In his song “Git Yer Fiddle Owt,” Noah Riemer — aka “Duke Otherwise” — sings “eat your milk, and drink your pie, and you will never have a boring life.”
The song is from his first children’s album, the frenetic and offbeat “Creepy Crawly Love,” which contains other equally quirky numbers, such as a jazzy tune about Brussels sprouts and one about a synonym for cinnamon. At his performances, the Madison, Wis., musician likes to tap dance, and he mixes swing, country, ragtime, klezmer and Tin Pan Alley sounds into his music. He also totes around a suitcase of instruments — including bike horns and dog toys — for kids to join in.
Riemer’s band is one of three performing at the Rhythm & Words Family Music and Book Festival at the Ames Center in Burnsville on Saturday, June 7. He’ll join local old-timey band the Roe Family Singers and New York musician Joanie Leeds. The fifth annual event, designed for kids 10 and under, also includes talks with children’s authors and illustrators and arts and crafts workshops.
Riemer, who spent years writing songs for the (adult) folk band Ticklepenny Corner, said “a lot of them were sad, depressing songs.” After making the transition to children’s music two years ago, he said, “It was so beautiful in the studio to laugh and really have no rules.”
Joanie Leeds felt the same when she gave up late nights singing in New York clubs. “You become emotionally drained when you try to write these heartbreak love songs,” she said.
“Writing for children is more fun for me,” she said. “[With] kids, from the moment you play your first chords, they’re already jumping.”
About eight years ago, she got a day job at Gymboree and fell in love with working with children. She started playing songs at birthday parties, eventually as many as six a weekend, and eventually launched a career as a children’s musician. “It kind of happened really organically,” she said. Her last album, “Bandwagon,” with her band, the Nightlights, was chosen as Best Kids’ CD for 2013 by “People Magazine.”
Her newest album, her sixth, includes songs such as the title track, the grammar-focused “Good Egg”; “Drummer Dan,” about a drummer who loved to play solos (an homage to her drummer husband); and “Hipster in the Making,” a tongue-in-cheek song inspired by the Williamsburg neighborhood where they reside.
Also at the event will be author/illustrators like Stephen Shaskan, of Minneapolis, known for playing a guitar covered in stickers. Shaskan will sing original songs like “The Dinosaur Song” and read from books like his most recent one, “The Three Triceratops Tuff,” a retelling of “Three Billy Goats Gruff” with dinosaurs.
“It’s a favorite at the preschool,” Shaskan said.
He is at work on several books, including the upcoming “A Cat Called Kite,” with Mem Fox; “Big Choo,” about a little train and his dad; and a book that his wife wrote called “Two Punk Skunks.”
Another author/illustrator at the festival will be Cori Doerrfeld, of Minneapolis, who said that she got lucky seven years ago, when someone saw her artwork and asked her to illustrate a children’s book by Brooke Shields. Since then, she has illustrated about 20, and she and her husband are currently working on a comic book series about a Latina girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday with fairy wings.
Doerrfeld said she likes writing for children because “kids are so in touch with what’s raw about being a person. As we grow up, we try to hide those things more.”
After her presentation, Doerrfeld plans to spend a couple of hours drawing pictures and handing them out to kids.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.