KindieComm comes to Philly to celebrate kids' music

Host Kathy O'Connell, producer Robert Drake of WXPN's "Kids Corner" are driving the weekend showcase.
Host Kathy O'Connell, producer Robert Drake of WXPN's "Kids Corner" are driving the weekend showcase. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 27, 2014

It ain't about juice boxes and bunnies.

This weekend, Kids Corner debuts KindieComm at World Cafe Live, a showcase for "kindie" music (independent music for today's kids), a surprisingly complex sound that applies singer-songwriter tools to themes crucial to listeners 10 and under. It's a gathering of independent kindie-biz types, musicians, and groupies.

Saturday's an industry huddle. But Sunday is a public musicfest starring Dan Zanes, Lucky Diaz, and other lions of the kindie kingdom.

The two drivers of KindieComm are Kathy O'Connell, creator of WXPN's Kids Corner, one of the country's best-known and longest-running kids' radio shows; and Robert Drake, longtime Kids Corner producer.

Drake says kindie is music with hope for the future: "Simply because that's who it's catered to - our future. A good kindie artist creates new work based on today's pop culture without relying on the traditional planks of school/siblings/parents. With nonstop stimuli around, kids remember more than before and want more than before."

Before starting Kids Corner on WXPN in 1988, O'Connell had been in the kids-radio game since 1984, when the hosts of Small Things Considered on WNYC-AM quit 30 minutes before showtime and she jumped in "like Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street," she says. "Plus, besides babysitting, I was always the one who knew how to talk to kids, and, during my teen years, followed Soupy Sales and learned from his approach: Make it funny first."

O'Connell didn't want to play sappy kids' songs, Sesame Street records ("I didn't want to be a conduit for someone else's characters"), or empowered but humorless tunes like "Free to Be . . . You and Me." Instead, she spun G-rated novelty records ("Weird Al" Yankovic, Allan Sherman), charming folkies (Tom Chapin and Tom Paxton), and independents like Barry Louis Polisar, who, O'Connell says, made "the most wonderful real-life kids' music ever."

Polisar is a singer-songwriter whose work was banned from schools because of tunes such as "I Got a Teacher, She's So Mean." O'Connell sees him as a forerunner of current kindie gods such as They Might Be Giants. You may know TMBG as Brooklyn art/hipster/satire/humor geniuses; they're now a big kindie act. (O'Connell takes joking credit for their kindie career. She had long played their goofy hits; then she begged them to do a kids' album.) Polisar also laid the groundwork for power-popping elementary schoolteachers Recess Monkey and the hip-hoppy Secret Agent 23 Skidoo.

Drake, who got to Kids Corner the day after O'Connell started it, says the show changed in 1991 when a theretofore adult act, Trout Fishing in America, released a kids' CD, Trout Fishing in America's Big Trouble. There was no such word as kindie-rock then. But this was the beginning of a quiet revolution on behalf of kids and parents hungry for solid kids' fare.

Drake says the sweet spot was 2001, when Dan Zanes (formerly of 1980s garage-rockers the Del Fuegos) and a new wave of post-punk musicians, many of them parents, "decided to create quality music for kids, based on the same passion and guidelines they followed in making music for adults."

"My daughter Saki turned 5, and I decided to make an album for and with her," says Cactus Skidoo, a "hitchhiking, train-hopping street performer traveling with like-minded misfits" whose band disintegrated in 2007. "I've always been a positive storyteller, so, it's easier for me to talk to families than a drunken bar crowd." Hence, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo was born, with "Superdad" Skidoo touring with his wife and child, allowing him to stay present in his daughter's life while she grows.

By 2009, kindie had grown to include the Lollapalooza-like KindieFest in Brooklyn. But KindieFest stopped in 2013 to allow its main people to do other work within the kindie community, thus opening the door for KindieComm.

"I think the biggest difference between us and KindieFest is the network and community-building KindieComm offers," Drake says. " . . . [W]e've softened the schedule so there's more time to simply get to know each other."

Along with Polisar, Zanes, and sundry Trouts, KindieComm attendees will meet 23 Skidoo and locals like Alex & the Kaleidoscope Band.

"I don't like the term kindie, as I make and listen to all sorts of great music with my son, and he's only 15 months old and loves it." That's Alex Mitnick of Alex & the Kaleidoscope Band. (He's also a schoolteacher in Doylestown.) "This is the music that lives inside of me. I get great players and produce our albums in a way that, I hope, parents appreciate as much as their kids."

Being a star at KindieComm is "like being the Beatles every day," says O'Connell, "if only for a short time."


XPN and Kids Corner Present KindieComm: It's All About the Music . . . for kids! Saturday and Sunday at World Cafe Live, 3035 Walnut St. Public concert starts 11 a.m. Sunday. Tickets: $15 and $18. Information: www.kindiecomm.org.

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