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.

Holiday shows are the best!

SMP30895We love the holidays.  Not just because we love giving and getting presents and celebrating the season, but we have two wonderful Milkshake Band shows that we’ve been doing for the past few years: Kennedy Krieger’s Festival of Trees and Midnite Noon at the Maryland Science Center.  Mikel and I also enjoy bringing in Santa to a few area malls.  These are early morning shows in mall open spaces and at the end of each performance, who arrives but the jolly old man himself and the look on kids’ faces is priceless.  I take extra glee in quizzing the mall Santas about the names of all the reindeer, which they inevitably can’t name, but this year I was happily surprised to find a Santa who knew them all, in fact, he went on tell us what he feeds them (hay)! I loved the Santa at Festival of Trees, who played right along with the audience as we tried to figure out which door he was behind in a mock game show we called “Where’s Santa?!”  Crazy fun. Both the band and duo shows are joyously messy extravaganzas of fake snow, candy canes, sleigh bells and holiday songs in between Milkshake classics.  This year, we added some songs off the new Got a Minute? CD, and of course we always delight in playing our original Christmas song “Christmas in Baltimore”.

The following pictures are from our annual Festival of Trees shows for Kennedy Krieger.  We’ve done these all-day shows for the past five years and we look forward to it so much now, it wouldn’t be the start of the season without this long but gratifying day.  Thanks to photographer friends Steve Parke, Bill Auth and Space Chapman for these great pictures!

Have a wonderful holiday season from all of us at Milkshake!  Our next and last show of the year is at the Maryland Science Center December 31st at 11 AM, where we’ll be bringing in the new year a little bit early.  Always great fun, and we hope to see you there!

Sing in Joyous Revelry

Singing on “We Just Wanna Have Fun”

It was background vocal time on Sunday July 15. The whole band came back to the studio to do one of the things that I think sets Milkshake apart: harmony vocals.  Everyone in the band sings (Brian, Tom, Shepp and Cord all sing or share lead vocals in other bands), but getting everyone singing in a creative, seamless harmonious way is another thing.  Still it’s something Cord, Brian and Shepp do especially well together, and listening to them throw harmony ideas around like they toss jokes back and forth is a crazy, exhausting, joyous experience. On “We Just Wanna Have Fun,” a song inspired by the raucous Irish tunes from our Barleyjuice friends, everyone crowded into the vocal booth and let loose. The guys sung and shouted and laughed through eight vocal tracks, creating an aural mayhem not heard since, oh, the last time we drove in a van for four hours en route to a gig in Arkansas. The song is somewhat autobiographical, as our raison d’être has always been to have fun making music together.

Cord & Brian sing on “Looking Out the Window”

On “All the Girls Wanna Dance,” Shepp sang an incredibly low vocal line while Cord added a harmony in the style of “Jive Talking” and together, they take the song to a better and more interesting place.  “Workin’ Kid Blues” finds Cord channeling Johnny Cash, while Brian added an amazing counter-point to my vocal on the title track. Both Cord and Brian added country-tinged harmonies to “Looking Out the Window.” Everyone layered harmonies on “Rainbow.”  Lots of laughs, lots of great singing; all in all, in a great time for everyone.

Photo by good friend Bill Auth.

Sundays are better than Mondays

For some reason I love Sundays in the studio.  They always seem the most relaxed, with or without Bloody Marys and bagels in the lounge.  And although today’s schedule was a bit intense, time just felt different.  This was our second Sunday at Invisible Sound, and on this July 1st we were joined by three friends who were determined to track some incredible music.  After I recorded a lead vocal, Dave Hadley came by. Dave’s a brilliant pedal steel guitarist originally from Northwest Illinois who found his way to Baltimore.  Adding to many firsts on the CD, Dave played pedal steel on a song called “Looking Out the Window of My Car,” taking the tune to the country-tinged place it wanted to be. I have always loved the pedal steel for its unique, almost wistful sound.  Here’s a video of Dave tuning up in the studio before tracking…

Our old friend and band-mate Willem Elsevier came by next, with violin, viola and mandolin in hands.  Love Riot fans will remember Willem, who played electric violin in our alt-rock band from days gone by.  Love Riot found some fame in the nineties after winning a worldwide music competition sponsored by Yamaha, along with having songs featured on the NBC TV series Homicide – Life on the Street, several soap operas and a couple movies.  When Love Riot ended, everyone seemed to go about making families, and Willem came to the studio accompanied by his beautiful 9-year-old daughter Amara.  While Willem played violin on an instrumental called “Any Day Waltz,” Amara and I decided to test out our waltz steps.

It was great to hear Willem play again, and I love what he tracked on the waltz and a lullaby called “Starry, Starry Night.”

Duncan Parke adds bass to “Sea Breeze”

After Willem, Duncan Parke joined us, along with a friend and his mom.  Duncan brought his electric upright bass and added a wonderful, almost watery bass line to Mikel’s instrumental “Sea Breeze.”  It seems especially fitting to have Duncan play on this CD, since his dad Steve Parke has done the graphic design on every Milkshake CD except the first one (we didn’t know him, yet).  I love that this last CD will include our now-tween kids playing and singing.  True, they added voices on earlier discs – Jesse was the baby gurgling on the intro to “When You Were Born,” and both Eric and Jesse sang on previous Milkshake recordings through the years. But now they also play instruments – Eric plays drums, Jesse plays piano, and Duncan plays bass.

