THE Jamarama Live! Kidsfest concert bops into town this weekend on the West Coast leg of its first national tour, a tyke-oriented twist on rock 'n' roll festivals for big kids.
With popular children's music artists Dan Zanes and Milkshake and the yoga-inspired Ohmies, plus costumed characters, face painting, a "tattoo" booth and kinder, gentler mosh pits -- plus the slogan "If you're old enough to walk, you're old enough to rock!" -- Jamarama will be at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on Saturday, the Terrace Theater in Long Beach on Sunday and San Diego's Spreckels Theatre on March 12.
Zanes, the ex-lead singer for alt-rock band Del Fuegos, whose engaging "homemade" family music has landed him among today's top children's artists, will headline the shows.
Zanes isn't the only former adult artist on the bill. Reflecting the latest crossover trend in children's music, Milkshake is headed by Lisa Mathews and Mikel Gehl, formerly of the 1980s new wave band Beyond Words and '90s rock band Love Riot.
The junior rockfest vibe was the brainchild of veteran music producers Dana Millman-DuFine and David Codikow, creators of music management and live entertainment company Highland LLC. Codikow is one of the co-founders of the long-running Vans Warped Tour.
They figured that parents who jammed at such events in the untethered days of their youth might like to share something similar with their offspring. Millman-DuFine credits the idea to her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter's response to seeing children's music artists on Noggin, the commercial-free educational cable channel for preschoolers.
"She said, 'I want to see these bands. Let's go see all of 'em,' " Millman-DuFine said in a phone interview. "A light bulb went on. I thought of the great festivals I went to when I was in college."
She and Codikow approached Noggin, which signed on as the event's primary media sponsor.
It was an easy sell, said Angela Leaney, Noggin's senior vice president of brand communications. Music, whether as interstitials or in a series with live (and puppet) artists like "Jack's Big Music Show," is a big part of the channel's programming. "It's really part of our DNA," Leaney said. "Music is one of our core vehicles we use to get educational themes and curriculum across."
But you can't simply shoehorn kids and kids' music into an adult rock festival format. That became evident as sets were shortened during Jamarama test runs in several cities on the East Coast with headliner Laurie Berkner, whose relationship with Noggin as an on-air performer and songwriter has made her a top seller in the field.
"This is an audience that is not going to sit for long periods of time, so the shows have to be choreographed well and they are shorter than a rock concert would be," Codikow said. Not to mention the need to include educational and interactive components for kids ages 2 to 6.
A well-designed sound system, more akin to what theaters use, proved essential too, said Berkner, who feels that was one lesson learned during the festival's club-heavy East Coast tour that led to some tweaking for the tour here.
"Kids want to hear the words," Berkner said. "They want to know what's being sung about, and that can really get lost if you don't have a sound system that can bring that out. And that's a problem in rock clubs. By the time the leg was finished, everyone was saying, 'OK the theaters work so much better, they just were a better place to do this and you can really control the sound.' "
Activities before the artists' hit the stage include a kids' karaoke area, movement play with the My Gym Children's Fitness Center, storytelling, a coloring floor and meet-and-greets with Noggin characters Moose A. Moose and Miffy.
"You have an hour to enjoy the interactive areas, have a snack or just sit in the venue, where screens on either side of the stage are playing music videos," Millman-DuFine said.
Expect participation to heat up, too, during the concert performances, where clapping, dancing and other play-along activities, such as the Ohmies' musical yoga moves with the Ohmland Bug Band, grab little rockers.
"My joke is that by the end of the show parents love us, because by the time the ignition goes on the kids are sound asleep," Codikow said.
IN addition to touring 25 to 30 more cities across the country before the end of the year, Jamarama might "park" for several weeks in different amusement parks, not yet slated, Codikow said. If the tour proves successful -- and most shows on the East Coast were sold out -- future tours could encompass 75 to 100 shows a year, he said.
Millman-DuFine hopes to expand future shows with local talent, "whether a drum circle, a musician, so children can watch them play close up. We're going to build that into our tour."
For Zanes, the Jamarama concept is just a good opportunity to spread our enthusiasm for music-making," he said.
"Seems like a lot of people have been talking about trying to do some sort of family music festival for awhile and they've figured out a good way to do it."
Zanes, whose just-finished new album, "Catch That Train," features such eclectic talents as the Kronos Quartet, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and Natalie Merchant, finds making family music not only different than his adult stuff, but "a lot better. A lot more communal."
"I think that's also because these are such troubled times we live in," he said. "We all want to feel a sense of community, and music is such an easy way to bring people together. For me the dream is always that people leave the show and they go home and sing and dance with each other.
"Don't let the professionals have all the fun."
Jamarama Live! Kidsfest
Where: Arlington Theater, 1317 State St., Santa Barbara
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Info: (805) 583-8700, www.ticketmaster.com
Where: Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Price: $20 to $25
Contact: (213) 480-3232, (562) 436-3661 www.ticketmaster.com
In San Diego: 1 p.m. March 12, Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, San Diego. $25. (619) 235-9500, www.ticketmaster.com