Santa x 4

I always love this time of year. Just when it starts to get cold, holiday shows keep me warm. They’re so much fun. Halloween’s okay, and we get to tell ghost stories and sing our favorite spooky song “Scared.” But there’s nothing quite like welcoming Santa to the area malls and events. Mall Santas work hard and long for a very short period of time. The best ones know the names of all the reindeer and have real beards you can tug on, although they don’t much like it when you do.

Selfie with Santa

Columbia Santa Selfie

Towson Santa Selfie

Towson Santa Selfie

Mikel and I have been playing the holiday shows at three or four malls for years now, and they turn on a switch inside us, signaling the holidays are here. And even though it seems like yesterday, another year has passed, and I check the supply of white confetti we use as snow, buy candy canes in bulk for the kids in the audience and take out the box of santa hats, sleigh bells, antlers and garland. We once again practice songs we only play at this time of year, filling the set with “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph” and of course our own “Christmas In Baltimore”.

Our comrade for these shows is Miss Julie, a wonderful kids’ entertainer we’ve known for many years. Miss Julie does the Family Fun Days at the area malls, singing with the kids and celebrating birthdays throughout the year. She’s amazing and was an early inspiration for Mikel and me. Julie knows most of the regulars who come to her shows. She can tell us which kid eats too much candy, which kid sings at the top of her lungs, which little boy just lost his dad. In my book, she gets a hero award for being a friend, mother and grandmom to these kids. She’s someone they can depend on, one morning a week.

Selfie with Miss Julie

Selfie with Miss Julie

For the Christmas shows, Julie MCs and then helps find Santa and bring him down the escalator and through the awe-struck crowd. She asks him questions she knows he can answer – Julie always finds out beforehand “if they’re a talking Santa” or just want to smile and wave. We’ve met Santas who do magic tricks, Santas who talk about reindeer and what they eat, Santas who talk too much, Santas who kinda just mumble. Yesterday’s Santa had a cane. Evidently the reindeer were going too fast, and he fell off his sleigh. The kids were sympathetic and seemed a bit concerned as he waved goodbye and headed to his house in another wing of the mall.

Milkshake prides itself on how much fun we have and how we really try to get the kids to be part of the whole experience. But around this time, it’s all just amped up: more confetti (as snow), more kids singing and jingling their jinglebell bracelets or clapping their hands, more candy canes, more smiles in general.

Christmas show supplies.

Christmas show supplies.

Tomorrow the band will get together to practice some new holiday songs and a couple classic Milkshake songs we haven’t played in a while. Festival of Trees is in a couple weeks, and I think it’s the biggest holiday party we do. We play three absolutely joyously exhausting shows. This will be our seventh year doing the event. And of course we’ll be welcoming another Santa. I can’t wait.

"I have my tutu, my antlers and these...these are my jingle bells!"

“I have my tutu, my antlers and these…these are my jingle bells!”

Chessie Jam – Baltimore’s kid fest

I always admire people who think big and do something for the love of it. Such was the case with Alexis Jenkins, a Baltimore-area promoter and mother of two who decided to combine both into a music and fun festival for kids. To my knowledge, it’s never been done here in Baltimore. Sure, we’ve had our kid concerts and bands like Milkshake at some family-friendly festivals. But nothing on such a big scale and specifically for kids.

Alexis called her festival Chessie Jam, making her festival logo Chessie, a yellow sea monster. Legend goes that Chessie was/is a sea monster swimming in the Chesapeake Bay. This Chessie was kind and loved kids of course, and Alexis brought Chessie to life for the Jam, hiring a mascot dressed as Chessie to dance and play with the kids. She also hired the Oriole Bird, since all of Baltimore had orange fever at the time, our beloved O’s taking the ALC.

My mom with the Oriole Bird.

My mom with the Oriole Bird.

Lisa, Justin Roberts and Mikel.

Lisa, Justin Roberts and Mikel.

