Parents tend to learn early on that children really respond to music. Even infants seem to perk up when they hear something they like.
Unfortunately, parents also tend to discover that a great deal of "music for kids" ranges from annoying to awful. And lots of "adult" music may not appeal to kids (too discordant, complicated, etc.) the way it does to parents.
Then again, sharing the music you love with your kids can be as rewarding as sharing a favorite book or movie. Sometimes, though, it requires a little imagination.
"We got the kids in a line to form a train, then we played (Ozzy Osbourne's) 'Crazy Train,' and they ran around like crazy," says Kelly Day, aka DJ KellyMom, who started Kid City Rockers, a monthly dance party for kids and their parents.
"There was also a boy who was 7 or 8 who was wearing a gold- sequined hat. He requested 'Strange Love' by Depeche Mode. He breakdanced through the whole song."
Suddenly, the nightclub and the playroom don't look that different. The drinks are just softer and everyone's a lot shorter.
This summer, there's been a surprising number of musical events aimed at kids and adults. It's not driven by schools or early- childhood development professionals, but by fixtures on the local music scene, who are starting to figure out how to bring their music down to a level where even little kids can grasp it.
The first Kid City Rockers (soon to be renamed Kid City Pittsburgh), in late July, was a hit from the start. More than 100 people showed up to an out-of-the-way church basement at All Saints Community Hall in Brighton Heights. Word spread about it online, mostly through Facebook.
DJ KellyMom spins records from her vast collection, without any particular stylistic agenda. There is, however, a strong bias toward indie/underground rock of the '80s and '90s -- The Clash, Devo, Pixies, The Smiths, Le Tigre, Beastie Boys, New Order -- which happens to coincide with the music-listening heyday of most of the parents in attendance. There's also a little '80s funk, reggae, '60s pop, classic metal, '80s novelty hits, even a little current hip- hop.
Catchy songs with a strong beat seem to be the only requirement. It's all music by actual artists, too -- no cloying, annoying ditties sung by cartoon creatures or anthropomorphic dinosaurs allowed.
It's not just for the kids, either. Day had noticed that parents tend to "go into hiding" when they have kids. She hopes her Kid City events can be a way for them to come back out and socialize a bit with other parents.
Although it seems like everybody moonlights as a DJ nowadays, not too many can fill a dance floor and nurse a baby at the same time like Day has. She's also an alum of the DJ Scratch Academy, founded by Run DMC's Jam Master Jay, and had a monthly gig at a bar in Hollywood before moving back to Pittsburgh.
"Then I started having kids," she says. "I was trying to dig around for music options for them."
The musical TV show "Yo Gabba Gabba" -- which features all kinds of legitimately good musical guests -- was a start. So was Pancake Mountain, a similar project associated with acclaimed indie label Dischord Records.
"I wanted more of a club-type environment," Day says. "Why can't I have like Belvedere's '80s night, for kids?"
Kid City events also feature a vegetarian/vegan-friendly snack bar, local craft vendors and an Art Lab, for those needing a break from dancing.
"I'm very happy with the way it's evolving," Day says. "I hope it can grow alongside these little kids."
Pete Spynda runs Pandemic, which has long been one of Pittsburgh's most original and interesting dance parties. At Brillobox and elsewhere, he spins an unpredictable array of dance music from all over the world: from Afrobeat to Bollywood, bhangra to cumbia, Balkan brass to Brazilian favela funk, traditional to cutting-edge.
He's also a dad. His weekly Weather Permitting events at the Shadyside Nursery began as a way to promote his friend's business (the nursery) -- and ended up as kind of a "take your child to work day."
"I thought, 'Why don't we try to cater to people like me?' " Spynda says. "I have a 4-year-old. People don't always want to go to a smoky bar at 11 p.m."
Weather Permitting shows are kind of like a backyard barbecue with live music. They start at 5 p.m. and end around 9 p.m. Sundays (weather permitting). They're outdoors, surrounded by the lush gardens of Shadyside Nursery. In one corner is a brightly painted stage. In the other, a sandbox. Next to it, a bucket of squirt- guns. Hula hoops lie scattered about.
For the adults, there are food trucks like Lomito (South American grilled meats), Dozen (baked goods, ice cream) and Fukuda (sushi), and drinks from the likes of Red Star Kombucha and Wigle Whiskey. There are massages and a farm stand full of fruits and vegetables from Eichner's Family Farm in Wexford.
Musically, it's been all over the map. This week features horn- laden indie rockers Grand Piano, folk-bluegrass band Black Honey Rollers, Latin/Afro-pop/funk band Batamba and AppalAsia, who combine Appalachian and Asian musical traditions.
Best of all, it's hard for kids to get into too much trouble here.
"You don't have to walk behind them making sure they don't stick a fork in a socket," Spynda says.
Let's Move !
Given the sedentary lives of so many children, simply getting them up and moving to the music can only be a good thing.
Recently, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater hosted Let's Move! Family Dance Party, a pay-what-you-can event with music by local hip-hop mainstay DJ Nate da Barber and 720 Records.
"It's geared for toddlers and up," says Lauren Bethea of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. "We don't want it so that the adults are bored, but we want the kids to have fun and dance around."
The event is affiliated with the national Let's Move! project. Bethea thinks they'll probably do something like it again.
"It's summertime, time to get up and move and be healthier," she says. "We wanted something where families could dance together. It's a safe and family-friendly environment for the summer. Kids love to dance. Throw on some music and kids are bouncing around."
Bethea stresses that the music they'll be playing will be popular, but appropriate, giving Beyonce's instructive "Move Your Body" as an example.
Of course, there are varying opinions on what's "appropriate."
DJ KellyMom doesn't worry about that too much.
"Kids don't hear the subtext in the lyrics," Day says. "I'll play the Misfits and Alice Cooper, and it's not like your kid is going to go home and eat a rat's head or something. I'm not trying to do anything rebellious, but I'm not too careful.
"I don't agree that once you have a kid, everything has to be shut off and censored. That contributes to parents sort of losing themselves as they enter parenthood. You can still share it with your kids."
The Ramones' proto-punk classic "Beat on the Brat" is kind of a case in point. Its bouncy, pogo-ready rhythm sort of contradicts the goofy cartoon-violence of its lyrics.
"That was really popular," Day says. "One of the moms says she has a really shy kid, but when he heard that, he really came out of his shell."
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