Every mom in playgroup has heard me get the giggles each time I retell my story of seeing Ralph Covert lift his shirt at a live show during a song about tummies. Once I caught sight of those rock 'n' roll abs, I transformed in a heartbeat from clap-along mommy-fan to gooey groupie-wannabe.
But this post is about another show, another rocker-turned-kid's-music-star and his very different but even more appealing vibe - Dan Zanes, formerly of Del Fuegos. Not that Dan is unworthy of a little crush. But the always smiling thin man with the crazy hair (he washes it with baking soda!) and electric guitar comes across on stage (and on the airwaves) as so earnest and kind, his innocent appeal is contagious.
Dan Zanes and Friends rocked the Harris Theater in Millennium Park on Sunday afternoon. He opened the show by inviting the whole audience to come down front and a toddler mosh pit instantly materialized, full of bouncing little heads and circles of dancers holding hands.
"We did go to church!" I said to Randy while Dan and company sweetly crooned the South African hymn "Siyahamba." "We are marching in the light of God." And there was a respectful holiness to the gathering. Here is a children's performer who makes no ironic asides, no winks at the grown-ups. "This is my immigration song," says Dan. "We should be doing more celebrating of all the cultures who come to America, don't you think?" Big cheers.
My girls were shy, more content to sit on Daddy's lap than dance while Mommy jumped around to our old favorites, "All Around the Kitchen," "Dance Party Time." But who can resist "Catch That Train"? At Dan's insistence, the audience turned into long snaky lines of children and parents with their hands on each other's shoulders bopping round and round the auditorium.
Like Bruce Springsteen's recent Seeger Sessions, Zanes brings a freshness and sense of discovery to roots music and old favorites. Always smiling drummer Colin Brooks, sweet-voiced Sonia de Los Santos on guitar, charismatic John Foti on accordion and penny whistle, local Elena Park on violin provided backup and fun.
By the end of the show, the stage was a wall of joyous sound, with Dan's thrift shop styled band; a guest, Yuri Lane, pulled away from his infant son in the audience to do some cool beat boxing (how DOES he do that?); Derick Grant and his bring-on-da-funk style tap dancing; a flamenco dancer and the local Sones de Mexico Ensemble all wailing away. A beat-boxer and a box-beater - one of the ensemble beat percussion on a wooden box with his hands - the rhythm was infectious.
During the last number, the entire crew marched off the stage, still singing "Sweet Rosyanne," up into the audience, climbing up the steep aisles, playing and dancing all the while, Dan in front like a Pied Piper leading no one to harm and taking us all to the land of togetherness and harmony.
Here's another take from Jordan at The Wonderwheel about Dan's second show that day.
(I didn't take this shot, Nabeel H did; and it's not at the March 16 Chicago concert, it's from a New York show last year, but it's got the feel of the show and you get the picture.)