Hundreds of tie-dye garbed, jam band-loving fans will be lining up at the Ardmore Music Hall this weekend for two special Father's Day, matinee-edition Grateful Dead tribute shows.
Notable talents from the local music scene — like Mark Brownstein of Disco Biscuits and Mike Greenfield of Lotus — will be on stage, playing in the band.
But for a change, the "merch" stand will be doing its biggest biz in infant onesies and tyke-sized Dead T-shirts, as half the audience will fit that single-digit age demographic. At the bar, lemonade and juice boxes (not-spiked) will be the favored drink orders, although alcoholic beverages will also be on sale, with chicken nuggets the preferred snack to nab.
And those music makers will be serving only the shiniest, happiest of tunes from the Grateful Dead catalog, toned down a bit in volume and dynamics to protect those sensitive little ears. Think ditties that inspire warmup dancing ("Shakedown Street"), audience clap-alongs ("Not Fade Away"), and streamer waving ("Bird Song") — all helpful for gross motor-skill development.
Such are the pleasures of the Rock and Roll Playhouse, a music appreciation series for extra-young rockers — newborns to preteens, plus doting parental units — that introduces kids to classic rock, mostly one per show, from Prince to Tom Petty (who will be the subject of the July 15 show) to Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel to Michael Jackson.
All that memorable music has already passed the test of time "and is likely to survive lots longer than most pop hits of today," believes Peter Shapiro, the RRPH mastermind and New York- based concert promoter who came to this brainstorm naturally — having small children of his own.
"My kids had school auditorium, community arts center, and library shows to enjoy good original children's music, like Laurie Berkner. And places to see School of Rock students play classics, not often so well. What they were missing out on was the opportunity to hear live concerts with undeniably great music and seasoned players in a relatively intimate setting where it really sounds and looks the best — a grownup rock club," he says.
This family rock concerts concept was first tested by Shapiro and early child educator Amy Striem at Shapiro's Port Chester, N.Y., nightclub Garcia's, which is attached to the Capitol Theater. This first show, in December 2014, featured Shapiro's buddy Phil Lesh, bassist of the Grateful Dead. Following shows were tested at Shapiro's Brooklyn Bowl. (Shapiro hosted the Grateful Dead often at the Capitol and produced the historic 50th anniversary "Fare Thee Well" concerts. He also earned his chops running the downtown NYC jam-band club Wetlands.)
This past January, the Playhouse theme expanded to the Ardmore venue and proved "a perfect match to our nightly programming … and the young family demographics on the Main Line, selling out every show," enthused Ardmore Music Hall co-owner and talent buyer Chris Perella. And with that "has legs, can travel" affirmation, the concept is now expanding nationwide. Come Sunday, similar Father's Day with the Dead music parties will actually be play-housed in 10 venues in nine towns, stretching from Boston to Boulder to Berkeley.
"We do insist that [venues] limit the attendance to less than full capacity," says event planner/partner Striem. Ardmore Music Hall allows in 400-max with the balcony open. "We want the kids to feel free to move about. A 4- or 5-year-old needs more room to dance under a giant parachute or wiggle under a limbo stick" — both RRPH staples — "than a 45-year-old guy needs to nod his head, shake his hips, and chug a beer."
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Other recent Playhouse sessions at our Lancaster Avenue club have spotlighted the music of Bob Marley, David Bowie, Phish (they'll be the subjects once more on Aug. 5, a few days before they play Camden's BB&T Pavilion) and multi-celebrations of the Beatles — the latter most recently for a Mother's Day party.
In attendance were the long-hauling (from the Shore town of Galloway, N.J.) Longinetti clan — dad John, 37 (an assistant high school principal); mom Shannon, 34 (a preschool teacher) and their three Beatles-loving kids, 7-year-old Nolan (favorite song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"); 5-year-old daughter Irelyn (name-dropping "Strawberry Fields Forever") and their just turning one that day brother named Lennon. All garbed in Fab Four T-shirts, of course.
"It was definitely worth the trip," said John, and not just because the band and audience sang "Happy Birthday" to Lennon – a name that's "getting to be pretty popular for kids," dad mused. "My mom introduced me to the Beatles, my wife and I bonded over music, and now we're doing the same thing with the kids."
This was the Longinetti clan's first time at the Ardmore Music Hall, "and it felt great for the entire family," said John. "The bar was open but they were also selling fruit snacks. I felt the musicians really did a good job gearing the music to the audience. And going to a rock club has a different feel. You have that proximity to the stage and the musicians. We wound up standing right next to them, were able to interact. That was special."
That show also brought out the likes of Center City-based writer Laura Swartz, 34, and her Ringo-doll clutching 4-year-old Maya, "who's already playing drums and obsessed with the Yellow Submarine movie," mom said.
Swartz seconded the Longinetti's emotions. "Kids and parents alike seemed engaged the whole time and sharing an experience as opposed to so many kids' events where parents are just standing around while their kids are having all the fun. The bar didn't hurt either. The games were nice, and I know that's a fixture of all the RRPH concerts, but they honestly weren't even necessary because the kids were already having a great time just singing along and dancing. I thought the choice of songs was nice, too, and they put in some lesser-known songs specifically because of their appeal to kids. 'All Together Now,' for example, isn't really a Beatles hit, but is a perfect preschool song."
Doesn't hurt that RRPH's musical director Adam Roberts culls the local/regional talent pools for musicians with an affinity to both children's and grownup music. Guys like Michael Messer (of Dirty Sock Funtime Band fame), who was leading the Beatles band here. "Music is the binding force between us all," Messer ruminated after the gig. "And it's amazing to watch parents sharing the music they love so much with their kids. It's like a dream, so incredible. Playing this classic music is also great for us musicians who're also doing original music projects. To see how these gems still move people, get people to react is very instructive. That informs whatever you're writing, too."
Grateful Dead for Kids!
11 a.m. (sold out); 2 p.m. Sunday, Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore. $15 (free for children under 1), 610-649-8389, ardmoremusichall.com