He’s got a ‘Knack’ for it

November 12, 2013

Steve Rossi turned a free storytime for kids into a full-time entertainment career. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Name: Steve Rossi (aka “Mr. Knick Knack”), 52

Salary: $65,000

Position: Children’s entertainer (mrknickknack.com)

What He Does: Six to eight times a week, Mr. Knick Knack — with his Bric-A-Brac Band, John Eggers (aka “Johnny Golden”) on the electric guitar and “Dr. T” on the conga drum — plays acoustic guitar and sings songs geared toward kids younger than 6. He’s performed at more than 1,000 birthday parties and has regular stops at such hangouts as Tysons Corner Center and Market Common Clarendon.

Rossi mostly performs his own music, such as “My Mommy’s Coming,” inspired by a boy at a day care center who said those words to Rossi every week after the Mr. Knick Knack show was over. But you’ve also got to play standards, he says. “ ‘Wheels on the Bus’ is the only song that’s gonna outlive ‘Amazing Grace’ in eternity,” he says.

Even standards get a Knick Knack makeover, however. About 10 letters in, the kids start laughing and shouting when they figure out Rossi started “The ABCs” on the letter B. (We’ll pause while everyone on the Metro tries to sing this.)

How He Got the Job: Rossi bounced around in a number of careers, including a stint in the Army and directing activities at an assisted-living center. He also volunteered to be the children’s chaplain at his church.

In the late ’90s, Rossi took a job at a Borders bookstore in Tysons and watched a co-worker lead storytime for kids every Thursday morning.

When that co-worker left in 1998, storytime ended. Moms, dads and kids pleaded with management for it to come back, so Rossi offered to step in. He also came up with the idea to play songs on his guitar and sing. “I started this format, not ever thinking that this would be a career,” he says.

Storytime moved to Saturday mornings, and what began as a turnout of 10 or so on Thursdays grew into a “wall of people.” He started getting invitations to play birthday parties, shopping centers and festivals.

Who Would Want This Job: It’s more than a job to Rossi. It’s a passion and, perhaps, even a mission.

In each 45-minute set, Rossi says he wants to transport his audience to a simpler time and place to celebrate love and family and heart.

How You Can Get This Job: You need to have skills to entertain children — playing music, doing magic or face painting, for example.

Once you get your start somewhere — even performing for free as Rossi did with storytime at Borders — work can snowball. You can get tons of free advertising with social media when attendees mention you.

Rossi is looking into other revenue streams, such as T-shirts and CDs. In fact, his first album, “Rocket Ride to the Little House,” will be released in December.

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Tracy Krulik | November 12, 2013