All entries filed under RockRoots

 

Our last RockRoots of this resurrected Spring season was at a summer recreation program in central NJ in Union. We set up in a pavilion in a large park, and started on time at 11 am. The kids were seated on the concrete in front of us, fairly close, and, I also encouraged the counselors to come up and sit in with the campers. (For the most part, they did and helped with their participation.)

I still stumbled over some of the monologue, but it’s been definitely an upgrade from the beginning of the spring. We played well, though Wayno was a little loud for having the kids so close. The Peanut Butter do-wop, as always, breaks any remaining barriers between the old white guys playing strange music and the young urban kids in the audience. But since these are kids who elect to participate in a summer program, these kids are open and ready.

I decided to stretch the session with some questions from the kids and this always fascinating. “Are you famous?” “Did you ever play on a stage?” “Have you played around the world?” etc…. I particularly like that we treat these kids’ interactions like adults. Several kids came up afterwards with some nice personal reflections, proving that we made a difference with our presence.

We finished up with All Around the Kitchen, with the kids coming up with some old favorites (The Dab and The Floss) but came up with some really nice new ones with curious names as well. The final one brought up some of the counselors who sealed the deal with some very funny ones (The Ace and The Patricia). I’m glad we put in the extra time in this kind of situation. The counselors loved it as did the kids. We done good.

I hit a ton of traffic, ironically here in PA just 10 miles from home. I had to add on an extra half hour to my return from New Jersey right here in the LV. Creeping NJ, as I call it. It was a good way to finish the school year with RockRoots. I love these guys.

 

It’s been a nice rebound of spring gigs for RockRoots and we finished our spring tour up at McGinn ES in Scotch Plains, NJ this morning. Luckily, it was an easy hour-plus drive from the Lehigh Valley across 78, and I set up early. We were booked for two assemblies at 9 and 10 am, with ~250 kids per show.

The first show was for the K – 2nd grades, some of whom had never been in an assembly before. It was fairly noisy, but the kids pulled it in eventually. They were fine. Lots of dancing at the end, and the teachers loved it.

The second show was for 3 and 4th grades. I was able to lift the educational level with these kids, and I think the PTA women and the principal appreciated it. We played well, and I think I finally got most of the monologue back in shape over the last three months.

There was a big traffic jam on 78 in PA on the return trip but I had some great Little Feat tunes to keep my mind satisfied. It’s good to be back on the road.

RockRoots had two NE Philly gigs this week, and there’s no direct route to these interesting neighborhoods. Our Wednesday afternoon gig was at Our Lady of Port Jefferson, in a fairly tightly-packed neighborhood. We were lucky to find some parking to unload out front, but latter gained access from the walled parking lot near the stage exit. Whew.

We loaded in and set up on the stage for the ~300 K – 8th graders. The kids were polite, though the 6th, 7th and 8th graders were a bit remote, no dancing or getting out of the chairs. One bright spot was a special needs 8th grade boy who surprised us all early in the show when he demonstrated the Irish jig. Not too shabby, neither.

The principal / nun was quite glad to have us, and we benefitted from an opening prayer. Perhaps she though we would need it. As usual, we played well, cleaning up the small stuff after our long sabbatical. The kindergarteners were great dancers, and the music teacher came up afterwards and thanked us for the show, as we thanked her for dedication to spread music in several school communities in North Philly. Not an easy job.

The ride home reminded me of our early RR gigs in Philly – afternoon traffic on the Schuylkill!

Friday’s gig was another NE Philly school Holy Innocents with a slightly smaller audience of 150 4 – 8th graders. This neighborhood was a little more spread out: I could see lots of sky today. And we were able to load in from near the stage. (We have to plan our escapes very carefully) This was held in a big gym, and since the group was smaller, we like to eschew the stage and play on floor with the kids.

The kids were mostly Latino in this neighborhood, and had taken in a Roots of Latin Music assembly the week before. Thus, the older kids were polite but a little removed. That’s why we have Kevin…. our secret ingredient.

