Saturday's Child

With Jamarama, 9:30 Club Truly Is All Ages

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 18, 2005

THE 9:30 CLUB'S black T-shirts proudly proclaim "All Ages, All the Time," but it's likely nobody ever expected that phrase to apply to the 2- to 6-year-olds who will crowd into the club (with their parents) for Sunday's Jamarama Live!, a new Lollapalooza-style touring music festival for the pre-K crowd.

It's motto: "If you're old enough to walk, you're old enough to rock!"

On Sunday, 9:30 will introduce new onesies and kid-size versions of its T-shirts at what will be the internationally renowned rock club's first kids' concert.

And the bar will be serving . . . juice boxes! Also a first.

For Sunday's show, doors will open at noon; kids younger than 2 are free. Sponsored by Noggin, Nickleodeon's commercial-free preschool educational network, Jamarama Live! will wrap up its inaugural, five-city tour at the club; four out of five dates (including Sunday's) were quick sellouts, and a new wave of spring dates will be announced next month.

The show will feature live performances by the Laurie Berkner Band, Baltimore's Milkshake and the yoga-inspired Ohmies, along with interactive attractions. Some activities would be right at home at a Vans Warped show (a face/hair painting and temporary tattoo booth, karaoke kiosks), while others are more demo-defined: the Crayola coloring wall, a storytelling area focused on Dick Bruna's popular "Miffy" books. There will also be space for My Gym, a national chain of children's fitness centers (think Gold's Gym for kids 3 months to 9 years old).

Noggin videos will be featured on screens, and festival-goers can meet and have their pictures taken with such oversize costumed characters as bunny Miffy; Noggin's resident mascot Moose A. Moose and his sidekick, Zee; and Jack, the puppet from "Jack's Big Music Show," the Noggin music series that launched in September. We suspect that a lot of kids will also want to be photographed with Josh, the 9:30's burly, awesomely pierced crew chief/adult babysitter.

If the traveling rock festival approach sounds familiar, it should. Jamarama Live! comes from music management-live entertainment company Highland LLC and Creative Artists Agency, which created and produced the Vans Warped Tour (now the longest-running rock festival) and Ozzfest.

Dana DuFine, a partner in Highland LLC, manages the band Velvet Revolver and is close friends with singer Scott Weiland's wife. "We both have young children," says DuFine, explaining that "the idea [for Jamarama Live!] came from watching our kids watch music videos on Noggin, and it steamrolled from there. The irony is when we were in high school and college, my friends and I were watching videos on MTV, and all of a sudden I was watching my 2 1/2 -year-old watching videos on TV."

As it happens, DuFine started her career at MTV and still had friends there, and they put her in touch with Nickelodeon, which, like MTV, is owned by Viacom. Noggin, which airs daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., already aired kids' music videos and was getting ready to introduce "Jack's Big Music Show," so it made sense to put together a tour featuring some of Noggin's most popular acts, including Laurie Berkner and Milkshake.

Berkner, often described as "the Ani DiFranco of kids' music," played in rock bands (including Lois Lane, an all-female cover band) while working as a preschool music teacher in the mid-'90s. Having grown tired of the standard repertoire used in her day job, she started writing original songs for her little charges. According to Berkner, "I'd been trying to do this with rock music and it wasn't really happening, but I couldn't seem to stop what happened with the kids' music. Once I recorded [the songs] for their parents, people became interested. People kept asking for albums for their friends or to give out at parties, so why not follow that direction?"

Berkner was the first musician Noggin contacted about doing music videos to air between its programs. Thanks to videos for activity-inducing songs such as "We Are the Dinosaurs," "Pig on Her Head" and "Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz)," the results were very MTV-like, with huge increases in both album and ticket sales. (Berkner's four albums have sold more than 300,000 copies.)

Expect to hear such hits when Berkner performs with her band, which includes husband-bassist Brian Mueller and keyboardist Susie Lampert. Milkshake, the duo featuring vocalist Lisa Mathews and guitarist Mikel Gehl, already had a strong regional following before they became parents and kids' music stars (first as '80s new wavers Beyond Words, later as pop-rockers Love Riot). The Ohmies is an interactive theater group that encourages kids to center their minds and strengthen their bodies through yoga, with characters representing different basic yoga poses and an Ohmies Bug Band with a world music beat children can move to.

According to DuFine, "The Jamarama environment allows kids, instead of just sitting and watching, to interact and be able to be really active with the experience, whether they're dancing or singing, or doing a karaoke kiosk machine or coloring in the coloring wall area. . . . By the time they're done, trust me, they're ready for a nap."

One of the most interested parties Sunday will be Donna Westmoreland, director of operations and marketing for the 9:30. Westmoreland, who worked on the inaugural Lollapalooza back in 1991, jokes, "I was the demo then and I am the demo now -- I have a 4-year-old who will be going to Jamarama!"

© 2005 The Washington Post Company