by Jason Didner, leader of Jungle Gym Jam family music band
Yesterday a family-friendly alt-rock band came to town and put on a master class on how a live band can exude genuine love and care for its audience of kids and their grown-ups.
I’ll start by saying this is not your usual band. Chibi Kodama is a band that is also a family – a mom, a dad, and their three oldest daughters (they have 5, all of whom were at the show). They perform original songs full of emotional intelligence, wisdom and hope soaring above a perilous sea of self-doubt. The band calls on the audience to chant the affirmation “We…Are…Alive!” – all to a backdrop of industrial pulsating synths and deep, crunchy electric guitar. The synths and drums are in the show thanks to cleverly arranged backing tracks controlled by bandleader/dad John Cullimore’s foot pedal.
This all took place at the Springfield Avenue Gazebo in Maplewood, NJ yesterday morning as part of the township’s concert series. It’s part of a northeast tour for this Tennessee family that included a big show in Philadelphia the night before. Next it’s headed to Long Island, the Jersey Shore and Bethlehem, PA.
What’s striking about this band’s live performance is the way the daughters who are primarily in the group instinctively shift gears between performance mode and audience caretaker mode. The sight of a child crying in the audience (an occupational hazard of family concerts) immediately triggers one of the three girls to leap off the stage and give a hug until a parent in the audience takes over – then she’s back on stage picking up right where the lyrics left off. Though the two youngest girls (a pre-schooler and a toddler) are not singing in the band, they are part of the heart and soul of the group.
The toddler daughter is welcome to come and go on and off the stage and was riding her mom Yvonne’s shoulders while Yvonne belted out some heartfelt lead vocal liens. A very human (and very familiar to this children’s performer) was created when this little one wandered onto the stage and onto the foot pedal, stopping the backing track in the first 30 seconds of a song. John handled it with humility and grace as he restarted the song.
Full disclosure – John and I struck up a friendship last year at a conference of children’s musicians known as KindieComm. We keep up communication online and the occasional phone call. One of these phone calls was about my struggle to balance my musical passion with my responsibility to provide for the family. Well, wouldn’t you know, John turned that distressed phone call into musical gold, having written the song “Beginning of the End,” dedicated to me. It’s surreal to be in the audience with a band performing live a song its leader wrote for you and is now dedicating to you. There is a healing effect to it.
The relationship between the family’s almost kindergartner and our almost first-grader is a sight to behold! These two girls became fast friends last year and love to do Skype calls together. When we arrived at the show, Story came running to Holly with all the energy she could muster up despite a broken collarbone. And the two girls were virtually inseparable throughout the show – dancing together, chilling in beach chairs and sharing snacks together. Their goodbye was heart-wrenching, and part of the reason we plan to connect with the Cullimore/Chibi Kodama clan again before they head home.
The whole presentation of the show really fired up numerous dads in the audience – guys who may have to walk the line every day from Monday to Friday were dancing with reckless abandon and singing along with lyrics they were hearing for the first time. A boy rocked out with his toy keyboard in the audience. The girls in the band came offstage to form a big “Ring-around-the-Rosie” type circle which mostly attracted girls in the audience to join in. What was especially touching was how the Chibi Kodama girls paid extra attention to inluding the kids who appeared to have developmental delays, helping a girl stand and take her place in the circle.
Amy and I were not the only fellow children’s entertainers in the audience that day. Maplewood, where the show took place, is hometown to Miss Nina, who often started the cheering and applause going at the end of each song. Her daughter and ours formed a special and loving community with the Chibi Kodama girls, which extended to a post-show celebration, which took place at Joe’s Pizza & Pasta down the street from where the show took place. Chibi Kodama’s re-imagined “Safety Dance” got lots of families blissfully clapping along, with the adults perhaps remembering the simplicity of their own childhoods.
If your family loves alternative rock music and could use a shot of emotional healing or a little upkeep and uplift, a Chibi Kodama show or record will give you that, and then some. Look for their tour schedule at http://chibikodamamusic.com.
Has there been a family-oriented musical performance or record that made your family feel loved? Let’s have a conversation about it in the comments below.
About the Author:
Jason Didner is a children’s musician, leader of a band made up of family and friends: the Jungle Gym Jam, based out of northern New Jersey. Jason is an active member of the children’s musician community