Latin Conference & Awards

'Family Music' Keeps Zanes Busier Than Ever

Despite having new children's book and DVD projects in stores this month, Dan Zanes has no plans of slowing down. On horizons near and not so far for the popular "family music" maker is a U.S. tour, a

Despite having new children's book and DVD projects in stores this month, Dan Zanes has no plans of slowing down. On horizons near and not so far for the popular "family music" maker is a U.S. tour, a compilation for Starbucks' Hear Music label and a new studio disc he'll issue through his own Festival Five label.

A founding member of the 1980s rock act the Del Fuegos, Zanes has since around the turn of this century turned his energies to making music that appeals to children and parents alike. The four Dan Zanes & Friends albums he's released -- available through a variety of retailers and his Web site, DanZanes.com -- have employed the likes of Aimee Mann, Bob Weir, Suzanne Vega, John Doe, Lou Reed, Sheryl Crow and other guests to help him flesh out entertaining sing-along songs.

"I think the danger is when music becomes a passive experience and what I always like to try and do is encourage people to do it themselves," says Zanes, who does most of his recording at his Brooklyn, N.Y., home. "I think music can really bring people together in a way that few other pursuits can. It's so easy and it's so fundamental to our culture and yet we've drifted so far down the path of letting other people do it for us and we just sit back and listen."

Encouraging that participation is at the center of all of Zanes' projects. His second book, "Jump Up!" (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers) is an illustrated lyric to his song of the same name, with the artwork supplied by his brother-in-law, Donald Saaf.

"He's very sympathetic to what I'm trying to do and he plays on all the CDs anyway, so he knows what the themes of the songs are," Zanes says. The book also includes a CD with "Jump Up!" and four songs exclusive to this project: "Sail Away Ladies," "Going To Boston," "Mango Walk" and "Hal-an-Tow."

Meanwhile, the Festival Five DVD "All Around the Kitchen" pairs nine songs from concert footage with three videos he's made with Nickelodoen's pre-K channel Noggin, two from PBS' "Sesame Street," "and one that we made out of home movies," he says.

"Again, it's just really the same thing -- I think to sit and watch it gives you the idea that it's not really that hard to do," Zanes adds. "I do get the feeling from people that have seen it and that have seen the videos that it does make people do their own singing and dance around and not necessarily leave it to the professionals."

Noggin has increasingly utilized music in its programming, from filling between show breaks with videos by Zanes, Lisa Loeb & Elizabeth Mitchell and Laurie Berkner, to the new series "Jack's Big Music Show." Although generally not a fan of the television medium, Zanes appreciates the exposure the channel has brought him.

"It's made a huge difference," he says. "It's really brought us to a lot of people, which I have mixed feelings about, because I think that children of America would be better off if TVs were taken out of every household. Having said that, I feel pretty clear about my message and my goal, which is to make music making seem like a good idea for everybody. So, now I'm in favor of taking that outlet and working with it."

In February, Hear Music will release a disc of old and new Zanes & Friends material with a "dance party" theme in Starbucks retail outlets. "I think they've done something incredible, opening up this whole new way of selling CDs," says Zanes, who previously had one of his songs included on the company's "Gather Round (Songs for Kids and Other Folks)" compilation. "And I love the whole idea of it. For me it's just so primal, the whole idea of let's have a dance party."

He's also begun work on a new studio album he hopes to release in fall 2006 he calls "Social Music," a working title "that my wife and my daughter both say is a terrible one," he admits. "I've already recorded one song for it with the Kronos Quartet. We did a Leadbelly song called 'Grey Goose.' I love them and it came out really well."

This weekend, Zanes will open what he calls "our biggest tour so far," with shows Saturday (Sept. 17) in Cleveland and Sunday in Washington, D.C., and mostly family friendly weekend dates through mid-December.

"We're playing bigger theaters and more shows and trying to incorporate more people from the towns that we're playing in," he explains. "We're trying to make the lighting a little crazier and the outfits maybe a little more colorful, but it's basically kind of an old fashioned entertainment, really. We like it to be as much of a little Grateful Dead show as possible where the audience is a big part of the festivities."

Between gigs, he plans to keep the other projects moving along. "During the week I'm participating in the label and recording, so it's more than a full time job," Zanes says. "But I'm very grateful for that. I've had times when I didn't have much going on. I've had both experiences and I would definitely take this one, given the choice, any day."