The Jam was set for Saturday, October 4th and besides Milkshake, Alexis booked Justin Roberts, Recess Monkey, Father Goose, and Lalabibi and had Biz Markie spinning tunes in between. There was the usual kid fare of moon bounce, face-painting, balloon art and various kid-centric kiosks set up around the theatre, and the day turned beautiful after morning clouds. I was especially excited to see Father Goose again after all these years, and finally meet Justin Roberts and all of the guys from Recess Monkey, both two kid bands I admire.

Father Goose looked ageless and the only sign of time passing was his little boy, who now joined him on stage. When Milkshake was starting out we had been part of a tour for kids called Jamarama.  We played a few tours, the first in 2005, with Laurie Berkner, the second in 2006 with Dan Zanes. At the time, Father Goose joined Dan on stage and they shared billing. It was great fun and there are many stories to tell, but that’s for another blog.

After doing what we usually do before a show –  set up our green room, blow up baseballs, the earth ball and make sure things are all ready to go – we chatted with Angelique Redmond, a woman starting an online kid radio station here called KINKX KIDS RADIO.  Angelique is really excited about the station and we look forward to watching its progress.

Glenn rocks.

Glenn rocks.

Glenn (barefoot), Shepp, Alan of Sirius, Lisa & Mikel

Glenn (barefoot), Shepp, Alan of Sirius, Lisa & Mikel

For this show, we welcomed back musician extraordinaire Glenn Workman, who would be filling in for Brian on keyboard and accordion. Glenn had played with us years ago and it was fun to work with him again. Glenn has a complete disdain for shoes of any kind, and his feet do look hobbit-like after years of walking the world barefoot. I remember Glenn accompanying Mikel, Shepp and I to a recording session at Sirius Satellite Radio and, yes, he walked NYC shoeless.

The afternoon was a blast, and I loved seeing kids and families enjoying what was a great festival exclusively for them. I’m looking forward to the Second Annual Chessie Jam Festival in 2015.

Special thanks to Lorionna Miller, Bill Auth and Linda Miller for the following pictures from our performance.

Joke Blog #1

Anyone who’s seen a Milkshake concert since we released the Great Day CD may have caught us doing “Happy Place” live. It’s a song off that Grammy-nominated CD, and has become a big favorite of ours, not just because it’s a neat song, but it allows us to connect with the kids in the audience in a unique way.

 There’s a line in the song that goes like this: “someone tell me a joke…” which I repeat as the band pauses and Mikel or some other bandmate tells me a joke. It’s usually pretty bad, causing ughs and head shakes from the audience. So I reach out to the kids, asking them for another joke, since after all it can’t be hard to top the one we just heard. Inevitably, hands shoot up and the jokes start flying. It’s a really a cool time in the show. Some jokes are just okay, others are really funny, but it’s the immediate sense of sharing and community that really shines. I love it. Unfortunately, I forget most of the jokes so I’ve taken to tapping them into my iPhone as soon as I can after the show.

Jokes are great things, and as I can attest, there’s an art in the telling. I am not a good joke-teller. But I sure do love hearing kids tell me one. So here is the first of what I hope will be many Joke Blog posts, featuring jokes we’ve heard at our concerts. Enjoy and share them as you like, and if you have a joke you want us to include in the next post, post it on our Facebook page or share it at the next Milkshake show!

What’s the best place to hide from zombies? – In the living room.

Why did Mickey Mouse go to outer space? – To find Pluto.

What did the egg say to the other egg? – You crack me up.

Why do chickens sit on eggs? – Because they don’t have chairs.

Why did the boy chew the calendar? – He wanted to eat a Sunday.

Why did the whale cross the ocean? – She wanted to get to the other tide.

Why didn’t the skeleton ride the roller coaster? – He had no guts.

Why was the broom late for school? – He overswept.

What do you call a bear with no teeth? – A gummy bear.

Why don’t bears wear shoes? – Because they have bear feet.

Why is the Sun rude? – Because it peeks through your window.

What did the math book say? – “Boy, have I got problems.”

tell me a joke!

 

 

Is It Always So Beautiful In Santa Barbara?

Milkshake, like most East Coasters, had just about enough of the wind, rain and snow of what seemed like a never-ending winter. So needless to say, we were looking forward to performing in California, as we have for the past few Aprils. This time, it was a concert at University of California at Santa Barbara for the Family Series UCSB hosts each year.

