Milkshake and Cartoons at WTMD Radio – Perfect!

I love when kids color outside the lines. It’s like when adults think outside the box or have a lightbulb turn on in their head, and usually leads to something special and more interesting. My friend Sam Sessa, a music-loving DJ at WTMD radio who is dedicated to the Baltimore music scene, is one of those adults. Sam emailed one day in March and said he had an idea. Talking to some of his listeners, he discovered they couldn’t get out to many of the WTMD events and shows at the station because the shows happened at night and they had kids. It just wasn’t as easy for them as it was for the teens and twenty-somethings who also tune in to this great indie rock station. So Sam thought: what if they had a show on a Saturday morning, something family-friendly that kids and parents could both groove to. Well, Milkshake has always thought that hearing and seeing live music together was family time well-spent. I loved the idea, and was honored he thought of Milkshake. WTMD hosts over 75 live concerts a year, but this would be the very first event geared especially for families.

We settled on Saturday, April 30th at 10 AM, and the show quickly sold out. I visited the station to do an interview,  and Sam and I chose some favorite cartoons to play – Sam liked Duck Tales and My Little Pony and I brought along Schoolhouse Rocks and Yellow Submarine. These were great to watch with the band playing. In fact, after the show Tom and Cord sat watching Schoolhouse Rocks and singing the songs even though the sound was off! Classic stuff is never forgotten.

We arrived at WTMD at 8 AM and loaded in. If you haven’t been to the WTMD Performance Studio to see a show, well, you should try. The station moved to new facilities in September 2013 and now have an inviting place to hear live music. The studios themselves are gorgeous. Soundman extraordinaire Donnie Carlo met us and set about getting the sound just right. This would be broadcast live over the radio, and things had to be as perfect as possible. Doing live radio is a trip – we were told whatever you do, don’t leave any dead space between songs. So when Cord’s wireless battery needed changing, Tom said “Well, kids. Here’s a teachable moment – always be prepared,” and luckily, Milkshake always has plenty to talk about and share with the kids. Before the concert, I asked the crowd to note the “Secret Word” in Pee Wee Herman-esque fashion. It was of course, WTMD. So every time we said “WTMD,” they screamed. So funny! Even the jokes during “Happy Place” were funny. One little girl said “What is a deer’s favorite food? Deeritos!” Excellent.

image1To say everyone had great time is an understatement, and it was wonderful to see so many young families, both new and familiar faces. The Walters Art Gallery and Garrison Forest School sponsored the event, and set up a station to do crafts. This, along with snacks and balloons, kept everyone happy before the band started. Really, the morning was perfect.

Sam says the station definitely plans on doing more Saturday Morning Cartoon shows in the fall. For now, take the family outside to one of WTMD’s First Thursday FREE concerts down in Canton. I recommend June 2nd if the weather’s nice. Baltimore great Andy Bopp will be on the bill, along with Boy and Bear and Basia Bulat.

 

 

Oh, To Be A Buddy

A few Sundays ago, Milkshake performed at the Chesapeake Down Syndrome Parent Group’s annual Buddy Walk at Rash Field. It was an incredible morning full of love and happiness, and that warm-and-fuzzy feeling one gets from doing something good and worthwhile. The Buddy Walk raises money for the programs the CDSPG offers, including education programs and medical outreach/First Call programs, among many others.  The group was founded in 1982 by eight sets of parents looking to share information and network in order to serve their children with Down syndrome. Currently, the group consists of over 400 families, individuals, and organizations with an interest in the well-being of persons with Down syndrome.

The Oriole Bird joins in for a game during "Baseball."

The Oriole Bird joins in for a game during “Baseball.”

For this year’s Buddy Walk, people came together to walk or run for this great cause. It was such a vibrant, happy community of people. I had so much fun playing with the crowd when they finished their walk. It was a hour of smiles, songs, dancing and yes, even the Oriole Bird.

A few days before the Walk, I happened upon a video posted on Upworthy, a great site featuring videos reflecting all aspects of human life. The video was created by CoorDown, an Italian Down Syndrome advocacy group. In the video, 15 people with Down Syndrome, tell an expecting mom what kind of life her child will have.

One out of every 691 babies are born with the condition (in which a person has an extra chromosome), making it one of the most common genetic conditions in the U.S. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome. But like these signs at the Buddy Walk point out, people with Down Syndrome are capable of having what we consider a “normal” life. (click the pictures to view larger formats).

