We speak to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) as he prepares to leave office after four years at the helm.
The “Wheels on the Bus” have left the building. From bands like Rocknoceros to acts that weave science into song, the Washington, D.C., region is booming with fun and funky acts that get kids dancing and learning at the same time. With myriad styles, witty lyrics and up-tempo beats, children’s music acts in our region are entertaining kids and grown-ups alike. Kojo talks with the musicians behind the silly songs, and finds out what gets the 5-and-under set grooving.
- Daniel Schwartz Lead Vocalist, "Ryan Buckle & Friends"
- David "Coach" Cotton Vocalist & Instrumentalist, Rocknoceros
- Marc "Boogie Woogie Bennie" Capponi Vocalist & Instrumentalist, Rocknoceros
- Patrick "Williebob" Williams Vocalist & Instrumentalist, Rocknoceros
- Barry Louis Polisar Author, songwriter, story-teller and poet
Daniel Schwartz, lead vocalist of “Ryan Buckle and Friends,” performs after The Kojo Nnamdi Show:
Ryan Buckle performs a cover of Robbie Schaefer’s “Fits Right In:”
Barry Louis Polisar performs “I Don’t Want to go to School:”
Polisar performs “My Brother Threw Up On My Stuffed Toy Bunny:”
Barry Louis Polisar’s “All I Want Is You,” which was featured in the film “Juno:”
Ryan Buckle performs “Waddle:”
Buckle sings “Fits Right In,” the first day of school song:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We're sporting live music today. It's a common affliction known to many of us who spend time with small children. Minutes or sometimes hours after we part ways with the little tikes, loud verses of "The Wheels on The Bus Go Round and Round" start running through our heads.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOr perhaps we are sitting at our desks trying to concentrate on work, and all we hear is The Wiggles popular tune "Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy" doing an endless loop between our ears. Admit it, it's happened to you. But the good news is there's a wide, wonderful world of creative music for kids out there that does not involve little teapots, "Itsy Bitsy Spiders," "Old MacDonald" or even the ABCs. In fact, the Washington Metro region is bursting with fun, funky musicians who get kids moving, grooving and even learning as they rock out.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYes, parents, the Muffin Man has left the building. And here to give us a taste of some of the best new and not-so music for children, meet Barry Louis Polisar. He is an author, songwriter, storyteller and poet. He's won numerous awards for his body of work, including two Grammys, two Emmys and five Parent's Choice Awards. Barry, it is our honor and pleasure to have you in studio. Thank you for coming.
MR. BARRY LOUIS POLISARPleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Daniel Schwartz. Danny is known as Ryan Buckle. He's the lead vocalist for Ryan Buckle and Friends. Danny Schwartz, good to have you in studio.
MR. DANIEL SCHWARTZIt's my pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us, the vocalist and instrumentalist known as Rocknoceros. In studio with us is David Cotton or Coach. Good to have you along.
MR. DAVID "COACH" COTTONThanks for having us.
NNAMDIMarc Capponi, Boogie Woogie Bennie, good to have you.
MR. MARC "BOOGIE WOOGIE BENNIE" CAPPONIYes, sir, good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Patrick Williams, Williebob, glad to have you on.
MR. PATRICK "WILLIEBOB" WILLIAMSGood to see you.
NNAMDIAnd at some point, you'll probably want to join this conversation. You might want to start calling now, 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you grow up listening to Barry, Barry Louis Polisar's music? What's your favorite tune? Call us, 800-433-8850. Barry, your work is probably familiar to a lot of listeners in our area who grew up with your irreverent songs. In fact, you're known as the Bad Boy of Children's Music.
POLISARWell, that was one of my monikers, yes.
NNAMDIYou're still performing, reading books and poetry at schools around the country. But after more than 30 years in the kids' music business, the movie "Juno" gave you the street cred with new generations of listeners. Can you tell us a little bit about the arc of your career and how Hollywood came calling?
POLISARWell, I actually started -- I planned -- I never expected to be a writer, a songwriter. I went to college to be a teacher, taught myself how to play the guitar. And a teacher saw me and asked me if I'd come to her school and do a program. And at that very first school concert, the first time I was ever on stage, I overheard a teacher yelling at her kids. And I realized what she was saying would be really funny. And I went home that night and wrote a song called, "I've Got A Teacher And She's So Mean." I've got a teacher, she's so mean. She never laughs, she always screams.
POLISARAnd it goes on from there. And because I was planning on being a teacher, a lot of my friends heard about the song, and, almost overnight, schools started calling me up, asking me if I could sing that song in their school, put myself through college and really never looked back, and, literally, for many, many years, made a living traveling around the country visiting schools. Most of my work is at the schools, in elementary schools and middle schools.