The trip back was a tad more arduous – Friday afternoon, of course, I was pretty whipped when I got back to Fourth Street. Still, it’s great to be out there with RockRoots.

This turned out to be a remarkable gig at Coopertown ES in Bryn Mawr, PA this morning. It was good for me, for a change, not to worry about my part in the show. The post-Covid cobwebs have been, for the most part, banished and the show and my confidence  is back in good shape. Travel was easy and Kevin called and said he’d be late. No problem.

As I headed into the school with my guitar and mandolin, one mom in a drop-off lane commented that I might be pissing off a lot of people. What? As we struck up a conversation, she was referring to the tragic incident in a school in Texas the day before. I finally connected that my carrying a black case into a school was disconcerting to some parents. We straighten that out with a little humor, but, apparently (pun intended), the concern was in the air. And, we helped a little bit with the show. More, later.

The principal introduced us, saying that this was the first assembly in three years, and for many of the kids in the house it was their first ever (the 1st and 2nd and some of the 3rd grades weren’t in school), so that was interesting. Assemblies were the best part of going to school for most of us, I think.

Two shows with about 225 K – 5th students each, but the grades were mixed around so we had to aim for the middle ground. No kiddie show. The kids were great, a wonderful 5th grade girl nailed the Irish Jig, the Peanut Butter do-wop groups rose to the occasion and were delightfully giggly, zany and being kids. Everyone got up and danced.

The teachers and the PTA liaison loved it. One teacher said that she has I Like Peanut Butter and will play it for her kids in class. Again, deep roots. But the general feeling was that RockRoots provided a tremendous relief for the whole school on such a grey emotional day. YANJ got this message from the school:

“We all very much enjoyed RockRoots yesterday!  The show could not have come at a more perfect time for the students and teachers after such sadness in the news from Texas. It was so good for all of our hearts to see the kids laughing, dancing and singing.  The joy was palpable. Thank you!”

We’re making a difference sometimes when we don’t even know it.

 

This is the third RockRoots in Catholic schools this spring, and it’s good to back in the saddle again. Mother of Providence School is in Warrington, PA, not far from our school gig on Wednesday and about an hour and a quarter down the Blue Route (476) into the burbs outside Philly. We set up again in the gym on an increasingly hot Friday afternoon.

I’m finally feeling secure and confident in my handling of the show, with two gigs under my belt with lessons learned. This was a full house of about 270 K – 8th graders and teachers.

Early on in the show when we do the Folk Dance segment, I always ask if someone takes Irish step dancing and, often, especially in catholic schools, some one steps up, so to speak. After some prodding, an eighth grade red-headed girl was volunteered by her teacher and she really delivered to the delight of the whole school. When this happens, the entire audience hops on our side.

When we do Blue Suede Shoes, I pick on the teachers to get up and “Go, Cat, Go”, another way to prod the audience and have the teachers loosen up for the kids. Once the teachers are up, we get the kids to get up too, and it’s the first actively dance moment for the entire group. I noticed two men who didn’t initially get up, so, as I’ll often do, stop the show and spotlight the teachers who aren’t participating. Invariably, the teachers do it, to the delight of the students. This time, one gentleman, immaculately dressed refused to join in and leaned on him to no avail. As I found out after the show, he was the major donor for this assembly. Again, I amaze myself with my ability to amplify my ignorance.

We rolled through the show today, with kids and teachers up and dancing for the last ten minutes – Beatles, Disco and Rock and Roll Music. As we packed up, several teachers came up and thanked us for the show.

As I drove home in Friday afternoon traffic, I was walloped with several torrential downpours and by the time I eventually landed on Fourth Street, I was whipped. As much as I love the travel, the whole process makes for a long and exhausting day.

I figured one thing I’ve missed, though, with the long commutes to gigs, is the chance to take in a whole album of music. Today, in spite of the traffic and weather, I was able to fully digest a new album from my friend Geoff Bartley and unpack some beautiful moments in his new CD Eyes on the Road (an apt title if ever there was one for this trip). He made the hassle all worth while.

