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What demographic writes the best music for kids? This question is nearly impossible to answer definitively. Amazing musicians come from all walks of life, after all. But parents usually have an advantage in kids’ music: They have a captive (un)willing audience at home. What works for them, what works for their kids, is usually great music. So I want to share three of my favorite geeky dad musical acts: Ants, Ants, Ants, Red Yarn, and Trout Fishing in America.
Ants, Ants, Ants
This Portlandian duo features Johnny Clay and Dave Gulick. Both have been active in Portland’s independent music scene for a while, and the combo of their talents is a treat. They are the writers, performers, and producers for a new album called Why Why Why?, which was also recorded in Portland. Why Why Why? is a musical delight which is fun and bouncy, perfect for young kids.
My particular favorites on Why Why Why? include “Morning Song,” “Helicopter Leaves,” and “Why Why Why?,” the title song. “Morning Song” is a great wake up and move song. “Helicopter Leaves” reminds me of chill songs from The Beatles. “Why Why Why?” explores some of the more interesting questions of our lives, and how the holes in our knowledge go “on and on and on.”
Red Yarn, AKA Andy Furgeson, is a double-act country musician/puppeteer. His album Red Yarn’s Old Barn is a fun-filled country album about the creatures and puppets in the barn. The album is filled with the kinds of messages everyone should hear, especially kids. While it is decidedly designed for younger kids, the messages can give (and have given) me chills. From the penultimate song, “To Raise a Barn,” comes the following message, which touched me the most.
It takes a spark, child, to face the darkest night.
It takes some darkness to make the fire shine bright.
It takes the bonfire to keep a village warm.
It takes a village to raise a barn.
This message stands out as something I had to learn as an adult, but wish I’d learned as a kid. Every part of life has a purpose, even the things we don’t see much point in. The album tells an over-arching story which is brought together when played in sequence, but each song stands alone as a wonderful addition to the road trip playlist.
Trout Fishing in America
This wonderful musical duo is based in Arkansas, and I saw them regularly as a kid. They have remained one of my favorite musical acts through the years, and their impact on me has been immeasurable. Their music ranges in target audience from toddlers to retirees and is fun for all ages.
The album Big Trouble came out in 2000, when I was only 12, and left a particular mark on my childhood which left me life messages I still use today. “Nobody” taught me that words have unintentional meanings all the time, and that literal answers—no matter how precise—can be misunderstood.
Other songs of theirs taught me emotional lessons, too. “Lullaby” let me hear the type of song and sentiments which a parent should express to their children. This was important to me, as a child in an unhealthy upbringing, because it framed the picture of the kind of parent I knew I could be. It answered, in part, the question of “what kind of parent do I want to be, if I don’t want to be like my own parents?”
“I Think I’ll Need a Bandaid” helped me in a different way. Because I was (understandably, I think) not a fan of bleeding, I avoided anything which might possibly hurt me, even if it wasn’t a likely conclusion of events. In “I Think I’ll Need a Bandaid,” Keith and Ezra sing from the perspective of a kid with an injury. He’s very matter of fact about the experience and takes care of the problem himself. I felt empowered and emboldened by this frank and assertive response to a minor injury, and realized it was actually okay to get a scrape here or there because I could just clean it up and let it heal.
This summer, I suggest three bands for you to consider for your family music collection or road trip playlist. Ants Ants Ants is great for younger kids, as is Red Yarn. Trout Fishing in America will knock your socks off regardless of age, but the bulk of their work is largely meant for kids ages 3+.