We had a 9:50 AM flight on our usual Southwest Airlines, and all seemed fine until Cord and Brian were stuck in a slow-moving security line and missed the plane. Luckily, they caught the next available nonstop and would meet us in Santa Barbara some hours later, in time for a late dinner at Enterprise Fish Company. When we arrived at our hotel, we were pleasantly reminded of our time in Ixtapa, Mexico years ago, when Milkshake played a Club Med. No, this Best Western wasn’t nearly as fancy, but the gardens were beautiful and we ogled the palm trees, cacti and flowers. And did I mention it was warm? Coats came off at the airport! It was lovely, with blue skies and sunshine. We walked to Trader Joes, got some kumatos, mushrooms, tapenade and other munchies and sat by the pool. Life was good.

Tom & Shepp enjoying the sunshine.

Tom & Shepp enjoying the sunshine.

The next morning, Mikel and I drove to the beach, which was only minutes away. Cactus flowers decorated the shore.

Flowers on the beach.

We walked along the beach, just taking it all in. Paddle boarders, seabirds, even a beach bar. Walking up the shoreline, we marveled at an incredible group of buildings which jutted out to the edge of a rocky shore. We soon discovered that was UCSB. Gosh, why didn’t I become a marine biologist and come here instead of Hunter College?! It was gorgeous. On our way back to the car, I came upon the absolutely prettiest shell I’ve found in years.

My pretty shell.

We fetched the guys a few hours later and headed to, yes…the beach bar. Oysters for everyone, including Shepp’s mom and sister, who live out there.

Milkshake on the beach

Milkshake on the beach

Then we headed to Campbell Hall. The folks there were great, and the hall beautiful. The show was SO MUCH fun and the kids were fantastic.

In concert at Campbell Hall

In concert at Campbell Hall

And just when we thought the weekend couldn’t get any better, we were invited to the home of a sponsor of our show, Thomas Kenny and his family, for a party in our honor. We were welcomed into their beautiful home and met some families who had attended our concert earlier. At one point, a group of mostly girls gathered around, wondering where my tutu was. After I explained it was fragile and I only wore it in concert, conversation moved to favorite movies and we all broke into a rousing version of “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. The girls knew all the words!

Getting ready to sing "Let It Go"

Getting ready to sing “Let It Go”

Then we moved over to a beautiful grand piano, Mikel brought out his acoustic guitar and we did a mini concert featuring “Go Wild!” and “Bottle of Sunshine,” complete with Tom on “table” drums. Shepp’s sister Valerie took a home movie of our performance. Here’s “Go Wild”: 

It was time well spent, and I could’ve stayed chatting with everyone forever, really. But the sun was setting and we had to head to LA that night. I will never forget the intense beauty, kindness and good times of that weekend in Santa Barbara. Special thanks to everyone at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and the Kenny family.

Girls Wanna Dance!

Milkshake spends – or I should say reinvests all its money into new stuff for our audience. Last year it was Got a Minute, our fifth CD. This year we’re thinking videos. Making videos is a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too, and I think kids like to watch music just as much as listen to it. While playing Midnite Noon, our annual New Year’s Eve show at the Maryland Science Center, we noticed that most of the audience got up and danced when we played “Girls Wanna Dance.” But true to the idea behind the song, most of the people dancing were girls. Is it just that guys are shy? Are they bad dancers? Do they enjoy sitting more? In the green room after the show, we decided to explore this phenomenon by doing a video of the song.

Milkshake, circa the 1970's!

Milkshake, circa the 1970’s!

Tom came up with the storyline: a middle school dance circa  the seventies. The guys would wear tuxes, kids would dress up more than they do today, the setting would be a school gym and Shepp would wear a giant afro wig. Each of us would have alter-egos: I would be the stern old librarian, breaking up a slow-dancing couple; Brian would be the nerdy, book-reading professor walking through the dancing throng, oblivious; Tom would be the PE coach stopping a boy from playing basketball; Shepp would be the principal, walking in as the song ends; Cord would be the janitor, pushing a mop across the dance floor; and Mikel would be the health-nut hippie teacher, trying to get kids to eat carrots instead of lollipops. Mikel’s wife, Donna Reilly, would be the cool 70’s mom with Farrah Fawcett hair, dropping off her kid to the dance.

