Why and How I Started a New Concert Series for Kids & Families
by Jason Didner
Last Monday, Michael and Andy from Preschool of Rock kicked off Hoboken’s Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays concert series to a capacity crowd of kids and their grown-ups.
The reason that this concert series exists is that I wanted it to. Since becoming a children’s musician about 2 years ago, I had become aware of a concert series for kids & families called “Peanut Butter & Jams” in Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE in both cities’ locations of the World Cafe Live venue. I felt that a rotating concert series of kindie talent needed to exist in New Jersey and I couldn’t find one. I certainly couldn’t find venues that gave kids & families a steady helping of live entertainment in the winter months.
I’d been listening to podcasts by Brian Thompson, a music marketing expert whose interests have been evolving toward his current passion project, Zen Thinking. Brian has been profoundly helpful to me on both fronts. He’s given me helpful hands-on tactics before, but it was the wisdom from his Zen explorations that clarified what I wanted to do. When he quoted the phrase “Create what you wish existed in the world,” I took it to heart and thought about ways to apply it in my corner of the world.
So I tried the kids’ concert concept at some music venues in New Jersey, but a steady series was often a tough sell for music venues, particularly ones we’d be asking to open and staff at hours they normally wouldn’t and to accommodate age groups they rarely ever see.
Ultimately, it was a Facebook post by my friend, NJ.com journalist Jim Testa, which linked to his article that changed everything… About 3 months ago, Jim posted a story that Maxwell’s Tavern, the legendary music venue in Hoboken, New Jersey, once graced by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (they filmed the “Glory Days” video there), Nirvana, R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers, which had recently closed, was about to re-open under new management. There would be music again; the new owners invested in updating the stage and sound system, encouraging me to propose a children’s rock concert series that would help parents reconnect with their own nostalgia of seeing rock shows at Maxwell’s, now sharing concerts with their little ones – music created with the intent of enriching and inspiring young lives.
It took a month of lots of repetitive phone calls and e-mails (sorry, Noelle!…but not sorry!) and then my wife Amy and I got a meeting with the venue’s proprietor. We talked all about how to best meet the needs of the parents and children of Hoboken and how combining the indie rock spirit with the desire to entertain children could both fit Maxwell’s tradition and serve the nearby families.
We came up with the Monday afternoon time slot because it would fill several needs. It helps parents and caregivers bridge the time between naptime and dinner with a meaningful, memorable activity. (As a dad, I know that dreaded period of being at loose ends at that hour.) It helps Maxwell’s use that gorgeous live room on a day/time where it would normally be dark and silent. It gives preschoolers something to look forward to after their first school day of the week. And touring artists who come through New York or New Jersey to play weekend shows could stay one more day to make their tour a little more worthwhile. We were excited!
Finding talent to fill each Monday’s time slot was the easy part…because New Jersey and neighboring New York are so chock-full of great kindie performers that I’ve come to know. Until now, my state has contained lots of talented artists who have scraped together gigs wherever they could, but no real “kindie scene” to speak of. At this time, our spring season is just about all booked through the Monday before Memorial Day.
I soon found willing and eager partners in promotion, like Marnie Nathanson, co-founder of Hoboken Mommies, which later became a brand of Moxy and Main, a social marketing and lifestyle company. Big Apple Circus found me and got behind various kids’ entertainment endeavors of mine including Maxwell’s Mini Music Mondays, donating pairs of tickets to their big-top show for its New Jersey stop later this month.
Seeing the pre-sales for the first show tick up…and up…and up… way beyond my goal for our first concert… was a special thrill. Now, I was a concert promoter. Yes, I’ve gotten in the habit of promoting my own shows, but now I was promoting something else… a scene, a solution, a way of life, something bigger than me.
The afternoon of the show, even more people arrived wanting to buy admission at the door, a request we almost couldn’t find room to accommodate. (We’re working on that for next Monday!) My creation was sold out to capacity! Now it was Michael and Andy’s turn to bring it to life… and they delivered many times over, bringing expert musicianship and larger-than-life presence to delight the young ones and their grown-ups on an icy cold late Monday afternoon.
What was so satisfying about this experience was that I followed my intention to create what I wish existed in my area (something that already existed elsewhere but was missing here), surrounded myself with compatible and eager people, and saw it through. Now comes the daily challenge of nourishing my creation and improving upon it.
What does the calling to “create what you wish existed in the world” mean to you? What would you create if you could? How might you find a way? Please discuss in the comments below.