 

St. Mary Magdalene School in Media, PA

We headed to Media, PA for a doubleheader at St. Mary Magdalene School on Wednesday afternoon. Only an hour plus drive from home, I got there early enough, set up the PA in the gym and waited for the lads. We were ready to go for the 1:15 start. We were scheduled with only a 5 minute turn over so we discussed that we should run a tight 45 minute show, something that Kevin wants all the time. (He will occasionally give me a “keep it moving” poke during one of my introductions. Noted.

I did some homework to help me recall what the show was like pre-pandemic and found our disco section. We decided to put that in, extend the dancing from the previous Beatles set, and head for the ending. It worked well and I even recalled the call-and-response during the second show. I only drew one blank with my cue for Good Golly Miss Molly, as the band was looking at me while I was looking at them. Anyway, I recovered quickly…. I’m still thinking too much.

The first show was for 130 6th – 8th graders and, per usual for a catholic school, polite though reserved. The teachers were similar but enjoyed the show. The second show for 3rd – 5th grades was predictably more spirited and responsive with lots of dancing at the end.

The band played well and the boys put up with a slightly scattered set list. Thankfully, after two years in hibernation, the show is gelling again. Personally, I’ve been worried that I have lost the total recall of the show that was the case three years ago. Yes, some of it is due to my age – I don’t have the muscle mental memory I once had, but we stumble through and put on a great assembly. Again, teachers love it (the music teachers thanked us at the end of the second show) and the kids left the gym charged up, yelling “Kevin! Kevin!” like old times. Wayne and Nick get some shouts, too. Good for their egos, too. I have to settle for the smiles and chuckles from the teachers during the show.

We’re headed back this way for a Friday afternoon show at another Catholic school nearby.

We headed down the Turnpike to Levittown for a Wednesday morning assemble, near Bristol, Pa, hometown of my folks. I got there early, introduced myself to the principal (dressed in full beard as Joel Embiid!!) and set up in the gym. As the band arrived, we had a chance to go over The Snippets – the short medley of regional R&R styles, and that proved to be beneficial.

I really didn’t review the show like I should have, relying on muscle memory, and, for the most part, I did okay. I did misplace the Elvis section, putting the Do Wop first. Our Peanut Butter section is a riot with four kids coming up, giving them red shades, and the crowd loving it, including the older kids (7th / 8th graders) responding to one of their own on stage.

We finished with All Around The Kitchen with the entire gym up and dancing. I always ask several teachers to come up at the very end, and one teacher (who I noticed dancing in the back during the show) came up and demonstrated The Bristol Stomp (only three miles away). She nailed it!!!.

The principal lauded the show after the kids left, claiming that he had played drums in bands a long time ago. The Stomp teacher came back in and said we were the best assembly ever. It’s nice to hear that, and important for the rest of the band to hear, too. RockRoots is pretty special.

I was pleased to hear that I will be awarded  for  Distinguished Service NJ Governor’s Award by YANJ. “This award is dedicated to folks with a deep dedication to the work of teaching artistry, and you were an easy choice to receive the honor this year.”

I’ll be headed to the award ceremony in Trenton at the War Memorial Arena on Thursday, May 26th. Cool.

Since 1980, this ceremony has highlighted and recognized the outstanding arts achievements of student and educators in New Jersey.  Award recipients are selected on the basis of criteria established by various sponsoring organizations.

Governor’s arts represent the highest honor a state can confer in the arts. Across the country, governor’s arts awards programs share similar goals. Collectively, these programs acknowledge and showcase the best of arts and cultural communities. They highlight awardees’ statewide achievements—or, in some cases, national or even international successes—related to creativity and/or leadership. They recognize awardees’ visions as well as the talent and hard work they bring to bear in realizing.

