to our family-friendly tunes.

Between sets we captured this picture of our furry neighbors taking a dip in their little pond and cuddling with each other in the water.

It was a very important weekend in the band’s development. We made dozens of new fans in New York City, a place where we want to spend more time. We paid a fitting tribute to our friend and bassist “Low Note Lou” DeMartino who suddenly departed from this world he had filled with so much joy and music. And when we told our audiences that we were dedicating these shows to Lou, they did not let us down.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam perform a family concert at Bronx Zoo in 2015

Photo by Sashah Harbin

An old friend “Amazing Alyssa” Menes returned to the stage with us to help us carry on for Lou and share our joy and love of music with kids and families. And we had a different drummer each day. “Magnificent Miguel” lived up to his name performing at the kit on Saturday and then “Rockin’ Ross” took his place at the throne on Sunday, each providing a different style that added to the energy of the music. “Cowgirl Casey” returned to the lineup after having been away in Europe for the first half of the summer. On Saturday We were joined by Washington D.C.’s “Marvelous Marsha” Goodman-Wood for her renditions of The Penguin Song and then we sang a duet of “Free to Be…You and Me.” On Sunday, Casey and I sang that duet.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam joined onstage by daughter and nieces for "Jungle Gym Jamming"And making the shows especially meaningful were the inclusion of my family. My wife “Awesome Amy” and our daughter “Hoppin’ Holly” played percussion all day Sunday and for one set on Saturday. My nieces Natalie and Maya joined us onstage along with Holly for a rockin’ rendition of our band’s theme song “Jungle Gym Jamming.” All three are born performers and sang & danced with lots of spirit.

My parents, aunt Ellen and brother Matt & sister-in-law Danielle were in the audience to rock out with us as we kicked off this series of performances.

We world-premiered a brand new song called “Off the Grid,” which served as the theme of these shows, with lyrics encouraging our listeners to take a break from their gadgets and spend some time outdoors. This featured song was played in all six of our sets over these two days. Here’s an audio recording of us rehearsing this song with Lou on bass less than 2 weeks before this writing.

JasonAmySashahSashah kept this big gig running smoothly and made it a pleasant experience for us with her friendly manner and by making it easy for us to move our equipment in and out of the zoo. Sashah also greeted families passing near the tent to tell them about the show and helped us garner good attendance for each show. She warmly introduced our band to the crowd before we started our sets and was wonderful with Holly. I got to briefly meet Judy Frimer, the Director of Programming and Creative Services for Wildlife Conservation Society. Judy and I had a great discussion in planning a concept for the show she wanted for the zoo – a show that would emphasize the importance of getting out into nature and away from devices with screens. She wanted a rock-n-roll show that was suitable for the whole family – kids of all ages and their parents. I took a close look at our existing songs to see which combination of songs and “moments” would help tell the story of being out in nature and away from screens. Amy and I immediately recognized the need for a song that ties that theme together.

We started with the idea for the song title “Off the Grid” and brainstormed the lyrics over the course of the next few days. The melody felt pretty well established to me. When I first played the song for Amy, she felt that perhaps the song could tell the story better at a faster tempo than the one I chose. My original setting was in a “Melissa Etheridge” type feel, but Amy convinced me to try an upbeat ska rhythm, which really did bring out the uplifting, adventurous nature of the song more fully.

And I’m glad to hear that the grizzly bears were OK with our music making. And quite a few people were, too!

I’m pretty sure these bands will go over fine with the grizzlies…and with your family when they play the Bronx Zoo:

  • 08/15-16 – Josh & the Jamtones
  • 08/22-23 – Danny Weinkauf & His Red Pants Band
  • 08/29-30 – Hot Peas n Butter
  • 09/05-06 – The Pop Ups

Tell us about your family rock-n-roll experience at the Bronx Zoo in the comments below.

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