Dan Zanes at BAM

Last Saturday's cultural event was Dan Zanes’ Brooklyn Ballyhoo at BAM (falling squarely between Dora at CMoM and Chivalrous Misdemeanors in the Time Warner Center). What’s not to love? We had tickets for the toddler-friendly eleven o’clock (a.m.) show and arrived to find a bustling house. The crowd was solidly Brooklyn. My spouse and I felt the man in the Grinnell College sweatshirt was laying it on a little thick, being a little obvious. I’d guess a substantial majority of folks in the audience had liberal arts degrees. (I see your Grinnell and raise you an Oberlin and two Williamses…)

The lights were dimmed (not enough to scare the toddlers, but enough to hush them) and we could see the enormous silhouettes of the performers projected on the scrim behind their instruments. Dan Zanes (who used to be with the Del Fuegos, a band I dimly remember as being too cool for me) teased his trademark finger-in-the-lightsocket locks and gave the others high-fives before they wandered out in front of the screen to play. Barbara Brousal was there with her haunting and divine voice and so was Rankin’ Don, aka Father Goose. He came out at the end and, as he had at Symphony Space in the fall, stole the show, doing a medley of nursery rhymes Jamaican dub style. Seriously. It’s amazing (it’s on Rocket Ship Beach—you can hear it for yourself). Another highlight included French horn solos by Anna Zanes (age 10) and her fifth-grade classmate on the great old Salvation Army tune, “Roll the Chariot Along.” In case you’re curious, you can still eighty kindergarteners who’ve been jumping up and down like pogo sticks in front of the stage with dueling French horns. All the kids stopped and gathered in front of the older children, stock still, in awe.

Zanes plays with four others, plus Father Goose who comes out for the last few songs, but there are many special guests. In addition to those already mentioned, Joan Osborne, Bonga (a Haitian drummer) and Wunmi (who does African dance and singing) came out for a song apiece and the Rubi Theater Company took the stage (with babies and children) to do some human beatboxing, just like back in the day, as they said.

The beloved toddler clapped enthusiastically, swayed, and yelled “Yay!” at the end of each song, but, after begging to go down to the stage, spent most of the hokey-pokey a little clingy and teary. Sweet potato fries and a Shirley Temple at Junior’s did the trick afterwards. As for me, I teared up at “Down by the Riverside.” I remember learning that as a girl and being so convinced (this was during, or just after, Vietnam) that war was over for all time, that we all saw how scary it was. Now, thirty years later, my babe hears it again in wartime. How will she hear it when she knows what the words mean? How much will the way she hears it matter?

(If you look around on Dan Zanes’ website, you can find information too on the South African orphans whom he’s helping. There was an article about them in the Times last week.)