Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell make music for kids

By Mark Kennedy ,AP

NEW YORK — Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell had only been playing for about 10 minutes when the stage was invaded.

The first to appear was a stuffed lamb. Then a cuddly dinosaur. Then all hell broke loose and kids on tiptoes were putting all sorts of beloved stuffed animals — and a collection of 19 neatly organized My Little Ponys — on the lip of the stage to get a better listen.

“Did they buy tickets?” Zanes happily teased from behind a guitar on New York University’s Skirball Center stage on Saturday. “Actually, ponies and dinosaurs get in for free.”

If most concerts these days are about twerking and pyrotechnics, a Zanes concert usually involves some gentle choo-choo dancing in the aisles, world beats and teddy bears. Plus, it’s often over by noon — that’s when the target audience naps.

“We have wild dance parties before lunch,” he says in an interview a day before the concert. “Who else is going to say that, right? I don’t care how many records you’ve sold: Who’s having the dance parties before lunch?”

Zanes, a rail-thin, bushy-haired Grammy Award winner whom People magazine has called the “crown prince of contemporary kid’s music,” is a former member of the 1980s band The Del Fuegos who turned to children’s music after the birth of his daughter and never looked back, building a career with infectious sounds from all over the world.

Zanes’ globe-trotting music appetite ranges from elements of Tunisian Sufi, the Louisiana bayou, Appalachia, the Caribbean and South Africa to making a CD completely in Spanish. He likes to call what he does “21st-century, all-ages, handmade social music,” but everyone else calls them kiddie songs.

“I accept it. But I don’t think of it as children’s music,” he says in his comfortable two-story Brooklyn home nestled in a diverse neighborhood populated by Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants. “This is really music for everybody to sink their teeth into.”