Governor’s Awards website: https://www.njgaae.org/
I’ve had the chance to absorb this news and I’m feeling quite gratified, reflecting on the many early hours driving to schools in NJ for RockRoots gigs, songwriting residencies and solo assemblies across CT, NJ, PA and right here in the Lehigh Valley.

RockRoots

A partial list for RockRoots: Kevin Soffera, Nick Franclik, Wayne Smith, Don Mayer, Billy Wear, Craig Thatcher, Beau Jones, Rick Levy, Jeff Biro, Todd Schied, Neil Braunstein and others. I am also thankful for Donna Reckelhoff at Young Audiences of NJ who has really hustled our show to NJ schools since 1991.
YANJ has given me the financial ability to raise my family since 1991, a deep knowledge in the field of Teaching Artistry with college-level workshops, and provided me a rich laboratory to work on my craft as a TA. I have also benefited from being immersed in this community of creative teaching artists and inspired me to create Teaching Artists of the Lehigh Valley. I am blessed.

All Kids First Child Care Center in Vineland, NJ

This was going to be a challenge for RockRoots. First of all, Vineland is over two hours from the Lehigh Valley, with three vehicles with musicians at the wheel. Second, we had two shows for 120 three/four year-olds and then another for 80 four/five year-olds. These ages present some major situations for me and the band.

I left at 6:45 am for the 10 and 11 am shows. I know a fairly good (non-Philly) route and got there in plenty of time. I’ve played this school a couple of years ago with my solo folk show, so I felt at home. It’s a well-run and friendly group of teachers, with Miss Carole, the founder and principal of this private pre-school. Class rooms are spread throughout a campus of small buildings. We were in the main building, carpeted and filled with great art.

A wonderful and comfortable assembly space.

I set up the PA and waited for the band. Kevin called in to let me know when he’d get there and arrived w/ twenty minutes. Not a problem for us. Nick and Wayne arrived with 4 minutes to spare, and I said to Nick that a call would have been nice. (grrr…) Still, we were ready to go at 10 after, and the little kids and their teachers started coming in.

Three and four year-olds sat in awe of the band, some cupping their ears – only a couple, but understood. I don’t believe many had ever seen such a thing. That’s powerful stuff.

Kevin’s drums set and wall art. Nice!

I started by introducing the players and their instruments, a good and friendly way to ease our way into the show, and give them some things to concentrate on and some knowledge. Then, we did Rock and Roll Music as a band. The teachers were now at ease and ready to have fun.

We rolled through our simpled-down set: African rhythm, Irish mandolin tunes, Fishin’ Blues, Charlie Stone (the vocal trombone got their attention), Mojo and Battle of New Orleans. We’ve been putting in a kids’ song at this point and today we did We Gave Names. Again, simple song for the band (they get to have some fun while I’m dealing with the audience interaction and educational aspects.

I cut out a lot of the historical rap, a few medleys, cut to My Girl (with audience singing – mostly the teachers) and headed for the finale – today it was All Around the Kitchen. Get ’em up and dancing. It worked like a charm. Amazing, actually. The kids were all up and moving, teachers dancing. After a few examples (including the new Car Dealership dance), I bring selected kids (I ask for three and get six… and that’s okay) and have them demonstrate their moves, always surprising and delightful for the band and the teachers. I then do the last dance by selecting a teacher (I always have my eye on the most likely culprit), who, in turn, gets to pick two other teachers. That always amps up the energy immensely and the teachers (especially in this age group) always knock it out of the park. The first show featured the two male teachers, and I remarked that they were Chippendales. That got a chuckle out of the teachers.

We finished up the two shows, got some great thankyous from teachers and Miss Carole, who said she’d like us back next year.

Why does it work, even for such a novel audience?

  1. Let’s face it, a large part of the audience is the faculty and staff. They really appreciate the talent of the musicians, my dry commentary and asides, and the educational content and delivery of the material. We are the real deal.
  2. Even if the spoken material goes over the heads of the little kids, some things stick like city names, instruments, genres, etc. But, they get to see a live band. Life-changing.
  3. The band members are good people and enjoy each other’s company. No small thing.
  4. We show up and, for the most part, start on time, end on time. We are professionals and represent Young Audiences well. Our liaison Donna at YANJ headquarters also is extremely friendly, helps promote RockRoots and can negotiate any weather concerns, schedule snafus in a friendly manner. We are professionals in every way.