NNAMDITell us about the circumstances under which Hollywood came calling.
POLISARThat was funny. I owe that to iTunes. Jason Reitman, the director of "Juno" was trolling iTunes for a song called "You Are The One I Want." And in a wonderfully dyslexic moment, he typed in "All I Want Is You" by mistake and got my song and emailed and asked if he could put it in his movie. I had no idea it was going to be in the opening credits of the film, but it definitely sort of -- it was a nice little icing on the cake after 35 years.
NNAMDIWhere do you get the inspiration for the music you write? Do your songs have to tell a story?
POLISARWell, a lot of mine do. Over the years, I've written lots of songs and put out lots of CDs. And so the songs are really different, one from the other. Many are story songs. I really was trained more as a poet and as a writer, so a lot of my songs are story songs that literally, you know, have an arc like a story would, but others are just sort of, you know, sing-alongs. I'll give you an example of one. This is before the "Juno" song hit. This was probably my best known song.
POLISARAnd it goes on through all the various...
NNAMDIIf you think you're going to get away with just singing those samples of songs, you are mistaken.
NNAMDIFirst, I'll go to Kelly in Springfield, Va. Kelly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELLYHi. I just wanted to make a quick comment. I'm about 30 years old now, and I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, Barry Louis Polisar came to my local library and did a little concert, if you will. And I remember it very clearly. Actually, it was a very special day for me. My parents had got divorced. My dad moved across the country.
KELLYAnd that day, when I came home from the library, he surprised us back in our house. And he had moved back from across the country, and that was very memorable for us. So my sister and I always remember Barry Louis Polisar. And you just played the song that's very memorable for us, too. We were just singing it the other day, joking around.
POLISAROh, thank you.
KELLYSo I just wanted to thank you for that great memory and hearing your songs that stay with us.
NNAMDIKelly, can you do me a favor, please? He doesn't sing it much anymore, but could you ask him if he would sing "I've Got A Teacher, She's So Mean" for us?
KELLYI'm sorry, could you repeat that?
NNAMDIThat's all right. I asked already.
POLISARI'll do it.
POLISARYou know, I tell the kids in the schools that I don't do the song because I wrote it in 1975. And as everybody knows, they don't make mean teachers anymore.
NNAMDIBarry Louis Polisar performing "I've Got A Teacher, She's So Mean." Danny, your turn. You play Ryan Buckle in a weekly performance that mixes science with music. But you're fairly new to the kids' music scene in our area. Tell us, who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
SCHWARTZWell, I'm sitting in the room with many of my children heroes. I grew up, much like Kelly did on the phone, with Barry Louis Polisar. I have all of his records on vinyl. And the first time we shared the stage together, I brought them to have him sign it. And my brother, my older brother Adam claimed that these were his records and that -- and so I had...
NNAMDIThat's when the fight started.
SCHWARTZNo, I had Barry sign one. It says, To Danny, but not Adam.
SCHWARTZAnd so, yeah, that's hanging on the wall. And so I've loved Barry, and I grew up on local artists like Rory and others. But a couple years ago when I got out of school and started running sound around town, I was working at Jammin' Java where I now play weekly. On Wednesdays, I would get up early in the morning and go hang out with these three guys, Rocknoceros.
SCHWARTZAnd I became, you know, friends of theirs, but also fell in love with a lot of their -- you know, the kids who would come to their shows. We would play afterwards and the regulars -- there's one little girl who used to come, and you'd ask her her favorite Rocknoceros memory. And she'd say, it's Danny. And I was never in the band.
NNAMDIBut you became the sound engineer for Rocknoceros.
SCHWARTZI ran sound for them. And, you know, I just -- it occurred to me that at some point in my life I was really eager to explore this realm of music and be able to interact. And I think everybody in this room will probably agree with me when I say that a child audience can be so much more appreciative sometimes than an adult audience.
NNAMDIWhat did Coach, Boogie and Williebob teach you about performing for young audiences when you were their sound engineer?
SCHWARTZWell, I'd say that music can be good and music can be fun. Children's music doesn't have to be, you know, too generic and too soft for kids. It can be heady and thoughtful. And so their songs were really fun. And I listen to them on my own. I don't have any kids to listen to them with, but I enjoyed listening to their records over and over again. And I will say that every one they've made has gotten better. And, you know, this last record is just phenomenal. It's so much fun. And they -- I know they do it at home on their own, and it's just really a cool labor of love. So...
NNAMDIWell, Coach, you were, it's my understanding, a middle school teacher when you took the plunge into performance. Tell us a little bit about how Rocknoceros got started.
