5 Best Cities for Live Kids’ Music

September 28th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

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.

The Nots-Its! in Seattle

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.

The Pop Ups Band in New York City

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.

Los Angeles
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.

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Adventures by Disney in New York City

September 25th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

There was a true sense of city pride for my teen daughters and I when we traveled with 30 or so tourists as part of an Adventures By Disney four-day/three-night tour aptly named “New York Dreams.” While the group was made up of repeat and first-time adults and children (ages 7 to 17) from Idaho, Wisconsin, California, Florida and other parts of the country, we were the only three who got there by local commuter train. With our warm and welcoming Adventure Guides at the helm, we easily became one big family.

One World Trade Center

The itinerary offered the perfect amount of must-see sites and backstage access, as well as many meals and three nights in The Manhattan Club on 56th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. The hotel has suites with kitchenettes and continental breakfast.

9/11 Remembrance
Our first day of the tour included a must-see attraction that pulled at our native New Yorker and American hearts. An emotional afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial Museum was followed by a beautiful view from One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

Apollo Theater
A chance to learn a different part of the history of the city featured a walking tour through Harlem and included a stop at the famous Apollo Theater. Anyone in the group was invited to take the stage, and both my girls belted it out on the same spots where legendary singers such as as Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin entertained many.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
A different kind of cultural odyssey took us downtown to an after-hours group experience that literally came to life at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. We met actors portraying three immigrant women — one Irish, one Jewish and one Italian — spanning the time period of 1868 to 1935, in their tenement homes. A presentation followed, telling the real-life journeys of these women and their children and grandchildren following their time living on the Lower East Side. As a grandchild and great-grandchildren of immigrants that came to New York City in that time period, we were fascinated by a glimpse of what their life must have been like.

The night ended with the tour being divided into smaller groups for a chance to sample international foods from neighborhood restaurants. We listened to the stories of the restaurant owners through video and our knowledgeable guide, Ruth (who happened to hail from our own neighborhood.) After all, New York City is still a city of immigrants.

My older daughter said the museum made her “especially proud to be a New Yorker,” but at the end of the four days and after even more exciting experiences I would say the adventure left the three of us not only more appreciative of our city, but just a little bit more knowledgeable about the amazing place we live and the many surprises it has to offer.

—Stacey Zable

Stacey Zable is an award-winning veteran travel writer. She specializes in family travel, spas, cruises and luxury travel. Visit her site at www.StaceyZable.com.

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Cruise Themed Hotels for Families

September 23rd, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

If you can’t take a cruise, these nautical hotels are the next best thing. Heck, even if you can take a cruise, these properties — some of which actually resemble ships — are worth a visit with kids.

Fulton Steamboat Inn

Fulton Steamboat Inn
The Fulton Steamboat Inn, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, resembles a steamboat both inside and out, and is even situated on a lake. Guests — referred to as “passengers” — stay in nautical- or Victorian-themed rooms, located on three “decks”: Promenade Deck, Observation Deck and Sun Deck. Children (“Junior First Mates”) receive sailor hats upon arrival, and enjoy free ice cream at the onsite restaurant, Huckleberry’s.

The Maritime Hotel

The Maritime Hotel
Guestrooms at The Maritime Hotel in New York City make guests feel as though they’re on a cruise ship, with circular windows that look exactly like portholes. Guestrooms also feature free Wi-Fi, and there’s an onsite restaurant by Mario Batali.

Argonaut Hotel

Argonaut Hotel
Located in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, Argonaut Hotel fittingly features a nautical theme — particularly in guestrooms and suites, which feature porthole mirrors. The hotel, formerly owned by Kimpton, is also located in the same building as the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park Visitor’s Center and Museum.

B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale

B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale
Formerly the Yankee Clipper, this beachfront hotel looks like a ship on land. It became B Ocean Resort Fort Lauderdale in 2014, and is undergoing extensive enhancements. Just like cruise ship cabins, many guestrooms and suites feature views of the ocean (plus in-room snack trays and free Wi-Fi).

–Amanda Geronikos

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Visiting London With Teens

September 21st, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

London may very well be the most interesting city on the planet, with no shortage of amazing things to see and do. Try telling that to some teenagers, however, and you might get an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. It goes with the territory when traveling with teens.

Last summer, I traveled with seven of them on a Boy Scout high adventure, setting off for the north of England to walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path. The first stop before the big hike was the capital city of London. My challenge was to keep these boys, ranging in age from 14 to 17, interested and engaged for three days as we explored the history, architecture, and culture of London. It wasn’t easy, but I came up with a plan that kept the teenagers from being bored. The key is to go easy on the museums, and to schedule a hands-on activity each day. There’s only so much looking and listening that teens can do. It’s most important to have them doing something.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Hyde Park
On our first day, after a long 11-hour flight, we staved off jet lag by going for a leisurely stroll through Hyde Park, visiting the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and walking among the trees and statues. The goal was to keep the boys from napping, and just get them through to evening when they could begin to switch over their body clocks with a good night’s sleep.