The long day and intensity of running two professional and entertaining show, five-plus hours of Jersey driving took its toll and I feel it, even a day later. Gettin’ old, but still gettin’ better at the job I love.

The RockRoots shows are far and few between these days. As Kevin pointed out on Tuesday, we used to do close to 20 shows a month, often 3 or 4 times a week. This was only the second one this fall. It was a good one, though.

This was a special needs school in nearby Warren County, NJ. There are usually few students and more teachers per student. Today there was roughly 20 kids (mostly boys) from ages 10 to 17, and they were an excellant audience. I was more comfortable with the show’s format now that I’ve done it a couple times since the pandemic, and it rolled well and the band played well.

At the end, I decided to open the floor up for questions, and we were able to talk about how each of us started out playing music at their age, how we play regularly with other bands, that we don’t necessarily rehearse with this band since we’ve been doing it so long. One kid asked if we started playing in order to get girls. That brought a big chuckle from everyone in the gym.

The show was a hit and several teachers and the custodian commented that it was the best assembly they had seen in years. That’s always nice to hear, and something we don’t always get to hear before we leave the school. A good day.

We’ve done this North Philly day camp a couple of years ago and it was a little tough for us since we did our straight historical show for a fairly young and black camp group. A lot of the show went over their heads so I was glad that they asked us back and asked us to vary up the show a little. We did a library show in Jersey a month ago and I got to try out this “new” show back then and it worked out well. Today was the situation that I had planned for back then.

Actually, the kids got up and danced from the get-go and we didn’t have a problem when we stuck to the basic “roots” portion of the show early on.  I stuck in Names to the Animals after the swing era. It was a good break and re-engaged the kids nicely. We did the early R&R stuff, did I Like Peanut Butter, followed with My Girl. Another break with Giants and finished with a great version of All Around the Kitchen with everybody up and dancing, with some of the counselors showing off some nice moves. (One older woman came up and did “Smooth” which the kids and the band thought was really good. She knocked it out of the park.)

We were lucky to miss the heavy rains later in the day, and the camp and counselors had a great time. Sometimes I worry too much. It was a long haul down and back on a very humid day. I’m beat.

An appropriate drawing of how it felt on our first gig back in 18 months.

This was our first RockRoots in a year and a half. We were booked for a library camp program held in the gym of the local school for about 120 kids (k-6) and about 25 teen counselors and two librarians. It was a brutally hot day in July and we were thankful for the AC, for sure.

As usual, it was the usual 1.5 hour commute from PA and, of course, Nick and Wayne had faulty GPS help, but, again, of course, we started on time at 10 am. I was glad I checked out the PA (also sitting in moth balls for 18 months) and things were working. Now, all I had to worry about was remembering the show and adding a few wrinkles I had worked up.

I decided to sit down for this one. My asthma is high and stamina low and that was a good idea. The format and most of the script flowed well, to my surprise, and the show moved well, thanks to the lads being professionals.

I added a couple non-history songs for this one, breaking up the show somewhat, but I think the situation was appropriate and helped out the attention spans of the kids. I put in We Gave Names to the Animals that was fun and provided some give and take with the kids (and librarians love the rhyme-play). Later on, I threw in Giants just for fun. And, at the end, we did All Around the Kitchen that was a riot.

Through out the show, I tried to engage the counselors, who, without fail, don’t what to get involved. But, thanks to a few who understand their role in interacting with the kids, they came around at the end.

All Around the Kitchen gives the kids a chance to show off their dance moves and then I brought up 5 councellors to show us their moves. I had also asked the counselors sitting on the side to come down and dance with their kids. All in all, it was a great unifying event to finish off the show. It worked.

