"Do you know what eardrums are?" asks Visqueen's Rachel Flotard. Eager hands go up in the audience. After one girl gives a solid description of the ear's inner workings, Flotard explains that she doesn't have her whole band with her because they would shatter all the children's eardrums.
This is fast becoming a standard Sunday afternoon at Experience Music Project, where the Family Concert Series was recently initiated. It's an equal boon for parents and children who love music. The sets usually begin at 1 p.m., they're short to match kids' attention spans, the stage is practically at ground level, the volume is loud enough to rock but there's no pain involved, the concert hall—the Third Level in the new Science Fiction Museum—is intimate, and the musicians are top flight. Even my younger son, who claims he doesn't enjoy music, found something to his liking—he spent a lot of time chasing around the circles of light projected onto the dance floor.
Flotard kicked the series off with a dynamite set of her own compositions; she seemed to be having as much fun as the dancing hordes surrounding her, inviting the kids up onstage with her. Soon, they began jumping the six inches from stage to floor. "Cool!" she said delightedly. "Stage diving!" John Doe, formerly of X, followed with a group of classic folk songs from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and others. Doe, who performs in schools in California, took a didactic approach that was quite unexpected from a former West Coast punk luminary.
For Danny Bland, the series' curator at EMP, that's part of the fun. Bland, a 41-year-old punk with a 13-year-old daughter, wanted to see what rock musicians who don't normally perform for children would come up with for a truly all-ages audience. (Earlier series were oriented toward artists like Dan Zanes, formerly of the Del Fuegos, and They Might Be Giants, who have issued recordings specifically for children.) Bland found the musicians completely receptive to the idea, even though the gig doesn't pay great, the musicians have to perform in the afternoon when many of them would normally be sleeping, and, as Bland puts it, "They have to watch what they say between songs."
The Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti, who performs Sun., Aug. 29, promises, "I'll tone my R-rated show down to PG-13." Spaghetti attended the series premiere with his show-stealing son Quattro. Dressed in a sleeveless, black T-shirt, with red AC/DC lettering, Quattro was onstage next to Flotard for much of her set, gesticulating at the audience while extending his index and pinkie fingers on both hands. A three-year-old flashing devils' horns would seem appropriate given the circumstances, but as it turns out, he was imitating his favorite superhero. "He's a Spider-man freak," says Spaghetti.
Spaghetti also explains that he adopted his own moniker directly from the playground. "I hated the name Eddie Spaghetti in the schoolyard," he says. As a young punk, he felt it was only in keeping with his musical genre's aesthetic to wear it proudly. Since he is performing at EMP on a double bill with Seattle's venerable blues-folk-hokum wonder Baby Gramps, it has prompted much discussion with my own children about how someone could be both an infant and a grandfather, and, in the schoolyard chant that gave Spaghetti his name, just how you get french fries after popping someone with meatball eyes into the oven. "These things are just the hard questions," admits Spaghetti.
Less hard, according to the singer, is coming up with material for his EMP performance. He'll do some Supersuckers stuff, some songs he liked as a child, and songs that his own son digs. Accustomed to playing in dive bars for intoxicated individuals, Spaghetti says, he is looking forward to the change of pace. He does issue a warning to the adults in the audience, however. "Tell parents to put their kids in clean diapers, 'cause I'm going to rock their pants off."
The Family Concert Series at Experience Music Project's Third Level (the Science Fiction Museum) will feature Everclear's Art Alexakis at 1 p.m. on Sun, Aug. 15; the Supersuckers' Eddie Spaghetti and Baby Gramps at 1 p.m. on Sun., Aug. 29; and Hell's Belles at 3 p.m. on Sun., Sept. 26. $10 public/$7 members (adults), $7 public/$5 members (kids); $25 family special (two adults and all children under 18 sharing the same address).