COTTONYes. I was a middle school teacher. And then my wife and I had our first two kids. We have three now. And I took my boys, who are now 9 and 7 years old, to see a local performer at Jammin' Java and walked away thinking it looked like a lot of fun and that I'd like to try and put something together with my buddies and give it a shot.
NNAMDIAnd Boogie Woogie, tell us when you first met Coach.
CAPPONII first met Coach certainly in King's Park West where we both grew up. We were probably both 5 years old.
CAPPONIOh, I would guess we knew each other, like, before kindergarten...
CAPPONI...but right around there. We certainly -- I mean, our parents had houses a block and a half from each other, so the swimming pool, the street right here in Fairfax County or around here.
NNAMDIWilliebob, you came along a little later, high school.
WILLIAMSI'm the new guy, yeah.
NNAMDIYou met these guys when you were in high school.
WILLIAMSMm hmm, yep. And it was kind of a musical partnership from the start.
NNAMDIWhat made you decide to form the musical partnership, Coach? You guys were just fooling around, and it happened?
COTTONIt just seemed like an opportunity to reach a wider audience and spend time with my kids while being gainfully employed or, you know, at the time, perhaps not quite so gainfully employed. But...
NNAMDIYeah. I wanted to ask about that. It must be a little nerve-wracking to make the decision to quit your day jobs and take the plunge into full-time performance. Did you think this was payoff both financially because you have families and did you think it would payoff financially and professionally?
COTTONThere was some trepidation going into it when the guys stopped playing in wedding bands and teaching music respectively. But we had a decent indication that we had a good thing going and that it might work out for us.
NNAMDIHow's it been working out for your kids? You've got three. Williebob has a daughter. Boogie, not so much.
WILLIAMSHe's got cats.
COTTONMy kids are fans. I have a two-year-old girl who is in full -- in the throes of her Rocknoceros fandom. Specifically, she's a big fan of Boogie Woogie Bennie and Williebob, yeah, often requesting the songs that they sing lead on, as any parent might expect.
NNAMDIThe thing I like, though, about your music is that you can hear different styles, different influences in your songs. Tell us a little bit about how you can use the influences of the Beetles, the jazz, calypso. Tell us a little bit about the creative process that goes in there, Boogie.
CAPPONII think it comes from when I was a kid, I was a big fan -- me and my sister both listened to the Beetles and the Monkees all the time, and those records are very -- they're little variety shows. So that's sort of the model that we...
NNAMDIAll of those influences blend into the performances. Would you have...
CAPPONIKids like variety is what I'm saying.
NNAMDIAnd we love your music, so as we -- before we go into this break, can you play "Cannoli Adjustment" from your debut album for us?
CAPPONIIndeed. Let's do it.
COTTONWe'd be delighted.
NNAMDILadies and gentlemen...
COTTONObscure title, catchy tune.
NNAMDIWe're talking with some very special musicians for kids in our region who are also performing in studio. The guys from Rocknoceros, Coach, Boogie Woogie Bennie and Williebob join us in studio, along with Barry Louis Polisar. He is an author, songwriter, storyteller and poet who has won numerous awards for his body of work.
NNAMDIHe's won two Grammies, two Emmys and five Parent's Choice awards. Also in studio with us is Daniel Schwartz. He's known as Ryan Buckle, the lead vocalist for Ryan Buckle and Friends. Danny, the fun thing about Ryan Buckle and Friends is that you do live science experiments onstage. You launch rockets. You demonstrate circuitry. You even blow smoke rings at your audience.
NNAMDIHow did this marriage of science and music come about?
SCHWARTZWell, actually, I'm not the brains behind Ryan Buckle. I get to just be the performer. But a woman named Mary Porter Green who is -- she's...
NNAMDILet me explain something.
NNAMDII'm not the brains behind this show either, but I take all the credit for it.
SCHWARTZWell, I'm really glad that Elizabeth brought her kids out to see me. This apparently was all spurred -- Elizabeth bringing her daughter out to see my show at Jammin' Java. And Mary, who was a lawyer, quit her job and started this science center out in Ashburn called Curiosity Zone, and they do science for kids. And she had just thought, you know, it would be great to have some music that would accompany this and have some -- you know, she was sick of people writing songs and having false science.
SCHWARTZYou know, there'd be songs about the moon, and they'd be singing about a man in the moon or cheese on the moon and all something that a kid would have to unlearn sometime later. So she thought it'd be really, you know, great to have some music written that has real science and just a little bit per song so that the kid would get it. And we try to teach one word or one thought with each song and really drive it home and say it a couple times and get the kids guessing in making hypothesis and...
