Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America on Performing for Kids

February 5th, 2015

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By Shane Speal

I called this column “The DIY Musician” not just to discuss my passion for homemade instruments, but also because I’m a full-time musician slugging it out and trying to make a living.

I also want to give you new ideas on making a living as a musician.

If you’re competing for gigs with an over-abundance of bands, you might consider gigs outside of the clubs…to a radically different audience. Like kids.

Before you click away, consider this: Playing for kids might not be your first choice of a career, but being on stage with a guitar in your hand is a helluva lot better than scooping French fries or sitting in a cubicle. We play music because we love music. Why not get paid to play, even if it’s a non-traditional audience?

One person who is successfully rocking the cradle crowd is Chris Ballew, frontman for Nineties rockers the Presidents of the United States of America. When he’s not playing Presidents shows, Ballew can be found singing and bouncing with the kids under the stage name Caspar Babypants. He’s released eight kids albums with a new lullaby CD, Night Night, arriving next month. The music is still distinctively presidential with all the fun and boingy-ness of Lump, Peaches, Kitty and other PUSA classics.

GUITAR AFICIONADO: What made you want to play for kids?

I actually did not set out to play for families. I wanted to get this certain vibe going in my music that was simple and innocent and drew upon older traditions than rock and roll but also mixed in modern ideas. After tinkering for years, I stumbled into the sound, and when I listened back, it was obvious it was music for kids and parents.

What are kids looking for in a concert?

I don’t know!! They are all different. All crowds are different. Some want to run around and go nuts and some want to sing and participate and some want to stare and be told a story in a song. I never have a set list. I respond to the energy of the crowd and find songs that fit the moment.

What kind of venues to you play? Libraries?

Libraries are good but kind of small. I do community celebrations and concert series shows all over the Washington area. Toddler groups hire me to play for them and I still busk occasionally. I just answer the phone and book the gigs I am offered really! Word of mouth goes a long way.

Is there a certain age you write for?

I am very specific in that I write for 0- to 6-year-olds and their parents. You must not forget the poor parents. They have to listen to this music too, and if it is not an aesthetically satisfying experience for them, you are not serving the needs of the family. Music that sends the family into different parts of the house is a problem. I want to bring the family together to enjoy and truly love the same songs.

Any new Caspar Babypants music coming soon?

Yes! It is called Night Night! It’s a mellow lullaby record of all originals that comes out March 17. I had been writing too many mellow songs for the last eight albums and when I compiled them I found that they made a great record… so here they are!

Learn more, hear the latest Caspar Babypants songs, see the hilarious videos and get the concert schedule at BabyPantsMusic.com.

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Shane Speal is “King of the Cigar Box Guitar” and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at ShaneSpeal.com. Speal’s latest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.

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