NY HEARD & SCENE
February 12, 2013, 10:42 p.m. ET
'Kindie' Set Rocks the House
by Marshall Heyman
The Pop Ups perform.
LOS ANGELES—The Grammys aren't just about dangerously cut dresses, pyrotechnics and weird interpretations of "Alice in Wonderland" by Taylor Swift. There are other categories aside from the ones you see on television that make the music industry go 'round.
One of those categories is children's music, and several of the nominees gathered over the weekend for a pre-brunch concert at the Mint. This is a slightly seedy music venue (est. 1937) on Pico Boulevard, only made less seedy by the tower of juice boxes that graced the bar.
At this event, children wore ironic T-shirts that read "Rock Out" or were from the Las Vegas- branch of the New York bar Hogs & Heifers. And Mista Cookie Jar, a children's music performer known for his "urban-island-folky-rock 'n' roll for the inner child"—as evidenced by his albums "The Love Bubble" and "Ultramagnetic Universal Love Revolution"—made an appearance.
But Mista Cookie Jar was not nominated for a Grammy this year. Five other "Kindie" artists, as the kids' independent music scene refers to itself, were.
The Pop Ups' Jacob Stein signs autographs.
Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower, for instance, performed lovely Woody Guthrie songs for children, accompanied by her family, from her new album "Little Seed." Bill Harley, whose most recent album "High Dive...and Other Things That Could Have Happened" was nominated for a Grammy, sang a song with the lyrics "Is not, is not, is not/is too, is to, is too."
And the Okee Dokee Brothers, who wrote their album "Can You Canoe?" on a month-long camping and canoeing journey down the Mississippi River in 2011, held an auction "of enthusiasm" for a copy of their latest disc. It includes a song with the lyrics "Can you canoe?/I'll be your captain and crew./I want to float down the river with you."
"Everybody gets free tickets to the rest of this show," said Justin Lansing, who, with his friend Joe Mailander, make up the Okee Dokee Brothers. They are planning to take an Appalachian journey this summer to make their next album.
Making music for kids, said Mr. Lansing who was holding a five-string banjo, can be "more satisfying" than playing for adults. "Kids are more into it."
The Okee Dokee Brothers may have taken home the big Grammy prize on Sunday in the pre- telecast portion of the award show, but the dreamboats of the Kindie music set are likely the Pop Ups, a Brooklyn duo of Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein, who were nominated for their album "Radio Jungle."
Messrs. Rabinowitz and Stein use props, hand-painted sets and original puppets to accompany their music. At this particular concert, they threw beach balls into the audience and sang with a large banana that wore sunglasses and had a moustache.
Mr. Stein's father, as it turns out, is in a children's band called Dinosaur Rock. He went to Yale. Mr. Rabinowitz led the house band in the Broadway comedy "One Man Two Guv'nors" last year, and also plays in a rock band called "The Bloodsugars."
"He's got the legacy and I've got the music degree," said Mr. Rabinowitz, after the entire ensemble sang "This Land Is Your Land" and led a parade from the stage of the Mint out to Pico Boulevard where they could meet their many young fans. "He hired me to help him do a Passover puppet musical."
During a week off in the summer of 2009, the two banged out 10 songs and made an album, which led to the Pop Ups taking off. They play at least two weekends a month in New York. "We use a lot of props," said Mr. Stein, who has a background in visual arts. "Even three songs can be a lot of insanity. But I come out of the art world. We can do drawing, painting, anything we want to do."
Messrs. Stein and Rabinowitz were interrupted by an adult fan who asked if their influences included the indie rock band Gogol Bordello and the singer Manu Chao. Mr. Stein said most people don't see that connection but, indeed, it was the case.
Making music for kids, added Mr. Rabinowitz, is very creative. "We can stretch out in terms of our sincerity and silliness. Kids have no agenda. They're there to have fun."
And then he went off to sign another autograph.
Write to Marshall Heyman at firstname.lastname@example.org
all photos by Michal Czerwonka
A version of this article appeared February 13, 2013, on page A21 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: 'Kindie' Set Rocks the House.