Festival family song and dance from former rocker Dan Zanes
PUBLISHED: 16:24 20 April 2012
In the 1980s Dan Zanes was in indie-rockers the Del Fuegos. Now his music is aimed at families. Coming to perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, SIMON PARKIN reports.
Indie rock fans of a certain age may recognise Dan Zanes as the former singer of the Del Fuegos, who enjoyed moderate success in the 1980s.
What they may not know however is that the spikey-haired Brooklyn resident now has a whole new audience for his music — many of whom are under 10.
Dan has answered the age-old question of what one-time rockers should do after their musical youth has reached their forties with kids, by reinventing himself as a family entertainer. And he has arguably been more successful in this than he ever was as a rocker. In America he has become a household name for many families with children. His music group, Dan Zanes and Friends, uses an array of folksy instruments, including an accordion, mandolin, guitar, and others, to get people in the mood to dance and sing along with the catchy, kid-friendly tunes.
Their album Catch That Train! won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children and they’ve gone on to pack prestigious venues like New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Now they’re bringing their exuberant all-singing, all-dancing musical jamboree to Norwich Theatre Royal as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
So what can families expect from the show? “It tends to be more of a party than a show,” Dan corrects me. “We never expect people to sit quietly in their seats; the more people sing along and dance the better it is for everybody. The more it can be like a small Grateful Dead show the better.”
The famously stoned rockers Grateful Dead, surely more family oriented? “Yeah — well, it’s for all ages. It’s not a children’s show, but it is an all ages show. We never leave the children behind, but we don’t leave older people behind neither.”
It’s quite a change from the Del Fuegos, has he always been interested in music that appealed across the age spectrum?
“I never even thought about it,” he ponders. “When I was playing rock‘n’roll I didn’t care about anything that involved kids, not at all. But when my daughter was born that all changed.
“I started thinking about music that I grew up with of which the main person that I loved was Leadbelly. He is still my main man and we’re sort of trying to take what he did into the 21st century. He had a mix of old songs and new songs from variety of traditions. He wanted people to get up and dance and sing along. We’re trying to work with that template.”
Writing music that will appeal to kids as well as adults surely cannot be an easy task? “I don’t really think about any differently just because young people are listening to it. These are the musicians I would want to be playing with.
“You know when I was in a rock‘n’roll band it was four white guys and culturally that’s a limiting experience. This band is interesting for me because everybody brings something different to the party.”
The band includes bassist and vocalist Saskia Lane, drummer Colin Brooks, accordion player John Foti, guitarist and vocalist Sonia de los Santos, violinist Elena Moon Park and vocalist Rankin Don.
“It’s a mix of men and women and it’s a multi-racial band. It’s very unusual in the US to have a group like this, you know. We have a woman from Mexico, so we do some singing in Spanish. The band kind of looks like what America is and that’s important to me because I young people to be able to look up on stage and see themselves, and know that this is something that they can do too.
“The thing that I think is most important is that when young people walk away they want to make their own music. My band are very good collection of messengers for that idea.”
As you’d expect with lots of children involved, audience participation plays a big role in their shows.
“Yeah, it’s the old fashioned way,” says Dan. “That’s what people used to do when there was music around. I think the idea of sitting quietly and listening to other people play music is kind of a weird thing. I think music is meant to be a social experience and that’s what we’re trying to preserve.
“My roots on both sides of my family are English and it’s interesting that so much English music is so social. The traditions of song and dance in England are very inspiring for me.”
Now middle aged fans of the Del Fuegos are apparently still happy to see Dan in his new guise. “Especially if they have kids, they’re pretty happy to see me coming along. I get that a lot, people saying ‘oh, I used to come hear you when I was 22, now I’m 45 and with my kids’. It’s perhaps kind of a weird thing for them, but you know for me the audience hasn’t changed that much. We haven’t lost too many grown-ups and we’ve stirred a lot of young people into the mix.”
Should we expect to see a lot of dad’s dancing? “Kids are very good dancers and they don’t care if they look good or if they’re singing in tune or not, they just want to be a part of things so it’s helpful that they can set to tone.
“Del Fuegos always fans needed a lot of alcohol to get them to throw themselves into things, but with this we can have crazy dance parties before lunchtime. Now that’s rock‘n’roll!”
■ Dan Zane and Friends will be performing at Norwich Theatre Royal as part of Norfolk & Norwich Festival on may 13 at 2pm and 5pm, £14-£5.50, family tickets £42-£24, 01603 766400, www.nnfestival.org.uk
■ Their latest album, Little Nut Tree, is out now.
MORE FESTIVAL FAMILY SHOWS
For Younger Kids
Kid Carpet and The Noisy Animals
Speilgeltent, Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, May 12, 11am, £6, £18 family, 01603 766400
Oliver Postgate meets The Beastie Boys in this sweet and kicking rock‘n’roll adventure which contains a unique mix of live music, theatre, comedy and animation. Suitable ages 3-8.
Kindur: The Adventures of Icelandic Sheep
Epic, Magdalen Street, May 23-26, 12.30pm/6pm,
£6, £18 family, 01603 766400
This interactive ecological fairytale adventure uses digital technology to take the audience on a voyage of discovery following the adventures of three sheep. Children can get involved to meet myths of Iceland such as trolls and elves. Suitable ages 5+
The Bo Nanafana Family Social
Speilgeltent, Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, May 19, 12pm-4pm, £8, £6 children, 01603 766400
The adult Bo Nanafana cabaret night is a huge success now here is the junior version. Ad-hoc musical comedy from Abandoman, kids versus adults beatboxing, disco and dance-off with Bo Nanafana DJs. Suitable ages 5–12.
For Older Kids
The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey
Norwich Playhouse, May 18-20, 8pm (May 19 3pm and 8pm), £8, under-25s £5 under-25s £5, 01603 598598
Homer’s cornerstone of literature is vividly told with cinematic projection and a suitcase full of cut-out paper puppets. A silent film will be created before your eyes with a live score.
Norwich Playhouse, May 22-23, 7.30pm, £12, under-25s £5, 01603 598598
Aimed at families performer Tim Crouch looks at Twelfth Night through the eyes of literature’s most pent-up steward. In this tale, Malvolio draws his audience into themad gaze of Twelfth Night’s plot.