Thursday, July 03, 2014

Ben and Matt's Excellent Adventure in Philly, Part 1

We're home! And to crib an oft-stolen line, "what a long, strange trip it's been."

But what family vacation isn't rife with at least a little tension, apprehension, misinterpretation, and euphoria?

Long story short, Kindiefest is gone. KindieComm is in. If the family was going to see a children's musical festival this year (well, other than Port Washington's emerging Kidstock), there was going to have to be a road trip.

Thanks to KindieComm, we even got a discounted hotel rate at the nearby Sheraton for two nights. But, the wife reasoned, why travel that far and only attend the family concert? The next thing I knew, I was planning three nights in Philadelphia and a fourth night stopover in Langhorne for a day at Sesame Place for the little brother.

Why was I planning the trip? Mostly because my wife was the lead organizer on Ben's bar mitzvah last month. Since that was an infinitely more challenging gig, I was content to fall back and book CityPass tickets and make advance reservations.

Now, you may very well ask, why didn't I attend the actual KindieComm children's independent music conference? After all, don't I review buckets of CDs every year? The simple answer is, I don't feel qualified. My goal is to applaud certain artists and critique others whose works I don't find as pleasing or professional. And there's always a low number of CDs that I receive (thanks, PR people) that never make it to the written page, because I just don't have enough positive things to say about them (pul-leaze no more lullaby CDs).

The difference between kindie music and major label adult release is that the vast majority of kindie music is produced on a shoestring (or via crowdfunding). Too many negative reviews will sink a fledgling recording artist. I don't want that kind of bad karma. And as a low-level blogger juggling home and work responsibilities, I'm kind of on the fringe of the kindie community. My contributions are not going to make or break somebody's career. Nor do I see that happening in the future, no matter how many Facebook friends or Twitter and Blogger followers I happen to attract.

So we packed the kids into the car after lunch on Friday and zoomed off into gridlock traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, followed by stop-and-go traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, which led to bumper-to-bumper evening rush hour leading into Philly. All told, it took four-and-a-half hours to make the 121-mile drive to the Sheraton.

Ben was intrigued about the premise of KindieComm. In the past, he's had numerous face-to-face encounters with musicians he likes at KindieFest events. We have a photo of him with Cactus (aka Secret Agent 23 Skidoo) where Ben is wearing the rapper's hat. He once got loudly impatient while I was talking with Ralph Covert (of Ralph's World) and Steve Rosionek (of SteveSongs), leading to Steve patting me on the shoulder and delivering a sympathetic, "We've all been there."

But first we had to eat. We walked to a local barbecue place for dinner, then back to the hotel for some nightswimming in the pool to decompress. We entered the hotel lobby and ran into Joanie Leeds and husband Dan Barman. We exchanged pleasantries and driving horror stories and all greeted Head Deedle Lloyd Miller at the registration desk. This was little much for Ben. After a long day of driving, he just wanted the pool and barely said a word. Matt (not as familiar with their work, but he's got the excuse of being 3 1/2), was not much more conversational.

In the elevator, we reminded Ben that many more musicians were staying on the premises, and to prepare himself for sudden encounters. After swimming and bedtime, I went to the business center and promptly ran into Jason Didner. We talked briefly, but he was collecting milk for his daughter, and I didn't want to hold him up. Other sightings before I headed upstairs: Cactus (Asheville Skidoo), Billy Kelly, and Molly Ledford.

Saturday morning, the club lounge was packed for breakfast. Luckily Joanie and Dan suggested we all crash on the couches by the TV. Matt had never had Fruit Loops, which became his choice all three days at the Sheraton. Ben seemed to adjust to "normal" interactions with "civilian" musicians. Then it was off via cab to the Philadelphia Zoo.

I accepted my role of stroller-pushing, baggage-carrying videographer and we sweated through five miles of animal hijinks, before hightailing it back to home base. More swimming was in our plans, followed by Recess Monkey at Longwood Gardens.

I wore cargo pants the whole trip, with extra pockets for keys and cash. As I hopped across the back seat to exit the cab, I did not notice my iPhone slipping out. When I got to the hotel room, there was a minor panic attack as I went through every pocket. I grabbed Ben's iPhone and dialed my own number. Luckily, the next cab occupants were also tourists, heading to the Liberty Bell. "I'll meet you there," I yelped, and raced downstairs to grab another taxi.

I got to the Liberty Bell and called my phone. "Who am I looking for?" I asked. "I have red hair and my sister has green hair," she replied. Well, that made it easy to spot them. They were good to their word and the phone was only out of my possession for 30 minutes. Total cost = two extra cab rides (and some anxious moments). They wouldn't even take anything for finding and retrieving it.

Andrea was in the pool with the boys when I got back, by coincidence along with Jason Didner's daughter and her babysitter. I decompressed, knowing we had the hour-long drive to Longwood in less than 30 minutes. Matt crashed in the car and revived when we arrived at the palatial horticultural estate. A magnificent site for an outdoor show (look at the vids) and an expensive meal, subsidized by an OpenTable gift certificate that I redeemed for the occasion. By contrast, three nights later we ate dinner at Boston Market and spent one-quarter of the amount. And the kids ate more, go figure.

If you've seen Recess Monkey,  you know they play a tight set – Jack Forman acts as front man to set up most of the songs, Drew Holloway handles lead vocals and guitar duties, and drummer Korum Bischoff provides a steady beat. We saw the trio in January at Symphony Space promoting their 2013 beach CDs. Now they were hyping WIRED, their latest release. Yes, three CDs in less than 14 months.

Matt studied the January show like it was religious instruction. He came home and repeated the set, number by number. He did not want to get up and dance, he did not want to clap along, he just wanted to observe, wide-eyed, taking everything in. Ben always acts like it's an episode of NAME THAT TUNE. By the time Jack was mid-introduction, he shouted, "Fish Sticks!" like it was a revelation.

Afterwards, Andrea dug the "business" t-shirts that the band was hawking and bought one a size large, so Matt could wear it to their next show we see. We chatted (briefly) with each member of the band. Jack even remembered talking to our niece on Kids Place Live a day earlier, playing "Crazy Train."

It had been a long day and we trudged back through the topiary to the car, for the long, winding drive back to the hotel. They collapsed in the room while I limped to the business center (my new nightly routine) to sync the photos and videos from my phone, Ben's phone, YouTube, and the Facebook album.

The adventure was starting and we still hadn't gotten to KindieComm, the Please Touch Museum, the Franklin Institute, or Sesame Place.

To be continued...

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