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 this 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.