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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Songwriter creates music the whole family can enjoy

Maja Beckstrom St. Paul Pioneer Press

Dan Zanes says there are advantages to performing music for children and families.

“We can have a full-throttle dance party before lunchtime, and to me that’s a step up from playing adult concerts,” the indie-rocker-turned-family- troubadour says.

Zanes’ mission to bring traditional and folk music to a young audience started in 1994, with the birth of his daughter Anna.

He headed to the record store expecting to find “racks and racks” of updated versions of the traditional folk music he had fallen in love with as a child, tunes from Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and the Carter family.

“I didn’t realize the world of children’s entertainment would be as segregated as it is,” he says. “Kids can’t understand adult music because it’s largely about romance or sexual love, and grown-ups can’t understand kids’ music because they’ve already learned to use their fork and tie their shoes.”

Zanes, a founder of roots rockers The Del Fuegos, wanted music kids and grown-ups could enjoy together. He figured if he couldn’t find it, he would make it.

His albums sound like eclectic jam sessions with a bunch of friends. He has a recording studio in the basement of his house, and he even sawed out a section of his kitchen floor so he could record informal sessions around the kitchen table.

Zanes recorded his first family album, “Rocket Ship Beach,” in 2001, featuring such “friends” as Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega. That was followed by “Family Dance,” a collection of dance songs featuring Loudon Wainwright III and Rosanne Cash.

The next year, he released “House Party,” an exuberant album worth getting just to hear Zanes’ gravelly, Yankee voice mixing it up on “Jamaica Farewell” with the soft West African accents of Angelique Kidjo. Then, “Nighttime!” followed in 2002.

Most recently, Zanes has delved even deeper into the traditional archives to produce “Sea Music,” a rollicking collection of sea chanties and maritime tunes, and “Parades and Panoramas,” a collection of obscure American folk songs collected and published by poet Carl Sandburg in 1927.

The last two recordings also include lyrics, guitar chords and detailed liner notes as part of Zanes’ effort to get families to learn the tunes and start singing around the house.

“I feel I have a message, that music making is wildly enjoyable,” Zanes says. “I’m saying, ‘Join us on this one and then dust off your ukulele and make music of your own.’ “

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