NNAMDIYeah, 'cause I was about to ask, how do you get the kids to understand the science concepts that you're demonstrating on stage?
SCHWARTZWell, I mean, it's difficult, but we ask real simple stuff. When I launch rockets with Alka-Seltzer and water, we have a small one and a big one and we say, which one do you think is going to go higher? And then when the smaller one inevitably goes higher 'cause it weighs less...
NNAMDI'Cause everybody thinks the big one's going to go higher...
SCHWARTZThey all think the big one's going to go...
SCHWARTZYeah, and then when the small one goes higher, I ask them to guess. And one kid will always go, it's smaller. And I go, that's exactly right or -- I actually brought this for you Kojo. This is a UFO ball from space, and there's two contacts on the back. And if I touch one, nothing happens. But if I touch the other, a little bit of electricity goes through me. So here, here, Barry.
NNAMDII thought we were going to play ping-pong.
SCHWARTZPut out your hand here...
POLISAR...trying to grapple with not having cheese as -- the moon not being made of cheese, so...
SCHWARTZIt lights up, and we make a big circle. I've had 150 kids holding hands and we make a circuit. And a little bit of electricity passes through all of us and lights up this ball. So you'll take this home and enjoy it...
NNAMDIWell, we'd love to hear a song. Can you tell us a little bit about the song "Waddle" and then sing it for us?
SCHWARTZ"Waddle" is a great tune. You know, so this local area musician named Shane Heinz actually wrote all the music from the first record, "The Swamp Stomp Boogie," and it's all about animals. And so this song's about an animal, and I won't elaborate too much 'cause it's a mystery. And we're going to see...
NNAMDIYeah, you got to guess.
SCHWARTZSee if you and your listeners can figure out what the mystery is. This one's called "Waddle."
NNAMDIYou are a penguin.
SCHWARTZThat's right, a penguin, and I waddled around.
NNAMDIWell, you know, Barry and I were debating duck at first.
NNAMDIBut then when you said, no, Antarctica, that's probably a penguin. Barry, you know kids always love songs with scatological humor and bodily functions. But you're not afraid to sing about the sad and the scary stuff, too, thinking about songs like "I Miss Grandma" and "Bad Guys Broke Into Our Car." How come?
POLISARWell, mostly what I've done throughout my career is write about my own experiences. We did have an experience where guys broke into our car. And so after getting over the initial, they took our stuff, they smashed the window, something had to come out of that, and that was a song. Same thing, you know, after the death of my grandmother years ago. And I've done it really from the start. My early songs are written about my younger brothers, younger sister. I had kids. I started writing songs about my children. One of my favorites is -- I'll give you a little piece. It's -- I call it a "Monster Song".
POLISARAnd it becomes a song about diaper rash, which of course, you know, in a room full of kids that are in elementary school, it's just a great song to perform. And I talk to the kids when I do my shows about how ideas come from everyday life. If you just open your eyes, open your ears, look around -- and that's mostly where I get my ideas from, the things around me.
NNAMDIHow do your songs sit with parents in today's protective PC-conscious culture? Do you still do the song about the dog who runs away to New Jersey with the milkman?
POLISARI do. I've changed a few of the lyrics over time just to save songs. The song "Our Dog Bernard" originally had a line about the dog running off with the milkman and going to New Jersey, spends all his time living with him. Now I hear spends all his time in darkened barrooms smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. And it got to the point that -- and that's what we were talking in the break about how Rocknoceros has the -- mentions vino.
POLISARAnd I guess because it's in a different language, it's OK. I had so many problems with so many people objecting to that reference, even though clearly the idea of Bernard was he was going to the dogs. So I still have that original song on that original album, but I did do an updated version 20 years later.
NNAMDIYou find parents are more sensitive now to those years?
POLISAROh, parents are much more sensitive. Parents are much more sort of watching things. And I think part of it is because in my era -- not when I first started performing as much as when I was growing up, there was more of a traditional household. One parent was always home with their kids. And I think now we've got two-income parents that -- parents aren't with their kids as much and sometimes question whether the kids will get the humor in things. So there is a little bit more PC, a little bit more political correctness that goes on. It's a combination of things.
NNAMDIWhat kinds of songs do you find get the biggest response from your audiences? This question for all of you. I'll start with you, Dan.
SCHWARTZI would've thought that some of these songs -- I have some upbeat tunes, one called "Gravity" about gravity. And I wouldn't have thought -- yeah, it's, you know, the lyrics are basically a litany of what gravity does. And I go, you know, that's not terribly provocative or too intellectual. But, man, the kids love to dance. Dancing tunes are always a pretty big winner.