Tower of London
Our first full day of activities started off with the Tower of London. I dare anyone, young or old, to be bored here. The layers of history, going back 1,000 years to William the Conqueror, ensure something to match anyone’s interest. Teens, of course, will go straight for the display on medieval torture devices. But they might also get excited about the stunning gallery of weapons and armor in the White Tower. They’ll certainly want to gawk at the Crown Jewels. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, are the ceremonial guards of the Tower, and they deliver humorous guided tours sure to entertain your teen. It’s a great place to get kids interested in history.

HMS Belfast
We walked from the Tower, across Tower Bridge, and to the HMS Belfast, a World War II era light cruiser that is now a stunning museum ship that shows what life was like at war and on the sea. The boys ran wild, so to speak, all over the ship, from the depths of the engine room to the captain’s chair high on the bridge. Almost everything is hands-on, and the history can’t help but soak in while your teens are having fun.

London RIB Voyages
Normally, I would suggest limiting yourself to two big activities per day, but I knew I had to schedule one more to shake off the last of the jet lag. We walked further along the South Bank to the towering London Eye, but not to ride the London Eye. Instead, we boarded a 12-person jet boat at London Rib Voyages and rocketed down the Thames for an exhilarating tour of the river from the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf, complete with rock music and a hilarious tour guide. The boys still talk about their ride on a Thames Rocket, as it was definitely the highlight of their time in London.

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our second full day in the city began with a brief tour of London’s most famous building, St. Paul’s Cathedral. I say “brief” because teens are not going to appreciate the majestic architecture of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. What they will like, however, is the 528-step climb to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome. Ascending to the top of St. Paul’s is something you can’t leave London without experiencing. It was not just a great workout for the boys, but they actually stopped to appreciate the amazing views from the top. The rest of the cathedral is certainly astounding, but the boys were all about the climb that day.

That afternoon, I scheduled another “active” outing, with a visit to HintHunt, a real-life escape game that has been all the rage in Europe the past few years. For one full hour, the boys worked together as a team to find and solve clues to help them get out of the locked room. It was great fun, and a nice break from looking at history.

London Walks
After the thrill of the game, we met up with a tour guide from London Walks, the foremost walking tour company in London. I had thought long and hard about whether to take my group of teens on one of these walks, and I finally decided it was better to try than not. I wisely selected their “Ghosts of the Old City” tour, which involved side trips down hidden alleys near St. Paul’s, and many spooky stories of murder, witchcraft, and the Black Plague.

British Museum
Our third full day started once again with a bit of history, but what history it is. The British Museum houses a huge collection of artifacts from around the world. Almost every major civilization is represented here, from Babylon to Rome to Easter Island. Even the most jaded teen will find something to “wow” about, whether it’s the Rosetta Stone or a mummified cat from Ancient Egypt. We spent two hours roaming the halls, after which the boys had been sufficiently impressed, but were ready to go. This was the only truly formal museum we entered, and I would suggest it’s the only one you really need to get your teens interested in world history.

The only other must-see site in London (for teens) is Westminster Abbey, the traditional site of royal coronations and burials for nearly 1,000 years. Tell your teens to look up briefly to admire the Gothic architecture, but then let them look down the rest of the time to see the names on the graves they’re walking on. Famous people from Isaac Newton to Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens are buried in Westminster Abbey. While the sights within the Abbey are as eclectic a collection as you can imagine, this is the one place where we spent the least amount of time. The boys made the circuit around the inside of the Abbey, and then were ready to leave, having seen enough. If you have to cut one activity on your list of things to do with teens in London, this might be it.

Later that night, on the eve of our train ride north to the Hadrian’s Wall Path, we took in one last classic London activity, a night at the theater. We saw The 39 Steps, a humorous homage to Hitchcock murder mysteries, but any show will be a thrill to your teens. There’s nothing like the live theater, and London’s West End is as good as it gets.

Keeping teens entertained while surrounded by the deep and inescapable history of London is not difficult if you follow my plan. Easy on the museums, shorten your time in the churches and cathedrals, plan a hands-on activity every day, and try to make things relevant to something your kids might already know, like a book or movie set in London (re: Harry Potter). Mix in a few memorable restaurants and pubs, and you’ll find a trip to London with teens can be a real joy.

— Phil Corless

Phil Corless is an at-home dad of two living in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2004, he has been writing about fatherhood and family at the Idaho Dad blog. He believes the best way for kids to learn about the world is to travel through it.

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