D.C. Area Boasts a Vibrant Children’s Music Scene

by Jason Didner, creator of New Jersey-based Jungle Gym Jam children’s music, blogger and podcaster.

Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could performing on the White House Lawn

Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could performing on the White House Lawn. Photo by Bridget Rymer

If you’re a parent of young children living in and around Washington, D.C. or traveling through the area, you have plenty of reasons to rejoice in the cultural goodies available to your family. The more time I spend among my peers who make children’s music for a living, the more I see the D.C. area as a hot spot for lots of America’s great children’s music performers, venues and happenings.

My first wave of exposure to D.C. area kindie music came from as far away as Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, where Trevor, creator of Goober Kids Radio was spinning tracks from educational singer-songwriter Marsha Goodman-Wood and Devin Walker, the versatile drummer/singer/storyteller behind The Uncle Devin Show, both D.C. area acts. I later learned that Goober Kids Radio’s high powered theme song was written and recorded by D.C. kindie mainstay Rocknoceros.

Around that time I had joined the Children’s Music Network and was learning about the wonderfully high-spirited bilingual presentation by Uno-Dos-Tres con Andres and about how he put together his own concert series in D.C. to get the kids boppin’ around to English and Spanish language tunes.

It turns out, earlier than that, I had heard the great music of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, learning later that they were based out of the D.C. area as well. Some wonderfully vibrant tracks by Baltimore’s own Milk Shake kindie band captured my imagination as well.

Jason and Amy from the Jungle Gym Jam with DC area friends "Uncle Devin" Walker and Marsha Goodman-Wood

Jason and Amy from the Jungle Gym Jam with DC area friends “Uncle Devin” Walker and Marsha Goodman-Wood

It doesn’t hurt that KindieComm, the annual conference of kids’ music industry professionals, takes place in Philadelphia — halfway between my hometown in northern New Jersey and D.C. Over the last two years, I’ve gotten to meet many of these D.C. artists in person and see them perform live. And this year, the amazingly creative kindie synth pop composer/performer The Singing Lizard, formerly located in the D.C. area (now in the San Francisco Bay area) and well respected there, got on my radar with her energetic performance at KindieComm’s industry showcase.

Meeting Burtonsville, MD’s own Barry Louis Polisar was a special moment too. Barry was “kindie” long before that was ever a term. And his sweet and funny songs have become a staple of film and television like “All I Want is You” which you might know from the opening of that great movie “Juno.” His song “Don’t Put Your Finger Up Your Nose” seems to be a kindred spirit to my own “The Pick Song.” The Washington Post recently wrote this great story about Barry’s school assembly performances and film & TV placements.

It was also at this year’s KindieComm that I met a D.C. area mom and Kindie supporter Carolyn Ross, who posts information about live music and other performances for families at KindiemusicDC and also serves as promoter for Junior Jams at an intimate arts space in Kensington, MD that doubles as a performance venue. Twice a month Junior Jams features the local talent, and provides a stage to touring acts whenever possible.

“I work during the week and was looking for someplace closer by to go on the weekends with my own kids to see live music. When I couldn’t find anything on the Maryland side of the beltway, I decided to find a place to host shows and invite some of the artists myself.  It’s been great the last close to two years learning the business, and meeting and promoting the performers who dedicate themselves to making music accessible to kids.  It is especially rewarding to watch the families enjoy themselves together.  I know the artists appreciate the connection they have also.”  Junior Jams is hosted by FNDTN Gallery and Liveroom and venue owner Sean Gaiser who runs a kids music instruction studio in the same building. You can see the schedule of upcoming children’s performances on FNDTN’s calendar page.

In addition to Junior Jams, the D.C. area houses a great variety of venues that attract local and touring children’s entertainers from all over. Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center offers a wonderful outdoor venue while Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA is the consummate indoor showplace, with its own popular Tot Rock concert series. Strathmore in Bethesda, MD is a gorgeous performing arts center that has a kids’ music series too.

DC’s kids’ music scene is in some surprisingly high places too: Every Easter, the White House Lawn’s legendary Egg Roll is often a destination for some stellar children’s music acts. Just this past Easter, my friend Brady Rymer from Long Island, a Grammy nominee, performed at the White House (picture above) as part of Hip Hop Public Health. Brady had contributed a song to their CD, Songs For A Healthier America – sponsored by Partnership for a Healthier America & Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.

Not only does the D.C. area kindie scene host so much live music, but it’s also home to Sirius-XM Radio’s Kids Place Live channel, anchored by program director Mindy Thomas. When top kindie acts like Lucky Diaz & the Family Jam Band or The Not-Its come into town from the west coast, they’ll often include an in-studio performance and interview with Mindy right along with their live performance at an area venue.

One big reason why the D.C. kindie scene is on my mind is that I’m set to travel with my family from Montclair, NJ to Vienna, VA to perform at Jammin’ Java on May 16 with Uncle Devin sitting in on drums. We’ll also perform one of his songs as a featured part of our set. We’re renaming the band “The DC Jungle Gym Jam” for this particular show, which will also feature DC’s Wardell Howell on bass. My wife Amy will join us onstage performing on the cajon box drum and adding fun, interactive banter with the audience. My 4-year-old daughter Holly often plays a junior-sized cajon or ukulele and adds the authentic child’s interaction with the music to her natural stage presence. She’s quite the dancer, too!

I feel a little like this article is a kids’ music adaptation of the Foo Fighter’s Sonic Highways TV episode that focused on the D.C. area music scene. Like Dave Grohl, I too feel like music has the power to capture the essence of a time and place and to stamp that essence onto people who come across it, especially in the live setting. The first time my family traveled to Delaware to perform, I wrote about the excitement I felt over not only taking in a regional culture slightly different from my own in northern NJ (very close to New York City) but leaving a taste of my own culture with the area’s kids and families, building that bridge to a return visit and a deeper cultural exchange over time.

Since I want D.C. area-based families like yours to get familiar with my music, I’m offering a free three-pack of professionally-recorded songs from my existing and upcoming album. Just click here and download this folder of MP3 tracks to take with you and the kids wherever you go.

Musically yours,

“Jersey” Jason Jungle Gym Jam Music for Kids & Families who love to ROCK!