NNAMDIWhat's the biggest responses you get, Coach?
COTTONI would say, by and large, it's up tempo tunes like "Pink" or "Apollo." But we get requests of all kinds from all four of our CDs. I wanted to say all four of our albums. Kids will request the more obscure tracks off any of the CDs. But I would say, by and large, fast songs.
NNAMDIHow about you, Barry?
POLISARMy songs tend to skew a little bit for the older audiences than I think these two groups. So often times in schools kids will ask me, like, what sense do I use mostly when I write, you know, thinking sight, hearing? And I always say it's my sense of humor. That's the sense that I use when I write. And it's those humorous songs that, I think, really resonate with kids.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Doug in College Park who said, "I should've known something was up back in 1972 at High Point High School when Barry hosted a birthday party for the hall locker we shared. And throughout the day, people were dropping off birthday presents."
POLISAROh, yeah. I don't know if Doug remembers that everybody thought I was crazy that I named my locker. But then I gave him a birthday party, and everybody gave him birthday cards. Hi, Doug.
NNAMDIHere's Alan in Arlington, Va. Alan, your turn.
ALANAll right. Well, hello, Rocknoceros and hello, Ryan Buckle. I had to...
SCHWARTZI know that voice.
ALANI had to call in because I am, you know, appreciative of Rocknoceros as the trailblazers because after playing in a band for about 20 years or so, the band that I'm in, The Grandsons, decided that we would try to go down the kids music road, too, with our kids oriented group The Grandsons Junior. And just in this local area, especially having Rocknoceros kind of there to blaze the trail, I'd say some of the roads that were dirt roads when they started down them are now paved a little. So it's a little bit easier for us, so...
NNAMDIGood to know you've been able to pave the way for others, Coach?
COTTONWe've paved the way to many community centers and libraries.
COTTONAll part of our stimulus package, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlan, thank you very much for your call. On to Jesse in Bethesda, Md. Jesse, your turn.
JESSEHi. I'm a really big fan of all the people in that room, specifically Ryan Buckle. He is great, and I've seen a couple fun science experiments. And I have a favorite song as well, which is "Fit Right In." That's my favorite 'cause I work with a lot of kids in child welfare stuff, and they all need to know that. And...
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jesse. Anything else you'd like to say?
JESSEWell, Barry, I grew up listening to you, and I have probably been a Daniel Schwartz fan for about 25 years. And that's all I want to say.
COTTONSome of us know why.
NNAMDII think, knowing Danny's age, I think some of us know why.
SCHWARTZThat's actually -- that's my sister's age because that's my sister.
JESSEI'm listening from the children's events fund, and we're all very much in love with the children's music. Thank you.
NNAMDIGlad we could bring you and Danny together.
NNAMDIDanny, I'm sure that the kids in your audiences teach you a lot about what works on stage and what doesn't.
NNAMDII'd love to hear from all of you about what you've learned from some of your pint-sized patrons.
SCHWARTZI wish I had known I was getting into this going forward because when I was hanging with Rockno, I would've paid attention to what they were doing more. 'Cause there was such a learning curve for me on -- I was not good at not, you know, making -- like, when the kid raises their hand or tries to shout something out, at the beginning I was like, okay, let's stop everything and turn the focus on this young gentleman who has his hand in the air.
SCHWARTZAnd, you know, I had no idea -- and it makes perfect sense that if you turn all the attention in a room on a little kid, they're going to often just freeze and not be able to say anything. They're just going to look around and be completely embarrassed. And now I know it's just much better to just sort of roll on through and, you know, lead the show. You probably don't let, you know, your guests just sort of lead the charge. You've got to sort of direct a show, and so...
NNAMDIYou'd be surprised at how some guests lead the show.
NNAMDIIndeed, Coach, I heard that a kid once came up on stage and smacked Williebob's guitar during a performance.
COTTONYeah, that has happened. Back in the early days of Jammin' Java, we used to have the kids come on stage at least for the final segment of our program. And this one overzealous individual, who -- though it was about six years ago, I believe his name was Ben. Ben, wherever you are...
NNAMDIBen is well remembered, yes.
COTTONYes, he is. And he smacked Williebob's guitar really hard.
WILLIAMSWe hope you've chilled out since then, Ben.
NNAMDIHow did you respond to that, Williebob?
WILLIAMSI backed away slowly, looked at the guitar, made sure it wasn't broken.
NNAMDIAny funny kid moments from your performances, Barry?
