News Column

'Queen of children's music' to perform at Wiltsie

November 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 20--The queen of children's music is coming to Hazleton -- and she has a request.

Laurie Berkner, known for her catchy songs about food, animals and just about anything really, will perform Saturday at The Wiltsie Center at the Historic Castle.

She's asking those who will attend the Laurie Berkner Band's 2 p.m. concert to bring an animal -- to wear.

"I have a song called 'Pig on Her Head,' and I wear a pig on my head when we perform it," she said, a smile evident in her voice as she talked over the telephone. "I love when the kids bring their own (stuffed) animals to wear on their heads. I will look out into the audience and see what they're wearing and I will sing about it."

Those are the kind of shows Berkner and her band -- the stars of television programs on Nick Jr. and Sprout -- like to deliver. The singer insists that everyone -- regardless of age -- gets involved.

"There will be a lot of dancing and moving around," she promised of Saturday's concert. "It's not like come and sit and watch the band. It's about getting up, be a rocket ship, dance, move, run, fly. Get up and enjoy yourself."

In the years since she's been performing music for younger audiences, Berkner has received many accolades. People magazine called her the "queen of children's music," and Time magazine wrote, "A kind of sippy-cup Sheryl Crow, Berkner inhabits a kid's curious perspective in her lyrics and pens folk-pop melodies that bear repeated -- very repeated -- listenings."

"I spent many years on Nick Jr. and Sprout and people seem to really like the music," Berkner said. "All the feedback from parents is very positive. They tell me, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you' for music that my child enjoys and that is very listenable" for adults.

A professional musician since 1992, Berkner never set out to become a children's recording artist.

She played the club scene in evenings with cover bands while she juggled a job as a music teacher for preschoolers.

"Parents (of the preschool children) would ask me to play at their child's birthday parties," she said. "I was playing music that other people wouldn't be able to play because we wrote the songs in my classroom."

Getting requests for the children's songs -- songs that she had written -- was rewarding.

"It was so different than playing a gig until 3 a.m., schlepping around an amp, and listening to people yell (requests for the Lynyrd Skynyrd song) 'Free Bird,'" she laughed.

She released her first album, "Whaddaya Think Of That?," in 1997. And while she gears her music to children, Berkner didn't lose her rock 'n' roll edge. Her songs are catchy, not saccharine sweet.

"I mostly try to write about things from a kids' perspective but many of the songs have some sort of universal perspective," she said. "But it depends, one of the popular songs, 'Victor Vito,' makes no sense at all. It's a totally silly, feel-good song."

For Saturday's concert at the Wiltsie, Berkner expects to play her biggest hits and several holiday songs.

Berkner has released more than a half-dozen albums over her career. In 2004, she and the band made their television debut with six music videos for the Nick Jr. channel. A DVD, "We Are ... the Laurie Berkner Band," entered Billboard's Top Music Video chart at number one and stayed at the top spot for six weeks in 2006.

She has written two children's books, tours frequently and will release an album of lullabies in the spring.

Doors to the concert at the Hazleton Elementary/Middle School, 700 N. Wyoming St., open at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster (800-653-8000 or www.ticketmaster.com) and Boscov's.

jwhalen@standardspeaker.com

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