The band did well in spite of a few key difficulties and appreciated the new material. It was a long drive back and it made for a long day. I find myself pretty exhausted from the gig, but I’m glad we got the band together again and re-inflated the show.

These RockRoots gigs are far and few between and were once my main source of income. We’d often play three times a week, especially in the second half of the school year. Things have dropped off precipitously since the 2008 financial collapse. I also haven’t pursued the booking, letting YANJ take the lead.

We returned to Clinton Middle School, a mere 40 minutes away in western NJ. We’ve been here regularly and the staff and teachers are always glad to have us. 450 6th, 7th, 8th graders – a tough age to play for, in general, but can be quite excitable. I’m always somewhat insecure in my abilities to capture their attention and drive the show home. Thankfully, I have great sidemen who play strong so that the kids have no chance but see a good band. That counts for a lot.

The kids were great and, since we had a very tight window to do the show, we take it on to play a crisp show. I have to deliver the script and do what I can not over talk. I did better than I expected, with a small bump (the lads where there with the cue). The secret is to not stop and let the muscle memory take over. (With fewer shows, I don’t have the confidence that I use to have.)

Again, the staff was quite gracious and, as we were rolling out our equipment among the exiting students, several kids thanked us for the show. We seldom get to hear this feedback from the kids, and soothed some of the angst I feel when I’m playing for this age group.

I didn’t spend 3 hours on the road for a Jersey gig on a Friday afternoon. That’s nice.

RockRoots wrapped up our annual Catholic Schools Week with two afternoon sets at Cardinal Foley School in Havertown, northwest of Philly near the Main Line. We’ve played here before and we welcomed by Howard, the custodian. I got there early so I had a chance to chat with him and it was great.

Howard

It seems Howard, a black man about my age, said he played drums back in the day – with Lawrence Welk in Chicago  (there’s a story…), as well as many pro gigs in Atlantic City. This guy was no slouch. We talked about his situation in this school, the only male teacher (he’s picked up some classes in shop, etc.) among 47 women. We talked about working with kids and being real / in the present with the students, trying to loosen up the teachers along the way. He introduced jump rope to the school, finding out no one knows about it. One teacher said, “I’ll Google it.” missing the whole point of active learning. Howard could do The Double Dutch! and did it for the kids. I gave him my Playground CD that has jump rope rhymes all over it. What a great connection before the gig even happened. Howard walks the walk. (He’s taking up piano…)

We had two sets for K-5 for about 225 kids and then a 6-8 for about 115 kids (and teachers). Both went very nicely with the usual catholic school respect for us as artists. The older kids are always the toughest (due to our obscure repertoire, for them) but they warmed up and we got several thanks from individuals as they left the gym – always quite surprising! This band really has my back, especially when I have to wrassle with the intros. I used to do them several times a week, but we’re down to several times a semester so I’m never totally confident until I’m in the flow – muscle-memory takes over.

I held my own with the speechifying with a minor glitch during the last RockRoots Rap, where I play Da Fool, doing an old white-guy rapper. It has come to this, my friends. It’s then I really know if they appreciate our sense of humor. Today, they were most forgiving.

It was a great day out on the road. I am out of shape for a double, so back to the gym. But the energy of the band and the kids made the second one easier.

Howard, doing his thang.

Howard sat in the back for most of the first set and I could see he was taking it all in. Great. It made my day. Eventually, he came up and helped out the kids with My Girl. What a fine gentleman to share a Thursday afternoon with. Thanks, Howard.

Back to Bethlehem for tonight’s Dave’s Night Out!

The last week of January is the one week that catholic schools spend some money on the arts so RockRoots has always pulled in a couple of gigs from it. Today, we played an afternoon set for about 100 3rd – 8th graders in Elmwood Park in the middle of NJ.

These catholic schools are invariably pleasant to play for: the kids are respectful and attentive, the teachers are hip and give us a comfortable audience to play for.