POLISAROh, I remember I had -- right after my kids were born, they were about 2 or 3 years old and I had written a couple songs about them. And I was doing a family concert down in Virginia, and I told the story about having twins, a boy and a girl. And kids don't usually come up onto my stage, but after telling the story, a boy and a girl about 2 or 3 years old crawled up onto stage. And they started hanging from the flagpole. And I was kept -- I'm singing my song, and I'm waiting out of the corner of my eye for the parent to come and kind of watch them. And they just kept going higher and higher.
NNAMDIAnd no parent comes.
POLISARAnd all of a sudden, the flagpole starts falling into the audience. And thankfully an adult stood up and grabbed it before it hit 20 or 30 kids. There was a -- I was in the middle of a song. There was literally a hush in the room. And I paused, and I said, I just want you to know that these are not my children. And everybody cracked up, and then that night I wrote a song called "These Are Not My Children."
NNAMDIWell, do you find it distracting to have kids running around and talking while you're performing?
SCHWARTZAt first it was, and, you know, I love all the parents that bring all their kids out. But often it's a meeting place for mommies to get together and chat, so that can often be a challenge.
COTTONI do believe every children's performer who's ever lived has been mistaken for a babysitter at their shows.
SCHWARTZThey see it as 50 minutes of time off. But, no, the kids are never an issue and I -- you know, some of them will get into a little screaming habit and stuff like that, which is nice. And, you know, I just try to have a good sense of humor. And if you come to my show, you'll note that I often will just crack up myself in the middle of a song, in the middle of a speech. If a kid strikes me as funny, I just laugh at it 'cause it is very comical. And, you know, I'm having a great time, and I want to make sure everybody knows.
POLISARWell, that's one of the great things about playing in elementary schools. The kids are older, so they're attentive and they're in school. And it's sort of like playing in prisons.
POLISARI mean, they're going to be quiet, and they're going to listen.
SCHWARTZAnd I've seen a little back and forth where the science stuff in my show is really well suited to the older group. But as soon as -- I play every Tuesday morning and unless kids are skipping school, I have the preschoolers and the really young crowd and...
POLISARSkipping school to learn about science?
SCHWARTZThat's right. That's right. Those crazy kids.
POLISARHow dare they?
SCHWARTZAnd so, you know, I had to sort of adapt my show and see what worked and what didn't and how to execute the same science experiments so that the kids would find it fun without really expecting them to retain much. And then the little ones that really surprised me and come back the next week and remember the word vortex or something and just scream it at the top of their lungs. And they're so proud of themselves for remembering. It's great.
NNAMDIHere is Marilee in Arlington, Va. Marilee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARILEEYou know, I'm surprised you didn't mention the Limeliters. Have you ever heard of them?
POLISARSure. Oh, yeah, yep, sure. I mean, I'm, I think, a generation older than the other artists here in the room, and so I grew up in that sort of post-'60s era with, I mean, not just the Limeliters, but singer/songwriters Phil Oaks, Tom Paxton and others like that. And I think all of those things are sort of influences to all of us. I think we all can claim -- I mean, you know, that's the interesting thing about music. There's all these antecedents that happen, you know, before us. But, yes, I certainly know them.
POLISARAnd of course, you mentioned the Washington area. I mean, the Washington area is filled with children's singer-songwriter's children entertainers, you know, Cathy and Marcy and Michele Valeri and Billy Bee as musicians, and then, you know, you've got theater people. It's an area that's very thick with a lot of children's artists and performers.
NNAMDIMarilee, thank you for reminding us about the Limeliters, but we have got our own performance here in the room, and before we go to another break, Coach, we'd love to hear another number. How about a little of "Pirate Harvey?"
COTTONGladly, we will play "Pirate Harvey." It's from our newest CD "Colonel Purple Turtle."
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Barry Louis Polisar. He's an author, songwriter, storyteller, poet. He has won numerous awards for his work, including two Grammys, two Emmys, and five Parent's Choice Awards. Danny Schwartz -- Daniel Schwarz is known as Ryan Buckle. He's the lead vocalist for "Ryan Buckle and Friends," and joining us are the vocalists and instrumentalists known as Rocknoceros, Coach, Boogie Woogie Bennie, and Williebob.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com if you have comments or questions for us. We got this email from Marissa. "Love Rocknoceros. Kids' music everyone can enjoy. I've seen Rocknoceros several times. The kids dance, and the mom's swoon over Coach."
NNAMDIThis email we got from Eileen. "I was tending the box office at First Stage Theater in Tysons where Barry will be two concerts on April 28. We've seen lots of posters about it all over our lobby and at the door. A grandmom, her daughter, and her granddaughter came in singing, 'Don't Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose.' I joined in for a discordant a capella trio. The child looked amazed and horrified. It was so much fun. We're really looking forward to concerts at the theater."
