Member Jason Didner reports on his experiences shaping his onstage show.
Photo: Jason and Amy Didner
To Amy and me, playing good songs onstage for kids and families isn’t enough. So we set out to create an experience from which kids and their parents can make lasting memories. That experience is made up of all kinds of moments expressed in songs, images, dialogue and audience participation. Fun moments. Lightbulb moments. Moments to connect emotionally. Moments to turn all that pent-up energy loose. We want families to remember experiencing our shows together the same way they remember a great vacation.
After more than two years of developing our act, it looks like our vision is working. Andrea Kuhar Isom at Mommy Poppins Philadelphia writes, “Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam is a wonderful live music experience for families with young children. The energetic, interactive show came with puppet characters to help introduce the songs. Kids learned to ‘freeze dance’ while dancing to the very catchy song about guitar pick safety. (Don’t put the pick in your mouth!)” Read the rest of the review here.
Following the advice of pioneering live music producer Tom Jackson, Amy and I took special care to make each song look visually different when performed whether playing with the full band or as an acoustic duo. Tom explained in his book “The Live Music Method” that if all your songs look alike, they start to sound alike to an audience, even if they’re in different keys, tempos and styles. Grappling with this common problem among independent bands led us to invest in means of making the songs look different from one another. We hired puppetmaker Chris Palmieri to create visually appealing puppets to bring characters from various songs in our repertoire to life. One of the most striking characters is “Bruce the Jersey Dinosaur,” displaying some of the key characteristics of the dinosaur actually unearthed in New Jersey: the Hadrosaurus Foulkii. Of course, he also wears the type of red bandana that would fit right in on E Street, as well as a T-shirt that reads “NEW JERSEY: THE ATTITUDE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.”
Using a wireless headset microphone for certain songs in the set also helps me break free of the mic stand while I plays guitar and sing, so I can go out into the audience and interact more freely with the kids and families in the crowd, as well as with our bandmates. Amy and I don our colorful capes when singing “My Superpower” and encourage the kids in the audience to pretend they’re wearing capes of their own.
You don’t need a multi-million dollar laser show to make this happen. I’ve seen David and Jenny from Two of a Kind create special visual moments by putting on big Dr. Seuss-like hats for part of the show (remember – make songs look different from one another) and switch between standing and sitting.
Gustafer Yellowgold and Elska make brilliant use of projected video images (a portable projector you can hook up to your computer or smartphone can be as affordable as an amp or PA system) to enhance the experience of their songs and stories. The Pop Ups use a low-tech but no-less-striking means of creating visuals. They construct artful, vibrantly colorful set pieces and props that turn each song into a captivating production number. When they sing about making a collage, they’re actually making that collage in front of the audience’s eyes!
I had interviewed Tom Jackson for the Make Kindie Happen podcast where we discussed applying his principles for a compelling live show to the world of family music. Months after having conducted that interview, I can attest to our growing success as a team that’s out to delight and enrich kids and their grown-ups.
What are some ways you might enhance your live show to turn your songs into memorable moments and transform your concert into an experience?
About the Author:
Jason Didner is the leader of the Jungle Gym Jam children’s music band, a podcaster offering kids’ music career discussion and an active member of the children’s music community and an occasional contributor to the CMN blog.