This summer, one national tour is threatening to make Deadheads out of a new generation: the ten-and-under crowd.
The three-year-old Rock and Roll Playhouse, a weekly family concert series hosted at Brooklyn Bowl, The Capitol Theatre and other New York venues, has already put on over 600 concerts with the mission of providing a shared musical experience for parents and children, but now the group is expanding across the country, with 16 Grateful Dead-themed shows on Father’s Day weekend at venues from the Echoplex in Los Angeles and Marathon Music Works in Nashville, to Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colo., and UC Theatre Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. The group is also collaborating with Newport Folk Presents to host a pair of kids’ concerts featuring the music of Bob Dylan (at Brooklyn Bowl June 24, and the Sinclair in Boston on July 15) while a pair of shows this summer will take place at the Ardmore Music Hall in Philadelphia.
At a typical concert, a sea of families make their way in as a “Hello Song” plays and children crowd in front of a stage. A band of local musicians dive into covers of music by the featured acts – such as Prince – as the kids frolic underneath a parachute to the beat of the drums or hula-hoop on the sidelines. Youngsters are encouraged to show their appreciation for their parents’ favorite music by sticking their fingers into the air and chanting “one more song,” and the afternoon ends with the band leading the all-ages audience in a choreographed rock-n-roll jump.
Billboard caught up with the program’s executive director, Amy Striem, for exclusive details on the brand’s expansion.
Billboard: What is the idea behind a Rock and Roll Playhouse show?
Amy Striem: The kids are experiencing a concert as their parents are experiencing the concert. We get the kids moving and engaged, starting out doing echoes back and forth. And then we curate our set so that we go through between 10 to 12 songs and we pair up the song with activities. So if it’s a Tom Petty show, the kids have rainbow streamers that they are using to move around the room and play with. Or they are doing a song and we are layering the instruments. For example, we will start off by playing the drums and we are teaching the kids what the drums will sound like. And then we will add in the baseline or add in guitar, vocals, keys. And throughout the entire process, we are educating them as we start the song. For the parents, it’s straight up rock and roll but we play it so that the volume is right for the kids and the activities are really engaging. And throughout the show, we are teaching things like motor skills, music education, all these things that are woven into the concert.
What’s the business model?
The business model is a collaboration between Peter Shapiro, who has owned and operated venues for 20 years, and myself, an early-childhood educator. We created a model that works for the families, musicians, and local venues. Rock and Roll Playhouse hosts shows for an audience that doesn’t often get to see live music, at a particular time of day (weekend mornings) when music venues are typically closed. Many of our parents have been to evening shows at the venues, but attending daytime shows is a new experience with a family. Our unique show timing, along with hiring great local musicians helps keep ticket prices low for families.
What is the most rewarding part of hosting these shows?
We are introducing the kids to their first rock and roll live music experience. But the thing that is the most powerful is it is a shared experience between the kids and the parents. The parents love it because it’s the music that they love and they are passing it down to their kids. Mom and dad are dancing to the music that they love alongside their kids. It’s great to see some kids are dancing, some kids are staring up at the stage in awe, and others put their hands on the monitors and feel the vibrations, and some are in the back having popcorn and taking it all in.
What is coming up for this summer’s programming?
Our New York City summer lineup will tackle a variety of themes like David Bowie, the music of Motown, Outlaw Country, Van Morrison, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Salsa Sounds, The White Stripes, Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel, and more. We will also for the first time be offering a special discounted summer pass for our dedicated Brooklyn Bowl customers.
See the full lineup here.