I especially love the pictures about reading. It reminds me of my friend Michael Rachap, a prolific musician who set about creating a series to help kids learn how to read. It’s called Readeez, and features original “bite-sized” videos that “impart reading skills with every syllable.” Michael says “Readeez are health food for growing minds,” and he likes to think his series is “Learning disguised as smiling.” Michael has been getting videos from parents of children with Down Syndrome, praising the Readeez format and it’s ability to help their children read.

Michael includes some great music in his Readeez, and through the 15 years of playing in Milkshake and making original music for kids, I know the transcendent power of music to move minds and touch souls in positive ways. Sometimes I think about stopping the band and doing something else. But then I play a show like the Buddy Walk and think no…maybe not now…

Here’s a gallery of pictures from the CDSPG’s Buddy Walk, November 1, 2015. Thanks to Stacy Geis and Ruut for these pictures.

 

Joke Blog #2

It’s time for our latest Joke Blog, in which we share some of our favorite jokes heard when we perform “Happy Place” during Milkshake concerts, or sent in to us via emails and letters.

“Why did the bee want to get married?” So he could meet his huni.”

“Knock Knock. Who’s there? Hello. HELLO WHO? Hello kitty.”

“Why was the baby ant confused? Because all his uncles were ants.”

“What do you call a dinosaur wearing eyeglasses? Youthinkhesaurus.”

“What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef.”

Cord: Hey Mikel, you look pretty dirty.
Mikel: Why thank you Cord. I look pretty when I’m clean too.

James - creator of jokes and music!

James – creator of jokes and music!

I love hearing jokes and one day I hope to actually be good at telling them, but one special Milkshake fan trumps all the joke-tellers I know right now. James Burrows has been a Milkshake fan for most of his young life. Now he’s 13 and creating his own interesting beat-based music. Here’s a link to a recent piece on WYPR’s The Signal featuring James and his workJames not only tells jokes – he makes them up, and his mother Nancy says there’ll be times when it’s a “Joke-A-Day” feature in their lives. We’re thinking James might add this to his many potentially lucrative talents. Here’s a few of his mother’s favorites that she sent to us by email the other day:

“What’s a vehicle that runs around? A tractor!”

“What did the Mexican cloud say? Let’s Taco ’bout the weather.”

“What happened when the engine got tired? It was exhausted!!”

“Where do Baltimore penguins go when they’re cold? The inner harbrrrrr”

“What did the sheep say?  Rub my baaaaack”

“Who opens a cage? A zoo KEYper”

“What might you worry when you brush your teeth? The toothbrush might sink!”

“Why did the sick boy fly? He had the flu!”

“What fruit can you drink from? A strawberry.”

“What kind of shoes should you wear at the beach? SANDals!”

“What’s a part of your body that rings? Your bell-y!”

“What do you say when you drop your meat on the ground? I made a miSTEAK!”

“What kind of storm do you go fast in? a HuRRYcane!”

“What town has a lot of bruises? sCARSdale!”

“What’s a criminal’s fav food? JAIL-O.”

“What’s a balloon’s fav food? A popsicle.”

Great stuff – thanks for sharing, friends! We’ll post another joke blog soon.

Talking About Arts In Education

On April 24 & 25 Mikel and I spent some time in Ocean City, MD doing a lot of talking, singing and sharing. We were invited by the Maryland State Child Care Association to present at its annual Conference By the Sea. This was an unusual event for us, since Milkshake in its various forms usually goes to just entertain with our music when we’re invited somewhere. But the MSCCA really wanted us to do more than that, and present “The Educational Importance Of Arts In the Classroom.” Well, we’re all over that, so doing a keynote on the subject seemed perfect. We talked about our experiences in schools, showed a few of the videos we did for PBS KIDS and Nick Jr., and performed some of our songs. It was really fun getting all the teachers singing a rousing version of “Happy Songs.”

Mikel and I doing the Keynote at MSCCA's conference.

Mikel and I doing the Keynote at MSCCA’s conference.

I talked about how creativity can be kept alive, despite all the teaching to test, simply by incorporating arts strategies within the curriculum and keeping an open mind. The next day, I taught a 90 minute class on using various arts strategies that I’ve learned as a Wolftrap Teaching Artist. It was exhilarating and exhausting teaching over 100 early childhood educators at once!

Besides performing with the Milkshake Band, Mikel and I are artists with the non-profit Young Audiences of Maryland. YAMD sends us out to do assemblies for schools in Maryland, and we love it. Here’s a recent video of me talking about some of the reasons why for Young Audiences’ Arts For Learning Week. I feel like going into the schools – especially Baltimore City schools – keeps us grounded.