We haven’t played as a band for months and, along with my more frequent mental lapses, I didn’t have great confidence in my remembering all the nuances of the show. I was counting on muscle memory, and, for the most part, we did really well. I was also glad that there were no equipment snafus that always distract me from the show.

I rolled pretty quickly through the show and, after the show, the lads reminded me that I had forgotten to do Mojo for the R&B example, but I did do the intro featuring Wayne’s electric blues work. I suppose I was thinking ahead to the Country intro, but I escaped any damage to the show. Still, it’s a concern for me, but now I know for the next show’s on Thursday.

All in all, the show was well received and the principal and the teachers came up and said that it was great. A couple of girls came up for autographs, as well.

It’s really good to get back on the road with this show. I feel better about my place in the world, too.

RockRoots hasn’t had a lot of gigs recently, partly because we haven’t done showcases for YANJ in years, mostly because some members of the band have insisted on getting paid for the gig. I simply can’t afford to do that, so I’ve turned down showcases up til this year. Seems the lads realized that our drought is connected to this lack of initiative. So, we were part of this showcase day in Scotch Plains, NJ with about ten other acts from the YANJ roster.

I rarely get to see the other roster artists in action and I particularly like to see other professionals do their 15 minutes. Some great movement/dancers, jugglers, storytellers, etc. are part of this organization.

Since it’s been months since we’ve done the show, and, coupled with dealing with a 12 -15 minute set restriction, I was worried about the gig. I lost some sleep the night before, trying to figure things out and ended up getting up around 5 am to collect my recollections on the show. I do suffer from some senior moments these days.

I got a call from Kevin around 8:30 this morning. Nick, our bass player, had broken down with car problems so we had to perform as a trio. Rock and roll without a bass player is not an easy thing. But, it’s what we had to do. Kevin, Wayne and I gathered our wits before the set, figured out what sections to keep and what ones to jettison, keep Wayne’s guitar simple, plow through the set with what we’ve got and hope I remember the glue to make it whole. No easy thing.

As the school ushered in a group of 2nd and 3rd graders for our three-act partition, we quickly set up our equipment off to the rear. We followed an energetic movement/dance troupe and quickly set up our two amps and drums. We were introduced as a quartet, which was immediately amusing with the three of us standing behind the emcee. And we launched.

The sound was severely lacking without the bass but with my standard ability to talk my way through the show, we managed to convey the elements we wanted to get across: African rhythms, country/R&B rhythms, 50’s snippets and Elvis, followed My Girl and disco music segments. We got the kids up and dancing, engaged the teachers and PTA reps in the audience and finished fairly strongly. I still wish that we could have presented “the sound” of a band, which is one of the strong points of what we do.

It was a lot of work and I appreciate the professionalism of Kevin and Wayne to pull this off.  I actually was impressed with my ability to recall and deliver the show. I wasn’t sure I could do it, especially under these conditions. Phew. Exhausting.

This was a tough gig in several ways. We were booked to play for a summer camp in North Philly for about 140 kids and counselors and we were asked to play outside near a pavilion at a school’s playground. We drove onto the site, found electricity and started to set up. My brand new PA head didn’t turn on. 140 urban kids waiting to hear a band and we’ve got no vocals or my instruments. We tried everything so I had to drag out my two channel guitar/vocal cabinet and I plugged my guitar and my vocal into it and it seemed to get enough volume to start us off. During the show, Nick and myself were switching Wayne’s vocal with mine and my guitar and my mandolin back and forth. How professional. It, of course took our attention away from the show.

The show itself doesn’t work as well in a camp situation as it does in an assembly. The kids are not as focused, the counselors don’t have the same clout as teachers, and it is the summer. I did think the group did quite well for the situation, counselors got up and danced (and that encouraged the kids) and there were pockets of girls and boys who found ways to interact with each other, so we did our best to keep the music moving. I’m just not sure that the presentational/historical aspect had much affect, and these kids have no idea who Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, etc. are (nor the fact that they are radically important black artists).