The band as their alter-egos.

The band as their alter-egos.

We found a perfect place to film, Park School’s Blaustein gym, and soon after found our film crew at WOOF Digital Motion. Soon we had 46 great kids from Park School, City Neighbors Charter School and a few other Baltimore-area schools signed up to be part of the video. Tuxes were rented, a new tutu was created, props were bought, including 62 golf ball-sized lollipops.

making a video.

making a video.

Rick Lewis and Terry Campbell of WOOF worked with us to make sure we had what we needed, from stage lighting to a back-up generator. They were both very together and Rick was always at the pre-production, refining, planning and even drawing the set as it would look on the day of the shoot. They were fantastic and we thank thank thank them.girls floor plan

Food was an important issue, too, since no food = hungry kids and crew. Luckily, Mikel and I had just done a private show for an executive at Wendy’s, and Wendy’s generously catered the shoot for free, so big thanks to Rick Borchers and the people at Wendy’s for filling up a car with bags of chicken nuggets, salads and burgers.

Wendys

a few of the 17 bags of Wendy’s food.

Our friends Brendan Williams and Russell Cory from Verve Broadcast Design came by with a camera and microphone and roved around the set and staging area, taking footage, interviewing some of the cast and using the footage to create a short preview for us. Thanks guys!

On March 2nd we worked on the “Girls Wanna Dance” video from 7 AM to 7 PM. It was a long day, but everything came together. Special thanks to all the kids and their parents, Bob Peck at Park School, Jill Andrews for the gorgeous new tutu she designed and for making sure the band looked good. Thanks to Steve Parke for coming by and taking pictures, and to assistant director Sandy Asirvatham who kept everything flowing nicely, guiding and directing the kids. And last, thanks to Donna Reilly for being a great mom in the seventies car, Cory Moon for helping on the set and being Moo, and to Christopher Lewis and Joe Manack for their all-around assistance. Enjoy these pictures, taken by Steve Parke and Jill Andrews.

LINK TO THE FINISHED VIDEO: Girls Wanna Dance

 

Grand Rapids, Michigan Has Great Boxed Water.

Mikel, Shepp and I set out for a Milkshake trio show in Grand Rapids, Michigan a few weeks ago, to play a festival called Laughfest. I had never been to Grand Rapids or heard of the festival and I was pleasantly surprised. The Laughfest folks picked us up at the airport and took us to the Amway Grand Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. It was indeed a grand hotel, originally built in 1929 and then bought and renovated by the Amway corporation in 1981. That accounted for the unique Amway bath products in the rooms – honestly, I didn’t know they still made shampoo and conditioner in one bottle anymore. But there it was, a true hair-product wonder. In each of our rooms we found a swag bag from Laughfest, complete with coffee mug, t-shirt, sunglasses and other things with the cheery yellow Laughfest logo – a bright smile. Also in this bag was the most remarkable invention: a carton of water with the writing “Boxed Water Is Better” on two sides. Duh…of course it is! And why isn’t this in every Starbucks across America? You put this empty boxed water carton in a landfill and it will eventually go away. An empty plastic water bottle remains with us forever. But the Boxed Water people don’t stop with a great concept. They also donate 10% of their profit to reforestation foundations and another 10% to world water relief foundations. I’d like to find a distributor in every state, starting with Maryland. Right now, only 16 states, Hong Kong, Canada and Mexico distribute Boxed Water. For more info, visit www.boxedwaterisbetter.com.

ImageThe Laughfest people were all super-kind, and even drove Mikel to and from a ski resort during downtime. The festival was started in 2011 by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids to raise funds and awareness of the emotional health found through laughter and community. Gilda Radner, who these clubs are named after, would be happy. It’s rare to find a festival – let alone a week-long one – that is so well-run for such a great cause. Photographer Dave Kagan took these pictures of the first show, with the exception of the last trio shot, taken by Brian Kelly for Laughfest.