Not Ready for Naptime

Tomorrow, the Chicago Tribune is hosting the Printers Row Lit Fest.[fn1] If you like books, there are all sorts of cool things to do. What am I going to do at the festival? Two words: Justin Roberts. In my opinion, he’s the best kids’ musician out there.[fn2] This will be the third Justin Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players concert that my family has seen. Plus, we’ve been to WBEZ’s So Many Ways to Tell a Story twice, and he wrote songs with the kids at both of them.

But wait, you say, this is a Mormon blog. Is Justin Roberts somehow Mormon? No.[fn3] But lots (though not all) of us have kids, and our kids should listen to music, and there is a lot of really cool kids’ music out there these days.

I know, if you grew up when I did, you’re mostly aware of the backlash against Barney’s repetitive and simplistic songs, or the over-synthesized Wee Sing Silly Songs, or other cloying and annoying music. Or maybe you’re of the school of thought (which I’ve heard a number of times) that asks, Why not just play the Beatles?

To which I answer, sure, play the Beatles. My kids hear Miles Davis and the Beatles and Beethoven and Bruce Springsteen and the Beach Boys. They think Regina Specktor’s “Fidelity” video is the funniest thing in the world.

But adult musicians are rarely silly (“Yellow Bus” is an extended joke), rarely poignant, at least on a child’s level (“Sandcastles” is about mom’s death, and it’s hard to listen without tears), rarely about a world children recognize (I remember riding in the car with my parents as a kid, wondering why every song was about love).

And you can take your kids to see these musicians live. The show is for them (but it doesn’t exclude you).

Yeah, there’s still a lot of horrible kids’ music out there. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s worth listening to, even if the kids aren’t around. And there’s always more to find. I’ve suggested Justin Roberts and Dan Zanes (and I’d add Elizabeth Mitchell to that list). What do you listen to with your kids?

Oh, and this is the song that turned our family on to Justin Roberts. Try to watch and not smile.

[fn1] Sadly, it’s also the Chicago Blues Festival thisĀ  weekend. Why, Chicago planners (if you exist), do you pack so much cool stuff into one weekend?

[fn2] If you wanted to argue Dan Zanes instead, I’d have trouble countering; still, he and Roberts are different enough that it’s probably not worth ranking a number 1 and a number 2.

[fn3] He did, apparently, do graduate work at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School; although most of his music is secular, he’s released, under the name Why Not Sea Monsters, two albums, inspired by the Old and New Testaments, which are some of the best treatments of scripture in pop songs that I’m aware of.

10 comments for “Not Ready for Naptime

  1. I actually like Barney songs. Not for the music and lyrics, but for my child’s reaction to watching them on netflix.

    If we’re in the car it’s 99.9 The Rock all day everyday.

  2. Barenaked Ladies’ Snacktime came out 2 years ago. Hilarious! Adult Troll name, but their way with words is a perfect match for kids songs. A few of my favorite tracks on the album:

    The Ninjas
    Crazy ABCs (every word has a non-phonetic first letter)
    Pollywog in a Bog
    I can Sing
    Bad Day
    Vegetable Town
    My Big Sister (bemoaning non gender-neutral hand-me-downs).

    Every track on the album is great fun and great music.

  3. Julie, I haven’t, but I’ll definitely take a listen.

    Jonathan, I do love Dog Train; I’m less a fan of (the recording of) Philadelphia Chickens, which, IIRC, is more of a synthesizer and a singer. But Dog Train (and all of her books) are awesome.

    Cameron, my girls love 789; I’m not sure how much time they’ve spent listening to the rest of BNL’s Snacktime, but that’s certainly a great choice,

    Newly, I have to admit to never having seen an episode of Barney (and we’re without Netflix again). But I also have to admit that I don’t feel much loss at it.

  4. I cna’t remember the artist, but on the Many Hands CD for Haiti relief, there’s a BUNCH of awesome songs, of which my kid’s fave is “the Princess who Saved Herself,” which always induces dancing around here. My kids are also TOTALLY into Tom Chapin’s music, which my sisters and I loved as kids also… and the littler ones in our family love the new They Might Be Giant’s albums for kids…. An alphabet one, a science on, etc. all brilliant. but mostly, in order to get to know new AWESOME kid’s artist, we use a podcast called “Spare The Rock, Spoil The Child,” which is clean, fun, and has AMAZING artists, and none of them are either Barneyed or Disneified in any way. Instead, TRUE creativity, great music, often from artists I loved in college who are not making children’s albums for their own kids. GREAT stuff, and great DJ’ing from Bill and Ella and Liam, the last of whom are Bill’s kids who get to choose THEIR favorite new music. GREAT free podcast.

  5. (PS, half the above I recognize from the podcast, as I went back to read through them all, esp barenaked ladie’s Snacktime, and Recess Monkey, et al.)

  6. Heather B, I used to listen to Spare the Rock every week in my commute. It’s great to hear they’re still doing it. That was my introduction to Justin Roberts, ScribbleMonster, and all sorts of other cool kindie rock (as it’s been branded).

  7. Check out Eric Herman and the Invisible Band, who does happen to be LDS, with YouTube videos combined for over 30 million views. I love the Elephant Song, but he’s got dozens of fun songs.

  8. I didn’t realize he was LDS; we haven’t watched the Elephant Song in a while, but it was in regular rotation in our YouTube for a while. Any other LDS kids’ musicians?

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