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.

 

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.

 

Going Through a Photo Disc.

I am always happy when I receive a photo disc in the mail from our good friend Bill Auth. Bill has documented Milkshake’s life since the beginning in 2002, trying to go where we go, whether it’s glamorous (the Grammys, Austin City Limits, SiriusXM) or not (schools, libraries, backyards). Bill has been at the event, taking pictures, and helping when he can. We love him and are so thankful he’s there.

Our friend photographer Bill Auth.

Our friend, photographer Bill Auth.

It’s hard to keep up with all the photos sometimes and inevitably, some discs get misplaced in the train wreck that is my office. But thanks to the long weekend and indoor sports like cleaning, I came across two somewhat recent discs of amazing photos, one from our Annual Midnite Noon New Year’s Eve show at the Maryland Science Center, the other from our somewhat Annual Valentine’s Spectacular.

This was our 6th year performing at Midnite Noon and the Science Center is a great venue for big fun. Bill and new helper Joe hoist the confetti cannon to the top stairs and at noon, (or close to it!), Bill sets it off and yellow bits of confetti drift down on the audience. It’s really quite magical and a great way to start the new year a bit early. The folks at the Science Center are incredibly gung ho and accommodating and said the Earth Ball during “Travel Far” would be fine. I was a bit concerned but thought we were far enough away from the dinosaur exhibit. Still, we cut the song short because the Earth Ball was crashing into the cashiers and going in all kinds of potentially disastrous directions.

Our Valentine’s Spectacular is another favorite of mine, since I love saying “I love you” a lot and this gives me reason to celebrate that fact with rose petals and tulips and chocolate kisses. I always buy too much of these, but the kids love them. This was our fourth Spectacular, and we opened the show with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” It took mere seconds for the little girls to take all the tulips I placed on the stage and give them to their moms, but I hoped that would happen anyway. Moo passed out most of the chocolate kisses and took photos with many fans. During “I Love You,” I sat down and tossed rose petals. Mushy? Maybe. But again, the kids love it and we do, too.

I’ve picked a few of my favorite pictures to share with you. Thanks to Heidi Sheppard for snapping some of the Midnite Noon shots while Bill was manning the confetti cannon. Always so much fun!

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!

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