Children’s music is a field that tends to fly under the radar even in a busy cosmopolitan area like the Washington region. It’s a niche market whose target audience doesn’t make consumer choices. Parents with small children often already have too much on their plate and as such will grab for the most prominent offerings. Those would be Boogie Babes, the weekly Thursday morning kids’ concerts at Eastern Market (sponsored by DC Diaper Bank); Baba Ras D, who performs weekly at BloomBars in Columbia Heights; and weekend kid shows at Jammin’ Java in Vienna — whose recurring Friday-morning artist is Rocknoceros, easily the area’s highest-profile kiddie-music band.
In fact, though, there’s quite a vibrant scene for children’s musicians in Washington. There’s even a free regional festival: Tot Rock Fest, which takes place May 11 in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. This year’s lineup features four local chidren’s musicians (all regular performers in the DMV), who just happen to be among the Washington area’s most creative and distinctive.
The name is pronounced “Uno, dos, tres, Andrés.” Andrés Salguero and his wife, Christina Sanabria, put on a bilingual show for kids — sometimes shifting into only Spanish. “Families want that,” Sanabria says. “They want an immersion experience, whether they are Hispanic and speak it at home, or they’re learning.”
“That’s a big part of what we do,” says Salguero, an immigrant from Colombia. (Sanabria is also of Colombian heritage but grew up in Kansas City.) “Let the children who are of Latino heritage see themselves reflected. Get them to be part of the conversation in a fun social environment, and for everyone else here’s something new.”
Salguero is a classically trained clarinetist who also plays guitar. Sanabria is a former elementary school teacher. Their performances incorporate various Latin styles and rhythms, with sets tailored to different age groups. Shows for older students also include discussions of geography and Latino culture.
123 Andrés are on the rise — ever since they won a Latin Grammy in 2016 for their album “Arriba Abajo,” they’re increasingly booked all over the country. But Washington, they say, will always be their home. “We’re really happy to be part of this town,” Salguero says. “It’s like the world condensed to this small place.”
Next show: May 11 at 11 a.m. at the Tot Rock Festival. 123andres.com.
Even a lifelong Washingtonian might be surprised to hear a children’s musician busting out a go-go beat. But for Devin Walker, a.k.a. Uncle Devin, the choice was obvious.
“I grew up on go-go,” he says. “Children’s music is anything that is age appropriate and culturally relevant. Obviously go-go is culturally relevant, so why not make it into children’s music?”
A drummer and percussionist, Uncle Devin (so named because his nieces and nephews were his first audience) also incorporates jazz, R&B, reggae and hip-hop into his concerts for kids. This, for him, is about filling a void: an almost total lack of African American children’s music and artists. Black kids need musical outreach as much as anyone else, he reasoned, but it requires engaging them with the music they’re already exposed to: “Let’s play the music that we listen to in our community and don’t dumb it down,” he says.
In the process, he’s connected with children of all races, many of whom are growing up on R&B and hip-hop, too.
Uncle Devin also attributes the appeal of his music, most of it original, to his instruments. “The beat is the hook,” he says. “They don’t even know what the lyrics are but they’re attracted to the beat.”
Children’s music is important enough to Uncle Devin that he does more than just perform it: He hosts a weekly talk show on the subject on WOL radio (1450 AM and 95.9 FM).
On the same day that Marsha Goodman-Wood submitted her master’s thesis in cognitive neuroscience, she bought a guitar. She didn’t turn her back on science; she discovered that she could make it fun for kids with music. (Sample lyric: “Why can’t you dance on Jupiter?/ ’Cause it’s a planet that’s mostly made of gas.”)
Marsha and the Positrons, in which Goodman-Wood performs alongside bassist Wardell Howell and one of two percussionists/backing vocalists, Ayanna Gallant and Kristen Arant (sometimes both), aren’t limited to astronomy. Goodman-Wood has penned songs about gravity, quantum physics and the periodic table of elements, among others. “I know that some of the lyrics are going over their heads, but I feel like that’s okay because eventually it kind of sinks in,” says Goodman-Wood. She’s right. Her songs are catchy, and they’re effective.
“I get these stories: ‘We saw your show, and then later my 3-year-old dropped something on the floor and said, “Oh, that’s because of gravity!” She learned it from your song.’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah!’” Goodman-Wood says. “It’s great to be able to present to them in a way that’s fun and they’re having a good time, but they’re also learning something cool.”
Next show: May 4 at 1 p.m. at Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase. marshaandthepositrons.com. Free.
Kate Moran, the leader of Rainbow Rock Band, previously worked for 10 years in a pop-rock band. The songs she wrote then were hooky but sophisticated, and she felt no need to water down that sensibility when she started writing for kids.
“It’s intricate!” she says with a laugh. “When I work with new guitar players, it’s always interesting watching them as we play through it, and I say, ‘It’s not as basic at it seems, right?’”
Moran, who has a PhD and works at the Department of Education, says that intricacy doesn’t deter children from absorbing the music, as long as there’s something in it to engage them. “There’s always an element of movement,” she explains. “Connecting the sound with a movement or an action solidifies the concept in the child’s brain. With a song about colors, I have them move while saying the sound and seeing the color, which I’m holding up. We’re tapping into all the kids’ needs and ways of processing information.”
The pop hooks, she explains, are to get the parents involved, an essential and often overlooked value in kids’ music.
Rainbow Rock Band (which has six members, though its performing lineup varies except for Moran) has earned its place as Tot Rock Fest’s closer: The festival, from conception to execution, is entirely Moran’s baby.
Next show: May 5 from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at International Family Equality Day at the National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. rainbowrockband.com. Free.
May 11 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave., Alexandria.
Uncle Devin performs at 9 a.m.; Marsha and the Positrons at 10 a.m.; 123 Andrés at 11 a.m.; Rainbow Rock Band at noon. totrockfest.com. Free.