Children's music carries certain connotations that, for the most part, aren't necessarily favorable. Whether it's the repetitious nature of the tunes, the mind-numbing subject matter — fruit salad, anyone? — or the nasally “I love you, you love me” coo of a giant purple dinosaur, music for the pint-sized lot can certainly be a tough pill to swallow for parents, especially the sleep-deprived. Thankfully, there's Dan Zanes.
With his wild hair and Crayola-colored suits, Zanes has a larger-than-life, almost cartoonish quality that appeals to kids, but also rock star credentials that ensure his jams aren't in the vein of, say, Raffi. This weekend the family-friendly rocker serves up a few post-Thanksgiving Day shows at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.
How exactly did Zanes, the former frontman of the Del Fuegos, a Boston-based rock group Rolling Stone deemed “Best New Band” in 1984, find a gig as a kid-friendly rocker?
After the Del Fuegos called it quits, Zanes married, became a father and soon found himself searching for music that both he and his daughter could enjoy; as the story goes, he came up empty handed.
“Music has always been so important to me,” he says. “I wanted to experience it with my daughter and I just couldn't wait for it. Of course, the music had to be something I could connect to. I found plenty of great children's music, but not the sound I was hearing in my head.”
The sound he was searching for was sort of a revamped version of the Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie folk jams he grew up listening to. With it nowhere to be found, Zanes took it upon himself to recruit the help of some friends and make the music he wanted; music that the whole family could enjoy and sing-along to.
After launching his own label, Festival Five Records, Zanes released “Rocket Ship Beach” in 2000 to the delight of parents and kids alike. He has since released a number of well-received albums, most notably the 2007 Grammy Award-winning record “Catch That Train,” and has collaborated with a who's-who roster of musicians from the likes of Deborah Harry and Rosanne Cash to Lou Reed and Philip Glass.
Reluctant to wear the “children's musician” tag, Zanes' mission at hand is simply to offer a culturally diverse blend of music that appeals to all ages, and maybe even inspire some homespun music-making.
“My overriding goal is to make people walk away wanting to make their own music,” he says. “I want people to just be out there making music with one another and creating a more expressive, beautiful tomorrow.”
IF YOU GO
Dan Zanes and Friends
When: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nov. 24; 3 p.m. Nov. 25
Where: Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Way at Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
Contact: (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.net
Note: Zanes also appears in concerts presented by San Francisco Performances on March 29-30, 2008 at the Herbst Theatre.