NNAMDII do have some information to pass on about the performances of the groups. They all play at schools, coffeehouses and concert venues around the metro region. Barry focuses a lot of his time on elementary schools. The cost of seeing these guys perform can vary depending on what type of venue they play. At Jammin' Java, for example, all kids show tickets are about $5 for everyone one year and older. At many venues, for example, at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, Dulles Town Center, or Lebanese Taverna in Arlington, you can see them perform for free.
NNAMDISome performers like Mr. Skip who performs in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. asks for suggested donations and pass a bucket around for parents to put in a few dollars. For a listing a free and low-cost kids music shows in our region, you can go to several websites, including ourkids.com, kidfriendlydc.com, baltimoreschild.com, and local blogs like supernovamommy.com, Boogie Babes and A Parent in Silver Spring.
NNAMDII guess you can find links to all those at our website, kojoshow.org. Barry, last year Honda used your song "All I Want is You" in one of its commercials. What's on your plate for 2012? Will we be hearing your music on the big or small screen anytime soon?
WILLIAMSYeah. There's a couple other things in the works, a couple other songs that are supposed to be in movies. It's very interesting how that works. I feel like I was an underground phenomenon for 37 years and then suddenly to be rediscovered at this stage is kind of interesting. I've always made my living doing this. You know, you asked before what people were doing earlier. This is the only job I've ever had as an adult. I never did anything else other than write and perform for kids. But, yeah, there's a couple books that I'm…
NNAMDIThat mean teacher launched a career, didn't she?
POLISARThat mean teacher launched a career. If I knew her name, I'd have to give her royalties.
NNAMDII think so.
POLISARBut, you know, I've got a couple more books that are coming out this year. That's a lot of what I've been concentrating on lately, you know, is the books that I've been writing. About a year ago, a tribute album came out of my songs, which was just an amazing thrill. About 60 different musicians who had my albums growing up as kids did versions of my songs, and I only wish I had known about Danny earlier, and Rocknoceros as well, you know, to be on that album, but it was a real thrill to kind of hear those songs and how they were reinterpreted by new, younger, musicians.
NNAMDIWell, despite the fact that you played a little bit of it earlier, we'd still like you to play some more of "Don't Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose."
POLISARSure. I'd be happy to do that.
SCHWARTZThe extended version, please.
NNAMDIThe extended version.
POLISARFeel free to join in.
NNAMDIThe LP version.
NNAMDIA classic. A classic. Barry Louis Polisar, "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose." You know who might have been listening to that? Let's check in with Zeb in Takoma Park, Md. Zeb, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZEBHi. I have a question for Barry Louis Polisar. I've been a big fan for over 30 years.
ZEBI dropped out for a little while, but now I have a 16-month-old. And it's real interesting, you know, I've been thinking well, what kind of music can I sing for my kid or play for him, and now I'm listening to the lyrics that are in your songs through an entirely different lens.
POLISARActually, my own daughter, when she was about 11 years old, came up to me and said, dad, I'm finally get all the jokes in your songs. Yeah. It's...
POLISARIt's really been great to sort of get, you know, another generation coming back once they have kids, and that seems to be a pretty standard pattern.
NNAMDIWell, I'd like you to extend on that, Barry, because you're the father of twins. They're now grown. What kind of music did you listen to while they were growing up?
POLISARWell, I remember when they were about 3 years old, my wife and I went to a Leonard Cohen concert, and I was debating bringing my 3-year-old twins and realized at the concert that they would have known every single song and would have sung along. Even though I make a living doing children's music, the stuff that we listened to in the house was eclectic, everything from country to folk to rock and roll to classical. And the kids were sort of exposed to all of that.
POLISARActually, I tell the story when my daughter went off to college, she discovered a whole stack of songs that I had written that she didn't know because I had stopped singing them. And so she challenged me to take my worst songs and see if I could rewrite them, and I did -- actually, it's a double album I joke because I had so many bad songs.
POLISARBut I actually rewrote 40 songs, and my son came in and played saxophone and clarinet on the album. So it was really a lot of fun.
NNAMDIWell, we mentioned "Juno." Can you sing a little bit of "All I Need is You?"
POLISARSure. I can do that, yeah. And I heard the mandolin earlier on this one, so let's ….
NNAMDIDoes that work for you and your 16-month-old, Zeb?
ZEBIndeed, and I wanted to hear it. So what was the inspiration for "Three-Toed, Triple-Eyed, Double-Jointed Dinosaur"?
POLISARYou know, I'm a ...
