Check this out: Alphabet Rockers – The Playground Zone

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Every day another tragic story of intolerance gets added to the pile. The future of our country and the world at large looks pretty bleak—if you believe we are powerless. But I can’t go there. I have to believe that we can DO something. That we can make some change happen. Otherwise, why not just give up and live in bunkers underground?

Thinking about change on a large scale—nationally and internationally—is a tall order. How can we move the needle even just a hair? Can we lean on music to work some magic here?

Letting Go of the Baggage

When my daughter Emily was around three years old, an African American girl sat down next to us at the library. Emily pointed to the girl’s arm and asked, “Why is your skin brown?” The girl’s response was striking. “Because my mom and dad are like that. My brother said it doesn’t come off.” That last part hit me hard.

I went on to explain to Emily that friends are all different colors and come from different places. The diversity of the people in our everyday lives allows us to have a uniquely dynamic social experience. I’ll admit the topic was uncomfortable for me, only because I have already been exposed to the heaviness of how skin color can define you.

Emily wasn’t fazed. She didn’t have the baggage. This year when her first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her classmates were stunned that not so long ago they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together at lunch because of their skin color. To them, this idea was ridiculous. And their reaction shook me awake. Kids are not inherently biased. Skin color means nothing until someone or something gives it meaning.

If there is going to be change and acceptance and tolerance in our future, kids are where we need to start. It’s not a new idea. But it’s an idea that can’t wait anymore.

This is where music fits in. It becomes the voice inside your head. It reinforces messages in a way that is direct and relatable. Music can empower children with the fuel and fire to move forward with the desire for change, peace, acceptance, and a more inclusive world.

Starting the Conversation with Our Kids

Oakland-based Alphabet Rockers deliver hip-hop music infused with positive messages. This seems simple but the work of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. goes deep.

Their latest release, The Playground Zone, is a different album for the Alphabet Rockers. It boldly steps into a more social, personal light. Produced while at the Oakland Zoo Labs Music Residency, McGaw and Shepherd created a powerful album that shines a light on timely issues related to race, ethnicity, neuro-diversity and the strength found in community.

These topics may not be obvious dinner table discussions and for sure they aren’t always comfortable to initiate. But we have a responsibility to guide our children—and to help shape their perception of themselves and the world. How children process and integrate words, ideas, fears and beliefs are what drive their thoughts and actions. This is where change is going to happen. 

McGaw and Shepherd are passionate about putting their craft to work and helping parents and educators engage and connect with young children. The music plants seeds of acceptance that can grow to empowerment and knowledge that can ultimately change the world. As a parent, the songs offer a roadmap for questions like: How do I get the conversation started? How do I keep it age appropriate and simple? How do I talk about acceptance in a way that won’t be misconstrued or create more anxiety about what goes on in the world?

As a group, the Alphabet Rockers are stepping forward and putting out the call—for all of us to step up. Change is not going to happen just because it’s the right thing. Or with two hip-hop artists on a stage. We are all responsible. In “Change the World” McGaw and Shepherd emphasize that it’s time to make the changes that we suggest to others. It’s time to recognize the power in numbers and walk together.

Wishing for the day where we don’t have to hide – who we are, how we pray, how we love – it’s all right
Everyone gets the chance to speak their mind
And people stand up – stand up for what’s right
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?
Wishing for a time when the world’s safe for all
And no matter who it is there’s help when we fall
No one feels alone – love is the call
And people feel safe without borders, or walls
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?

The brilliance of The Playground Zone’s foundation is that it’s built around the playground—a familiar place where kids get to be kids. It’s a testing ground for negotiation, a lab in itself for divisions and collaboration. It’s where you find who you are and who you want to be with. As serious as this may sound, play is at the heart of if all. The playground is meant for all children to find a place to coexist together. To feel confident that the ground they are standing on belongs as much to them as to their best friend or the kids climbing monkey bars and playing tag next to them. This self-evident truth is the subtext for The Playground Zone.

We Are Not All Created Equally. That’s a Beautiful Thing.

Children start off with a clean slate, able to see equality across differences. In fact, without other influences, labels don’t even emerge for a good portion of their little lives. Differences are curiosities but easily embraced. As children grow and outside influences seep in, they become aware that not only are they different from their peers, but those differences mean something. In songs like “Oddball,” the Alphabet Rockers welcome the idea that we are all different.

This song goes out to all the brains of the world
We all got them, they all work differently
You feel like you don’t fit in? Well…

In “Gimme Some Skin,” Alphabet Rockers take a familiar gesture and turn it into an opportunity for connection between races, highlighting the magnificence of different skin tones coming together. The symbolism of something so basic and familiar is electrifying when spoken through Shepherd’s voice.

Skin color is a spectrum we know that fact
Highlight its beauty through high five contact
Human is human we have the same parts
Skin tones are different but not too far apart
Every high five is special because we are
The colors, together they raise the bar
Bringing us together, dropping that guard

The Lyrical Flow—Conversation is Key

Through lyrically poetic verses, hip-hop and rap speak out and communicate to others who can relate. McGaw and Shepherd passionately and confidently begin timely conversations carried along by their own self-expression with heartfelt lyrics and rhymes articulated over infectious DJ beats. Their technique is solid and clear. Their quest to encourage inclusion, tolerance and equality is felt in every syllable.