I visit the schools in Baltimore City on my own through the Wolftrap Teaching Artist program. It’s a very different thing from doing assemblies or Milkshake shows. As a Teaching Artist, I go into the classroom and even though I’m singing and doing things with the kids, I’m really there to show the teacher different arts strategies to enhance his or her teaching. It’s a lot of work but it’s always so gratifying at the end of the 8-week program, when the teacher does two lessons incorporating the things I’ve showed him or her. I’ve been doing this for 2 years, now, and more often than not, there’s this big moment when it all comes together and the teacher and the kids are a team, enjoying learning through a shared arts-based experience. And there are those times when we see a previously non-responsive kid plugging in and being involved. I remember a little girl who was albino and losing her sight. She was very quiet, but I felt she was really paying attention. After telling the story of Bear Snores Onwe acted it out, adding a simple song and dramatic arts. At one point, the bears (three very animated boys), wake up and growl fiercely. All the other kids run to the far side of the classroom. I say “No, no, it’s cold outside! Come back inside the lair!” And as they slowly make their way back to the carpet, the little albino girl, (who was playing the mouse in the story), kneels down beside the boys and gently says “Don’t worry bears. We can pop more corn. We can brew more tea,” just like in the story. I hear the teacher gasp and watch her get all teary. This tiny moment was huge in the teacher’s eyes.

I can’t think of a harder and more important job than being a teacher and there are so many times I’m leaving a school and wondering how a teacher manages to teach a class full-time. I’m just an artist, and I stay a while and then I leave. But the teacher stays all day, going through all sorts of things. I can only hope adding music and drama to their day enhances it in positive ways.

 

Valentine’s Day Musings

I love Valentine’s Day. I love all holidays, but having one more reason to tell someone “I Love You” sounds good to me. I love the heart-shaped boxes. And even though I can’t eat chocolate (woe is me), I love gazing at the different chocolate pieces and wondering what’s inside them, how they taste. I love the idea behind all those sweetheart candies, too. I pick out my favorites like “Sweet Love,” “My Love,” “Hug Me” and “Only You.” Nowadays, the candies say things like “Text Me” or “Tweet Me.” Love’s gone digital, for sure.

Sweethearts nowadays.

Sweethearts nowadays.

But perhaps what I love most of all are the love songs. They remind me that love itself is so multi-dimensional. Happy love songs, sad love songs, songs of longing, songs of leaving. Before Milkshake, Mikel and I fronted a band for adults called Love Riot* and we wrote nothing but love songs. It was amazing to me how we never seemed to run out of ideas. Maybe it wasn’t so unlimited as the topics we’ve discovered writing songs for kids, but emotionally, there was probably more to our love songs. The songs reflected what I or my friends were going through, and perhaps being in love is more of an adult thing. I wrote “I Love You” as a lullaby for my daughter, but that’s certainly different from romantic love. Now, she’s a beautiful 14 year-old and I see hints of romantic pining. I don’t look forward to her first breakup, which could be a painful thing. But maybe she’ll write a song about it, and listen to other songs that will help her through.

rose petals at the ready.

rose petals at the ready.

So how will Milkshake – the band that celebrates most holidays with a big show somewhere – celebrate Valentine’s Day when the majority of our songs deal with imagination and play and doing the right thing? Well, we did record “I Love You” and “Enemies” for our Great Day CD, which skews a bit older, listener-wise. And we added a Milkshake version of the classic “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” on our latest Got a Minute CD. But that’s about it in the love song department. We’ll do all three for sure, tossing rose petals at our little friends. Moo will pass out chocolate kisses and candy hearts, and we’ll all be giving out unlimited hugs after the show. People can donate their unloved instruments to Music4More, who will find them loving homes at schools and communities. There’ll be face-painted hearts and cherubs for anyone who wants them, and our friends at Macaroni Kids will make paper valentines with the concert-goers. So while there might not be a lot of love songs, there will certainly be a lot of love. The concert benefits Arts On Stage, a non-profit that lovingly creates art performances for schools. Sounds like a great way to start my Valentine’s Day. After saying “I Love You” to my husband, daughter, cat, dog and life first, of course.

 

* Love Riot will be back up and playing out soon. Very exciting to come full-circle with the music-making.

This post was originally written for KIDS CAN GROOVE, a wonderful site following kids music. Check them out at www.kidscangroove.com

The Annual Festival Of Trees – Our 7th!