POLISARWas the very first song I ever sang for kids. That teacher at that college that I talked about who saw me with my guitar, asked me to come to her school, I looked around, back in 1975, and I saw no songs that I really felt like performing. At the time, there were a lot of nursery school rhymes for really young kids, and then there was rock and roll for older kids. But there was nothing for that elementary audience. And I wrote a few songs, and "I'm Three-Toed, Triple-Eyed, Double-Jointed Dinosaur" was the very first. And I still sing it.
NNAMDIZeb, you're dangerous. Thank you very much for your call, Zeb. You know, talking about the music that you listened to, in the 1990s, a small, apparently influential study showed that listening to music like Mozart improved students' performance. An entire industry was born from that study, including the popular Baby Einstein videos.
NNAMDIThat study about classical music and intelligence was, however, later discredited, but I'm curious about how you think kids should be exposed to music. Should parents start out with a basic, like lullabies, and then expose them to more adult music later? What's your technique?
COTTONNot having kids, I think I'm a real authority on this.
NNAMDII think you'd be the best person to speak on it, yeah.
COTTONNo, I think kids get exposed to a lot of great music. As far as classical and orchestral music goes, Carl Stalling in the Looney Tunes music was...
SCHWARTZOh, top notch.
COTTON...is still, you know, hugely influential. I mean, kids are exposed to great music.
SCHWARTZYou know, it's "Pink Panther." I mean, all these have great composers. They used to really take that seriously back when, you know, (word?) days, they seemed to be taking it very seriously. But I grew up, I think, a lot like Marc, on Beatles. I got into the, you know, I was 5 years old when I got my first -- Boogie, sorry, got it wrong, Boogie Woogie.
SCHWARTZBut, yeah, I grew up on Beatles, but now you've got me thinking, when I was listening to Barry, I was also listening to the few songs that Shel Silverstein had and thought he was hysterical. And the song just before reminded me of the "One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater" that I was real into as a kid.
POLISARWell, I grew up actually on Roger Miller, Rolf Harris, Johnny Cash, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, who is the original bad boy of children's music. He always was getting in trouble.
NNAMDIDanny, I know singing as Ryan Buckle is only part of what you do. By the way, you can explain to Paula in Arlington, Va., something she wants to know. Your turn, Paula.
PAULAOh, OK. I just wondered does Shane Hines still contribute to Ryan Buckle? Is he still writing and singing?
SCHWARTZShane is. We're trying to, you know, I'm hoping to collaborate with him some. He's down in Nashville now and has his own career, and so he's very busy. And so as we move forward, I'm sure I'll be doing a lot more of it. But his contributions have been so valuable, and he's such a wonderful songwriter. And he has kids. He just, as it was explained to me, wasn't the best one suited to do the performance part of it. So, you know, it was -- he's been really, really influential, and I hope to, like, collaborate with him. It would be great to get together with him at some point.
NNAMDIGrammy Award winner, Shane Hines, he is down in Tennessee. Paula, thank you very much for your call. Your day job, Danny, is production manager for the Hamilton, which is a restaurant and music venue downtown. Do you see yourself performing for children in the long term?
SCHWARTZI do. And, actually, when I interviewed, we're only open two months now at the Hamilton, and we've had some great performances. We've had Chubby Checker and Mavis Staples and some really great artists come through, and we're working -- I'm down there 14 hours a day. And hello to all the Hamilton crew that are listening. But when I took the job, I turned to the president of the Clyde's Restaurant Group and said, I'd love to do this for you, and I'll give up everything else but Ryan Buckle. I got to be able to play music.
SCHWARTZI love -- I gave up all my adult bands, and I just want to be able to play music for kids, so I definitely see myself doing this. And, actually, when I was telling your producer during the pre-interview that at some point as a young man, I can see a woman taking me seriously because I get up early in the morning, play with kids, and earn money.
NNAMDIHow about you, Coach? Will Rocknoceros still be rocking out five years from now?
COTTONYeah. I'm sure we will. We're closing in on seven years old now, and I think we're really hitting our stride creatively and performance wise. I think the songwriting has improved, and we still have fun every time out, so...
NNAMDIRocknoceros' Coach, Boogie Woogie Bennie and Williebob. Barry Louis Polisar is an author, songwriter, storyteller and poet who has won numerous awards for his body of work, and Daniel Schwartz is known as Ryan Buckle. He's the lead vocalist for Ryan Buckle and friends. Thank you all for joining us. Danny, we'd love you to end the show with your song, "Everyone is a Star." Can you sing us out?
SCHWARTZAll right. Absolutely. This one goes out to all the kids.
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