A Rainy Party for the Planet at Turtle Back Zoo

Five North Jersey Family Music Acts and their Fans Brave the Elements on Earth Day 2017

Miss Nina entertains in the rain at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

WEST ORANGE, NJ – This year on Earth Day, nature reminded us that it is still in charge and will do its thing regardless of our plans – and doesn’t even owe us the predictability of a forecast. Still an enthusiastic audience stuck around on that rainy day to hop, jump, freeze-dance and sing along with five of north Jersey’s top family-friendly music acts to celebrate Earth Day at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo last Saturday.

And I got to witness outstanding professionalism from all the acts I worked with to make this festival happen: from my own band the Jungle Gym Jam, along with The Fuzzy Lemons, Miss Nina, Baze & His Silly Friends and Music with Molly. Everyone dug down deep under tough conditions to treat those hardy families to the show they stood out in the rain to see and hear.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam with superfans Erin and Josh

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

These families took an unusual opportunity to show just how much all this music meant to them – by staying through it all. One such family, Erin and her son “Jammin’ Josh” have attended several of our live shows and webcasts over the past 2 years, and arrived in time to catch the first act and they stayed through the whole soggy affair to see us finish out the day! My brother Matt & sister-in-law Danielle piled their two kids in the car from Brooklyn to see us do our thing. Families of many of the performers were there to lend moral support no matter how wet it got out there. My daughter made new friends that day and got to dance with her cousins and close friends. My parents, who have rarely missed one of my shows since I was a boy, were there early to help keep my daughter entertained through the intense process of setting up the festival; my mom zipping around in a motor scooter and finding dry overhangs where she could. It was a real sense of community.

The zoo’s newly renovated amphitheater now featured sun canopies that also appeared to mitigate the rain on the stage and parts of the audience area. But some heavy bursts of rain challenged the canopy and caused the center to sag and pour rain on the musical equipment. Ross, the Jungle Gym Jam’s drummer and Dave Lambert, the Fuzzy Lemons’ lead guitarist, invented a brilliant workaround, using cymbal stands and my spare set of speaker poles, to prop up the center of the canopy and stop the excess water from pouring onto the stage. At first they held up those stands during Miss Nina’s set, until their arms got tired and brilliant inventiveness took over for physical effort.

Music with Molly performs at the Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

Then there was the music! Molly Dorsman, creator of Music with Molly, kicked things off with a sampling of the interactive early childhood music & movement classes that get her such rave reviews from the Montclair Playgroup parents. A highlight was when Molly got the grown-ups up and dancing too with her peppy cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” Unsurprisingly, Molly brought a large and spirited following along with her.

Baze & His Silly Friends at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

Next up, Baze & His Silly Friends took to the stage as a duo of Marc “Baze” Bazerman and rock-solid bassist Jim Goodwin on stand-up bass and acoustic guitar. Baze elicited lots of audience participation with his “Poor Mother Goose” mix-up of popular nursery rhymes – and encouraged jumping, spinning and stomping among the younger set in the crowd.

Miss Nina created some touching moments during the heaviest of the rainfall, like when her husband Tucker and their 4-year-old daughter hopped onstage to provide the visual aids to her ever-popular musical rendition of the children’s picture book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Her joyous spirit certainly helped give families a reason to stick it out through the toughest moments of the day, weather-wise. Just when she consulted with some fellow performers and me about whether to continue the show, the rain let up to a fine mist and she powered through the rest of her set.

The Fuzzy Lemons at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet 2017

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

We opted for a bit of a “rain delay” before the Fuzzy Lemons, the first full band of the day, took their instruments out. But once they did, LOOK OUT! What a powerful, professional and energetic set of music from these local superstars! A funny moment in the show for us was when they broke out a cover of “Down by the Bay,” a song that was also on our set list, as it’s on our debut album. Their song “Rough & Tumble,” which featured lead singer Dana Harrison with a saucepan on her head like a helmet, delivered both visually and in its rowdy rock sound. The band’s vocal harmonies throughout the set were first-rate. I was proud to help them close out the set with a cover of The Beatles’ “All Together Now,” along with Ross and Amelia from the Jungle Gym Jam.

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam get the crowd jumping in the rain at Turtle Back Zoo's Party for the Planet - Earth Day 2017

Turtle back Zoo 2017. Photo by Erin Ackerman

For our own set headlining the event, I was immensely proud of my band, the Jungle Gym Jam.  “Awesome Amy” brought the songs we created to life, kicking off our set by animating our “Sally the Sea Lion” puppet who told the crowd how they’re all part of “The People Exhibit at the Zoo” – the catchy music and humor in the song, paired with the visual, really helped draw in a crowd that was surprisingly large given the amount of rainfall everyone endured up to that point. Sally the Sea Lion stayed with us for an interactive rendition of “Five Sea Lions.”

Jason & Ross from the Jungle Gym Jam with Molly from Music with Molly at Turtle Back Zoo

Turtle Back Zoo 2017

“Rockin’ Ross” always impresses me at our gigs with his quiet, positive vibe and willingness to gently suggest ways to make things run smoother and easier. Given all the adversity thrown in our path last Saturday, Ross came up big! Teaming up with Dave to hold up the canopy was huge. Ross even coached me through backing the minivan up a long, narrow footpath, giving me new ways of using the sideview mirror that I hadn’t considered. Ross has a ton of little life-hacks up his sleeve! And of course, his rock-steady drumming gives us an arena-worthy sound even in my basement!

“Cowgirl Casey” was soldiering through a process where she’s receiving dozens of injections on each knee – an injury she sustained escaping the World Trade on 9/11/01 – she popped a stitch on a knee during the load-in for the performance. Her vocal harmonies lift the band’s sound greatly and her keyboard and acoustic guitar playing add a texture and professionalism that I’m proud to share with a large audience.

Jason from the Jungle Gym Jam playing a solo alongside Amelia Chan

Turtle Back Zoo 2017. Photo by Nicole Gray

Also impressive in our band performance was 14-year-old wiz kid “Astounding Amelia” on bass. My path to discovering Amelia’s talent and ability to help us entertain families was one of great coincidence. Our regular bassist, “Charming Chip,” had told me last fall that he’d be traveling to perform in Bahrain for several months. Right around that time, I took my daughter to see Amelia play in the School of Rock’s monthly concert in our hometown of Montclair. Amelia excelled at guitar, bass and lead vocals, as she tackled such complex songs as Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” (Her family holds a deep love for the Beatles.) When I saw Amelia’s School of Rock performance, I was convinced that she could be a great addition to our band in Chip’s absence and help showcase how music is truly multigenerational. Amelia has been impressive in each of her performances with us – at the Stone Pony last fall, Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia over the winter and of course, last weekend.

Over the winter, all our gigs had been acoustic – there hadn’t been an electric full-band lineup since last November. And our schedules would only provide for one rehearsal. And we had two new songs to perform for this special Earth Day occasion: “Pandagarten” and “Happy Earth Day.” A joyous and effective rehearsal reminded me why this band is so great – it gave me great confidence that we’d be ready musically for Saturday’s show – the actual performance did not disappoint! I was so thrilled to lead this band in front of this audience.

I’m profoundly grateful and impressed by all involved. I’ll carry fond memories of how it all played out and what everyone did to power us through it. Thanks also to Caitlin Sharp, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and the team at the Turtle Back Zoo for their trust and teamwork in making this event happen. Also thanks to Gwen and Dale at Montclair Local for sharing our story leading up to this unique event. Looking forward to next year!

Musically yours!

– Jason

P.S.: Here’s a gallery with more pics from the event for your enjoyment!

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