Every year since 2007, Milkshake has been getting up super early the day after Thanksgiving and heading to Cow Palace at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Maryland. We do this to perform at the Festival of Trees, a yearly benefit event that raises money for the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The Institute is dedicated to helping children with brain, spinal and muscular disorders. I bring along bags of “snow” (little squares of white confetti), candy canes, sleigh bells, garland to decorate Tom’s drums and Brian’s keyboard, and santa hats for the guys and me. We do three shows chock full of Christmas music, which is always great fun to play in between our original tunes. My personal favorite is Milkshake’s “Christmas In Baltimore,” since I think it’s the perfect Christmas song to play at a winter show in our hometown.

Snowy The Little White Dog

Snowy The Little White Dog

This year, Cord reminded us that “Snowy” could be considered a Christmas song since Snowy does after all “ride on Santa’s sleigh.” So we brought Snowy The Little White Dog along to the show and gathered around a microphone in acoustic a’cappella fashion.

And to start the shows this year, we handed out the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here” from Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and encouraged the crowd to sing along with us. I hoped everyone would sing and even though that didn’t happen as loudly as I’d envisioned, it was a fun experiment. Some people are shy and only sing in the shower.

Our friend John Waire came to the early show for donors which happens before the doors actually open to the public at 10 AM. It’s the calm before the storm until we bring Santa to the Fest at the end of this first show and things get crazy. This year, Santa jumped out of a cake marking 25 years of the Festival of Trees. By the 11 AM show, things are hopping and so many friends come to play with us. The joy meter peaks.

Santa Jumps out of a cake!

Santa Jumps out of a cake!

John is a great photographer and took some wonderful shots as part of his Year In The Light project. I’ve posted some favorites here, along with pics from our buddy and VIP to the band, Bill Auth. Bill has captured six of the seven years at the Fest, missing last year’s due to illness. We were so glad to have him back sharing the mayhem with us this year.

Every year, Michelle Mueller, Director Of Special Events at Kennedy Krieger, is there keeping things together with a smile, walkie talkie in hand. She tells me that when they unroll the green indoor carpets each year to set up for another Fest, they always find bits of that “snow” and traces of “sunshine” squares of yellow confetti that missed last year’s clean-up. We think about maybe scaling back and just using a bubble-machine or something. Then we both agree that the snow and the sunshine – it’s all part of the joy and happy memories made at the Festival of Trees. And for Milkshake, it wouldn’t feel right waking up late on Black Friday and going shopping! How boring that would be compared to the Festival of Trees.

Fun in Ft. Lauderdale

I love those times when the band packs up and heads someplace warm during the frosty winter months here in Baltimore. The last time we did this was earlier this year, in April, leaving our still-cold city behind to enjoy a weekend in Santa Barbara, CA for a show at UCSB. Now, here in dreary December, we would spend a day in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, FL to play at the Miniaci Theatre on the campus of Nova Southeastern University. The concert was a gift to the community from the Sherman Library and free with library card. Excellent! We certainly love that way of encouraging kids to read. Because Mikel, Brian and I had a early-morning show at a synagogue in DC the next morning, we couldn’t stay the night and enjoy the weather, but a little sun is better than none. So we rose early to catch an 8:30 AM plane south.

Yawns & laughs at the airport

Yawns & laughs at the airport

I brought Snowy The Little White Dog along since I needed more footage for a home movie I was working on. I had filmed some video last winter in my backyard but when I finally got to editing recently, I didn’t have enough footage to work with. So Snowy came along and I filmed him with the guys at the airport and venue. (Here’s a link to the finished video)

We arrived in Florida and had no time to waste because of a delayed flight. Springing into military operation mode, we blew up baseballs and the Earth Ball, and set up the stage and sound checked as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in our haste, we blew up the Earth Ball in the dressing room and then couldn’t get it out the door and onto the stage without deflating it a bit. D’oh!

Mikel tries to push the Earth Ball out the door.

Mikel tries to push the Earth Ball out the door.

But we had an amazingly fine time and performance. The kids were great fun to play with, and even the jokes during “Happy Place” were pretty good: “How did the maniac find his way out of the woods? He followed the psychopath.” and “Why didn’t Lady Gaga eat her meat dress? Because it was raw, raw, raw, raw, raw…”

After the show, we did a Meet & Greet with the families and signed autographs, feeling so welcomed by Anne Leon and the good folks at the Sherman Library. As we drove off the campus, we almost stopped to let Snowy say hi to an iguana, but Snowy wanted to hang at the airport bar instead. Silly dog. All in all a great day and another time well-spent for Milkshake.

Here’s a few pics courtesy Meagan Albright of the Sherman Library – thanks, Meagan!