The kids and staff were very polite and everyone enjoyed the afternoon’s show. Still, it was work. Thank goodness for working with my professional friends in the band.

Driving up from Philly was a bitch, though, and I was beat when I got back after 4 pm.

Off to Riegelsville for a spotlight set at Andy’s Jam. I’m dragging for this one.

The end of the year gigs are fairly few these days, but always welcome on my schedule. We were at Franklin ES in mid-NJ for two afternoon assemblies: 250 K-2 and 350 3-5 in an “old-school” gym. The PTA woman welcomed us and we got set up quickly for the 1 pm assembly. Both shows went really well, the kids and teachers had a great time and the band played professionally, as usual. I was able to maintain the dialogue and the flow (not always the case when we have large gaps in between shows) and I’m glad I have my new hips working so I can perform standing for two straight shows. No small thing.

The usual high points were the young girls jigging early in the shows, the doo-wop kids nailing I Like Peanut Butter and everyone up and dancing during both shows. As we finished and started to pack up, one third grade teacher came up and said that one student had said to her, not only was it the best assembly he had seen, but the best show he had ever seen. Now that’s pretty cool.

It’s really nice to drive back home after shows like these.

We had a 9:30 am assembly at a catholic school near Trenton, a school we’ve played several times, most recently about five years ago. And, as it is with parochial schools, there were stairs…..

There were about 300 K – 8th graders, with the younger kids on the floor of the gym and the older kids in movable bleachers on the rim, so it was a comfortable arena for us. I noticed that the seventh and eighth graders had pen and paper with them and they seemed to be taking notes.

We did a really good show, and Wayne played some very nice leads, Kevin and Nick doing their usual solid playing and I seemed to remember everything in the speechifying department. So, it was another very good gig. The kids were especially respectful and their were great moments throughout. Three young girls got up and jigged – always a nice community connection early in the show.

The teachers loved it, and I had a chance to chat with the music teacher who was ‘instrumental’ in bring us back. She explained that the older kids were taking notes for a quiz on American music, and, combined with our study guide, would give them a pretty good overview on the subject. The little kids got to dance and see a live band, and take in any history that sunk in. There’s lots of positive elements for even such a broad spectrum of ages. That’s why the show works for audiences like this.

And a group of the older boys carted our stuff out to the curb. I love catholic schools.

Not a bad day out, with a 7 am departure and noon arrival back home. Good stuff.

We had the pleasure of playing a small ES in Bay Head, NJ, right on the Jersey Shore this afternoon. It meant five hours plus on the road, but it turned out nice. I got to town about an hour and a half early so I took advantage to take in the ocean for twenty minutes before heading to the school. Good for the soul, even if the wind and surf were up on a breezy and cloudy April day.

The lads got there pretty soon after I did and we set up. The music teacher Vinny Esperanza was working with the K kids on some songs, trying to get them to sing a couple of songs for the upcoming Spring Concert, dealing with some rambunctious boys the afternoon before Spring break.  Good luck. It was cool to see a young music teacher using an electric guitar with the kids’ songs. He did Daydream Believer and I thought it would be cool to have him part of the show.

I talked with Kevin and the band about it and decided we could do a stripped-down version of that song in the show. I felt it would be a bonus for the kids as well as for Vinny.

Doing a K – 8th grade show is sometimes difficult, with reactions varying from “get up and dance” to “oh, please, not this!” But everyone was polite and responsive. Three girls got up to dance on the jigs early on, and that’s always a crowd pleaser. The four kids who got up for Peanut Butter did a wonderful job, as well.

When we got Mr. Esperanza up for Daydream Believer, the school was juiced, both kids and teachers. He played my acoustic and the band delivered, with the kids singing along in full voice. It was a very nice experience for the home crowd and I’m glad we were flexible enough to pull it off. It’s these little things that make RockRoots special.

Teachers and kids had a great time and we headed back for PA about 2:20. Back in Bethlehem by 4:30. Six and a half hours on the road, but worth it, as always.