Playing for kids: How artists shift their sound for Rock the Cradle

Haley and Jeremy Ylvisaker will play Rock the Cradle pop up on Feb. 24 at Afton Alps. (Courtesy Periscope management)

If Brian Just's two year old had total control over his dad's set list, the band would start with the 1960s Batman TV show theme song — and just keep playing it, over, and over and over.

Luckily, Just's son is only helping put the list together for the Brian Just Band's upcoming gig at The Current's annual music, art and culture event Rock the Cradle, which is billed as "for kids and their grownups."

Just and his band — who have a harmony-filled, folk pop sound — are going to play "some of my favorite TV show themes as well as all of our most danceable sunshiny songs," he said.

Local artists who are used to playing for an adult crowd but aren't afraid to book a family friendly gig have a few different approaches to keeping kids on their feet. Some work in a little call and response, some get silly, some stick to the songs they usually play.

Andy Cook plays and writes music influenced by surf rock and 80s pop. He also coaches kids' hockey. So Cook, who is set to play with his band Andy Cook & Friends at the Feb. 11 Rock the Cradle event at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Children's Theatre Company, knows that the audience — if energetic — isn't necessarily going to be the easiest crowd.

"I think it's going to be fun. I also think that kids are very honest listeners, and they are not as inhibited as adults are. So if they like what they're hearing, they are going to run around and dance and jump and move around and everything. If they don't like it, they're going to tell their parents that they're bored and want to go do something else," said Cook.

Cook said he's going to play the title song of his new EP, "Modern Man," live for the very first time at Rock the Cradle. He also said he was able to get his bandmates on board for an ambitious plan for the day: during his first set, Cook is planning to take kids' requests for new song topics. He's then going to huddle together with his band, speed-write some new songs based on the children's suggestions, and play them during the second set, he said.

Just, who has appeared on the local kids' TV show The Choo Choo Bob Show and even wrote an original song for the episode about being yourself (and, of course, trains), said that he plans to change up his usual onstage routine as well.

"I plan on our show for Rock the Cradle being interactive, some trivia, prizes and hopefully some call and response singing. I generally avoid that kind of stuff with adults at bars. Although, I'm not sure why...maybe I should try it," he said.

Just, who jams with his two sons at home, said they have their own record player, and love to play Monkees 45s.

"I am a little worried when they go to school eventually and start talking about Paul Williams, Kraftwerk or the B-side to the Royal Guardsmen 'Airplane Song' single OM... to blank stares from their peers," he said. "It's interesting to see what they gravitate to and I'm trying to give them as many sounds and languages through music as possible."

HALEY, who is set to perform on Feb. 24 at a pop-up family ski party hosted by The Current and Children's Minnesota, also gets plenty of practice singing to her six year old daughter Clementine.

"The bedtime hits I sing are 'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell, 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' or 'My Bonnie,'" said the singer-songwriter. "Once in a while I throw in our version of 'Three Little Birds' by Bob Marley which is a similar title but switch the B with a T and the I with a U and you get the picture."

HALEY said the biggest difference between playing for kids and playing for adults is that kids "aren't afraid to move their bodies." She recorded a kids EP (Sing With Me) before her daughter was born, so plans to play some of those tunes at the ski party, but otherwise will just stick to her normal set.

"Kids seem to gravitate toward music that they like regardless of whether or not it was written for their age range," she said. Her own daughter's musical preferences skew to Rihanna, Beyonce, the Cactus Blossoms and Adele.

Related Information

Brian Just's website
Andy Cook's website
HALEY's website
Rock the Cradle, February 11
Rock The Cradle Ski Party at Afton Alps

2 Photos

  • Andy Cook
    Hear Andy Cook at Rock the Cradle on February 11. (Courtesy the artist)
  • Brian Just
    Brian Just will play Rock the Cradle on Feb. 11 (Courtesy of the artist)