You may not know it, but we’re alive in the Golden Age of Family Music. However, aside from Sirius XM Kids Place Live and the occasional blurb in People Magazine or USA Today, hardly anyone is paying attention. That’s a shame because there’s never been a better time to be a music-loving family.
All over the U.S., there are passionate, talented musicians putting a fresh spin on music for children and their adults. The songs are great both musically and lyrically, and have something to say about topics far more interesting than morality tales or teeth brushing reminders. Modern kids’ music respects the complexity of childhood and doesn’t pander to its youthful audience. Before I discovered the current Golden Age of Family Music, I was under the impression that music for kids was banal instructional tunes, retread folk songs, or the abomination that is TV cartoon music. But I was wrong. My family has rocked out to hundreds of records and at dozens of concerts across the country. So put down the phone and put on your dancing shoes because this is music your entire family will love.
Not only is it gorgeous in Seattle, but the Pacific Northwest is also home to some of the best bands in the world: Recess Monkey, The Not-Its!, Caspar Babypants (Chris from The Presidents of the United States of America), and Johnny Bregar.
Where to See It
During the school year, head to Teatro ZinZanni for a big top rock series blending family music with circus spectacular. Recess Monkey is opening a 13-show run there this fall. Also, the Mount Baker Club has the Kindiependent Kids Rock Series, Saturday morning shows from December to April, and Town Hall Seattle hosts local and national acts in their Saturday concert series. Finally, the Seattle Symphony frequently collaborates with kiddie artists to create unique, kid-driven blends of symphonic and pop music.
In the summertime, there are at least a dozen well-curated weekly family concert series all around Seattle (Magnuson Park, Kirkland, Everett, Tukwila, Hiawatha, Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, and more), the NW Folklife Festival on Memorial Day weekend in the shadow of the Space Needle, and the Kindiependent Family Music Festival.
The family music scene in the Rose City is as fantastical as the city itself, with the foot-stomping folk of Red Yarn, the incomparable singer-songwriter Mo Phillips, the Flaming Lips-inspired Pointed Man Band and piano mastery of Lori Henriques.
Where to See It
The Village Ballroom is a family co-op and a non-profit pub, which hosts a weekly Mo Phillips concert downstairs, as well as gigs by other locals, plus big shows once a month on Sunday afternoons. Last year, my family saw Red Yarn bring down the house at Mississippi Pizza Pub, a quaint, but lively joint which has live kids music four nights a week. There are also a host of cafes and community spaces in Portland with weekday morning family concerts — Warehouse Cafe, Cafe au Play, Treehouse Boutique, and Poa Café, to name just a few.
In the summertime, Aaron Nigel Smith’s Rox in Sox festival and “Kidathon,” this year’s kids stage at the awesome indie roots festival Pickathon, are new staples of the burgeoning modern family music scene in Portland.
New York City
Some of our favorite NYC bands include two-time Grammy nominated The Pop Ups and Brady Rymer at the Little Band That Could, Shine and the Moonbeams, The Dirty Sock Funtime Band, Moona Luna, Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke and Dan Zanes. We could go on…
Where to See It
New York City has both the quality and the quantity to please families of all ages and musical tastes. In the summer, there’s a massive kids’ concert calendar in parks across all five boroughs, with free performances nearly every weekday from June through August. During the chillier months, the action moves to indoor stages like Symphony Space, the famous Upper West Side venue that reliably features the best kids concert season lineup in the country. Also check the event schedules at New York City libraries, the Jewish Museum, and Jalopy in Brooklyn, for frequent if not regularly scheduled family concerts.
L.A. is wildly diverse and appropriately, the kids’ music scene there reflects that. From the psychedelic neo-soul of Mista Cookie Jar to the sunny (and sometimes bi-lingual) pop of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, and from the bedroom fuzz rock of Todd McHatton to French Quarter vibe of Jazzy Ash, there’s a wide array of “kindie” talent in the City of Angels.
Where to See It
The Getty Museum’s summer program brings in the finest national acts in one of the most pristine settings imaginable. The Wake Up With The Waves series at the Santa Monica Pier and The Theatricum Botanicum stage in Topanga Canyon also deliver top acts in gorgeous surroundings. The legendary Santa Monica guitar shop McCabe’s has been booking children’s music series’ for over 40 years!
And many Los Angeles farmers markets will sporadically have local acts performing while you shop for fresh produce.
Highlighted by Grammy nominated folkster Alastair Moock, the rambunctious dance-rock of Josh and the Jamtones, bi-lingual singer-songwriter Mister G, the pop-rock of Karen K and Stacey Peasley and the Cat Stevens charm of Keith Wasserman aka Mr. Whirly, Boston deliver the goods to music-loving families.
Where to See It
The Center for the Arts in Natick is an old firehouse bringing in some of the country’s best bands. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, a landmark and one of the country’s only independently operated movie houses, as well as The Regent Theater, another converted movie house, host a mix of national and local kindie concerts. The former haunt of Dylan and Seeger, Club Passim has a brunchtime kids series that Alastair Moock calls home. One of the top jazz venues in the country — where every famous jazz musician has played — the Regatta Bar in Harvard Square has a kids’ summer concert series, too. The city also offers a Kids Really Rock Festival annually.
— Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.