The day ended with Cord singing some Johnny Cash-inspired vocals on “Workin’ Kid Blues” and channeling sixties rock on “Rainbow.”  Another Sunday well spent.

Rap, rap and a beautiful thing.

Mikel & Alex

Mikel & Alex in the studio

Invisible Sound was hopping on Wednesday, June 20th. After tracking a couple vocals we were joined by Alex Handy, who came by to rap on “More Than Me,” a song about looking outside oneself written by Mikel. Now, it helps to understand that Mikel and Alex work together on the night shift at UPS and that Alex doesn’t rap for a living. But he’s the real deal – a guy who works hard and is determined to do the best he can for himself and those around him – and he brought that understanding to the song.

Alex tracks “More Than Me”

I sang a few lines throughout “More Than Me,” pretending I was Rhianna for a little while.  Milkshake hasn’t done a rap/hiphop song before, and we’re anything but hard core. And yet Got a Minute? has not one but three songs that include raps, or maybe I should say “rap-like features.” Our second rap-inclusive tune is “Baltimore,” a song I wrote about our hometown. I know Baltimore has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended) from people like Randy Newman and Counting Crows, but it’s our home. And if you’ve heard our “Christmas In Baltimore”you already know of our affection for the big small town.


Vance tracks “Baltimore”

“Baltimore” is an all-out rock anthem until the breakdown at the end when my daughter’s classmate Vance Thomas raps. It seemed fitting to me, since Baltimore is very alt-rock and very urban. It’s no surprise Baltimore’s known for bands like Wye Oak and Beach House and Dru Hill and Bossman. Let’s not forget Joan Jett and Tupac Shakur are both from here. Vance did a great job and I think he enjoyed his first experience in the studio, including his part in the kid chorus featuring my daughter Jesse, Mikel’s son Eric and niece Lauren.

kid chorus

The Kid Chorus! (l. to r.) Eric, Jesse, Lauren & Vance

Needless to say, Eric and Jesse have grown up surrounded by our music and lots of outside musical experiences. Eric plays drums, Jesse plays piano, and they both have some incredible moments featured on this CD. But at this moment, all we needed were singers and we couldn’t have asked for better! Laughing and joking and full of confidence, the foursome tracked great harmonies on “Workin’ Kid Blues” and “Hiccup.”  After that we called it a very good day, and did an “Oh, yeah!” dance as Dave and Mikel chuckled.  Things are certainly going well, and this CD is so full of such variety I feel like we’re looking through a musical kaleidoscope — a little chaotic, but enchanting.

dancing in the studio

“Oh, Yeah!” job well done!

Hello from the studio!

We’re so happy to be recording a new CD – our fifth for the Milkshake Music catalog!  It’s called Got a Minute? and features short songs no longer than 2 minutes in length. The songs run the gamut, genre-wise.  Country, rap, rock, pop, with tunes featuring tuba, violin, bagpipes, ukulele, bells…it’s a beautiful thing, and I don’t remember ever having had such a fun time recording.  We want to thank everyone who helped spread the word about the project and pledged on Kickstarter to make it happen.  We wouldn’t be doing this without you.

Dave at the helm. 

We’ve decided to go back to our favorite studio, Invisible Sound, and work with owner Dave Nachodsky.  We feel at home here, and it’s chock full of different keyboards, drums, tube amps and musical gizmos we love and can try at any moment.  Just being in this place encourages creativity. It’s warm and interesting and not at all sterile like many modern-day state-of-the-art studios can be. Dave is old-school, caring and attentive.  And he hates auto-tune and unpreparedness.  He forces us to be our very best, and that’s a good thing.

On June 7th we started to lay basic tracks which included drums, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar.  On Friday, June 8th, we were visited by The Scally family, who have helped us immensely by pledging on our Kickstarter project under the “So you want to be a producer?” category.  This pledge entitled the family to hang out with us in the studio for an afternoon. So they left their home in California, drove across the country and incorporated a stop at Invisible Sound while we were recording as part of their summer vacation.

Ethan Scally & Tom in the studio.

The Scally family have been coming to our shows on the West Coast for a few years, now. It was so great to have them visit our hometown of Baltimore.  8 1/2 year-old Ethan helped Tom by holding a box during a song called “Working Kid Blues” while Tom drummed on it.  (Besides old school, we’re low-tech!). Ethan’s younger sister Sara kept everyone charmed with her funny antics and it was great to have an audience while we worked.

We worked through the weekend of June 9 and 10, finishing basic tracks and building songs.  Cord delighted in playing his new upright bass on some songs and it was perfect on the more acoustic tunes on the CD.  Tom amazed everyone with the immense variety in his drumming.  He helped make each song absolutely different and interesting by not playing the same beat twice, experimenting not just on drums and boxes, but with electronic loops and different variations of his drum kit, slowly eliminating parts until he was down to that one box.

( L – R) Lisa, Ethan Scally, Cord, Tom, Mikel and Sara Scally in the studio.

Look for more posts on the studio happenings and Milkshake musings in general each week. I think I’m liking this blogging thing. 🙂

Video of Mikel & Tom chatting in the studio

Our thanks to good friend and photographer Bill Auth for spending time with us in the studio, taking these and other pics.