WXPN's KindieComm celebrates kids music this weekend

KindieComm in University City will include performances for youngsters, but also conferences for those who entertain them.

Professional rockers and rappers, folkies and bluesniks will convene this weekend in University City to trade children's tunes, entertain "the base," and debate burning issues at the KindieComm music conference, the annual blowout for kids music-making.

Among them: "What's the ideal set length for today's short-attention-span listener? Maybe just 15 minutes?"

What are today's most relevant issues in song? Having two mommies or daddies? The dangers of polluted water and air? How to pick your friends and your nose (best not at the same time)?

And while they're digging deep, KindieComm conventioneers will also return to academe (a.k.a. Schoolhouse Rock) with the world's best numerical rhymer - jazz legend Bob Dorough. And hear wise counsel from pros (Yosi and Kevin Kammeraad, and Lard Dog) who integrate puppets and other large-scale props into their concerts.

No, this is not just an April Fool's Day column. Holding forth for real in both performance spaces and conference rooms at the joint quarters of World Cafe Live and WXPN, this KindieComm is the third national gathering and affirmation for the parallel universe of children's music. It's an educational, empowering art form and business now enjoying the best and the worst of times, scene watchers suggest.

"We're getting more and better new album releases - about 15 a week - than we ever have before in the 26-year history of the Kids Corner show," testified Robert Drake, producer of that longtime WXPN-88.5 radio staple (weeknights, 7-8 p.m.) and cocreator of KindieComm.

Drake also marvels about the staggering array of submissions this year from family-friendly indie artists "all across the country" craving to play the big showcase Saturday night (open just to their peers) and the midday Sunday Kids Corner Music Festival (open to all tykes, for a $15 to $18 fee).

The latter will be top-billed by Tim Kubart, host of the Sunny Side Up show on Sprout TV, the Comcast owned cable/Web channel. Also this year's Grammy winner for best children's music album, Kubart creates a pop-rocking sound that "also appeals to adults, so they don't mind hearing it over and over again in the car," Drake said. "It's seriously good stuff."

In the greater Philadelphia area alone, several dozen practitioners are now believed to be pursuing kids music-making full time or most of the time.

"And even the smallest town in America now has at least one indie artist working the schools, libraries, and community centers," noted Stephanie Mayers, a consultant to children's music artists who got her first taste of this scene a decade ago when launching the still-popular Peanut Butter and Jams Saturday concert series at World Cafe Live.

On the downside, getting exposure is "harder than ever before in today's media-saturated environment," bemoaned Mayers, who has worked with the likes of former adult rocker Dan Zanes (Del Fuegos), now a children's fave, and the worthy Putumayo Kids label.

"CD sales aren't what they used to be," she noted. "Magazines like People and US Weekly that used to review our albums when adult stars like Jewel were dabbling don't do so anymore. And radio shows like Kids Corner are few and far between - with Sirius/XM's Kids Place Live being the only national outlet for a broad array of music."

How about Disney Radio and Nickelodeon? They're mostly keeping it in the family, promoting Disney sound tracks and in-house teeny-bop creations "who start stealing the attention of kids at 7 or 8," Mayers said. "You don't get them back until they're parents themselves."

Still, you won't hear much bad-mouthing from children's music-making "lifers" like David & Jenny Heitler-Klevans - the Cheltenham-based duo known as Two of a Kind, who have just released their ninth album of family-friendly fare, We're All in This Together.

A lively and lavish production, it was cut at a professional studio (MorningStar) with guests such as rapper Kuf Knotz and Philly jazz notable Dave Posmontier.

Kickstarter contributors covered "about half" of the session's $20,000 budget. It's "unlikely we'll ever sell enough copies" (at $15 a piece or two for $20) "to make the investment back," David admitted with a laugh. "But it's a good calling card to get gigs, great for the fans, and it makes us happy, doing something we believe in and love."