Most of us have probably never thought of The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street” as a children’s song, what with its lyrics about a town that “ain’t got no heart” and how the sunny side of the street is actually dark.
But then again, it’s got a good beat, and you can shake to it. And kids love to shake.
Playing rock music that both kids and parents can relate to is the foundation of a family concert series called The Rock and Roll Playhouse, coming to Port City Music Hall on Sunday.
The one-hour concert, “The Music of The Grateful Dead For Kids,” will feature songs of the band played live, plus some basic music education and fun interactive components like shaking or clapping to the beat, answering the singer in a “call and response” exercise and dancing with rainbow streamers.
The show will follow a format developed by The Rock and Roll Playhouse in New York in 2013, which has organized shows in 18 cities. The show will be led by the series’ music director and will include a band of local musicians schooled in Grateful Dead songs, including the Maine Dead Project.
Sunday will be the concert series’ first visit to Portland, with four other shows at Port City Music Hall planned. The music of Phish will be featured Feb. 10, followed by The Beatles for kids on Feb. 24, reggae legend Bob Marley on March 10 and The Rolling Stones on March 24.
The shows are geared to children 10 and under.
The idea for the series came from Peter Shapiro, owner of two New York City-area venues, The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester and Brooklyn Bowl. A father of young children and a big music fan, Shapiro noticed there wasn’t much opportunity in New York for parents to see music they liked, live, with small children.
He enlisted the help of Amy Striem, a longtime teacher and administrator who was working at his daughter’s school, to develop a format for the shows.
“We try to have a lot of interaction. We teach them call and response. We let them pretend to be birds during ‘Bird Song’ (by The Grateful Dead),” said Striem. “We show them what each instrument can do, by itself, then have the band put it all together.”
Maine already has at least one music series for kids and parents. The Maine Academy of Modern Music hosts the Kids Are Alright series for children and families at the Portland Public Library on Saturday mornings. That features local musicians doing a 30-minute show plus a question and answer session, when kids can ask about what it’s like to be a musician in Maine. There’s also an instrument “petting zoo” where kids can try out various instruments. Upcoming performers include the Palavar Strings Quartet Feb. 2 and Lisa Redfern on March 2. The series runs monthly September through May.
The Kids Are Alright shows are free and held at the library’s Rines Auditorium, while The Rock and Roll Playhouse shows cost $15, free for children under 1.
“There are a lot of great music programs for kids, but one thing different about ours is we’re opening up music venues to people and their children,” Striem said.
Port City Music Hall is one of the city’s liveliest music venues, hosting about 150 shows a year with a capacity of more than 500.
The Rock and Roll Playhouse, because of its connections to the music business and venues in New York, has attracted some well-known musicians to its family concerts over the years.
At the series’ first show in Brooklyn, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead made an appearance. Other guest musicians at shows over the years have include The Funky Meters, Anders Osborne, Jackie Green and Questlove.
The Rock and Roll Playhouse will be doing the music of Phish in Portland for its next show, in February. So it’s not a big stretch to think an easy guest for that one would be Phish drummer Jon Fishman, who lives a couple hours up the coast in Lincolnville.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Sunday
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15; free for children under 1
WHAT ELSE: The show is part of a New York-based concert program for kids and parents called The Rock and Roll Playhouse. Other shows in the series scheduled for Port City include the music of Phish on Feb. 10, The Beatles on Feb. 24, Bob Marley on March 10 and The Rolling Stones on March 24.