Unity and love are at the forefront of the Alphabet Rockers’ messages and with those guiding principles kids are encouraged to embrace their uniqueness, rock an ultimate high five with a friend and just get their wiggle jiggle on. A refreshing spectrum that has the possibility to make a significant, rippling impact.

Alphabet Rockers’ music presents their young audience with a fundamental shift in thinking—to see the world with more open and tolerant eyes than generations before. The Playground Zone gives parents a place to start conversations with kids and a place to let the music speak for itself uniting us with a vision of liberty and justice for all.


The Playground Zone is available through the official Alphabet Rockers store, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

More information on Alphabet Rockers can be found at their official site.

Stay in touch through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

Free Music Download: Summer Sounds Playlist

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We love playlists any time of year but there are certain times where it feels like the season dictates the need for certain kinds of sounds. Summer is one of them. Every summer, we look forward to creating a soundtrack that echoes the feeling of warmer weather, beach days, outdoor concerts, nature walks and road trip adventures. Even when the hot, sticky weather calls for more time spent indoors, we reach for things that are upbeat, breezy and remind us to just take it easy.

Thanks to our friends at Sugar Mountain PR, the following playlist will help kick-start your summer soundtrack. Starting today, the playlist is available for download through May 25, 2016.

Like what you hear? Click on the artist’s name to visit their site and learn more. Be sure to also check their shows/schedule pages to see if you can catch a summer concert in your town.
Frances England – “Explorer of the World” (Explorer of the World) 
Charity and the JAMband – “Sing a Summer Song” (Earth)
Raffi – “Garden Song” (Owl Singalong)
Aaron Nigel Smith – “Take Time In Life” (ONE)
123 Andrés – “Fly, Fly” (Arriba Ababjo)
Alphabet Rockers – “Players’ Life” (The Playground Zone – coming soon
Sugar Free Allstars – “Upside Down Town” (Self-titled)
The Not-Its! – “Bird On A Wire” (Are You Listening?)
The Whizpops – “Pika” (Ranger Rick’s Trail Mix Vol. 1 – out May 20, 2016)
Red Yarn – “I Had A Rooster” (Wake Up & Sing)
Okee Dokee Brothers – “One Horsepower” (Saddle Up)
Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could – “One Day By The Riverside” (Press Play – coming soon)

Alphabet Rockers web series premiere – Food Calculator

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Bridging imagination, education, comedy, and great beats, the Alphabet Rockers bring something special “to the table. “

Thinking up creative snacks and lunchtime meals for school sometimes gives me a little bit of anxiety. My daughter is a picky about food temperatures and textures which makes creating a balanced meal feel like a challenge. Serving up veggies in a little container somehow doesn’t taste as good when it’s packed in her lunchbox. And trying to “educate” her on why she should fill her tummy with healthy food doesn’t always get through the way it’s supposed to. This is especially true when she sees her friends pulling cookies and other sweet treats out of their lunch boxes.

For my daughter, candy, or anything containing sugar, is a righteous culinary choice. That’s the stuff the makes you feel goooood! Sometimes, she’ll ask for a “healthy dessert” which includes cut-up banana pieces and brown sugar. In her mind, she is satisfying my definition of healthy eating as well as hers, which I definitely appreciate (and get a chuckle from).

In the premiere episode of their web series, the Alphabet Rockers introduce young children to the “food calculator,” a helpful nutritional tool. The episode starts off with three friends sharing what they packed for snack. As they consult their “food calculators” they quickly learn which foods are healthy to eat.

WHAT YOU’LL LOVE ABOUT IT: The Alphabet Rockers present educational concepts in a playful and relatable way. They put themselves in a real world situation, sharing snacks, because that’s what kids do at school. As they roll through their healthy choices, one of them has candy. When they consult the food calculator, it bombs. So the friends work together and come up with a successful resolution. The message here is nutrition, and the way the friends were problem solving together is an added bonus. It’s important for kids to see that their friends can make a difference to them.

Following the skit, you will be treated to a music video for the song “Food Calculator” from the trio’s award-winning album Go!

NOTE: Make sure to scroll down to find dance instruction, an art activity, and more educational tools that encourage literacy. You can even print out and make your own Food Calculator!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: “Food Calculator” is an essential song featured in many of Alphabet Rockers’ workshops. 

WANT TO LEARN MORE? You can extend the fun beyond using the palm of your hand by using their extended curriculum for visual arts and movement activities.  Stay up to date with Alphabet Rockers’ tours, workshops, assemblies and news via their Facebook Page.

LEARN THE DANCE MOVES!

PRINTABLE FOOD CALCULATOR PAGE – CLICK HERE

ART ACTIVITY AND LITERACY TOOL

These exercises can be used in the classroom and at home:

1. Brainstorm Healthy Foods, A to Z.

2. Names: Alphabet Letter: Healthy Food: Have students decide which letters in the alphabet are in the class as first letters of students’ names. Erase those not in the class. [This is a great review tool, or a chance to assess literacy development.]

3. Trace hands on construction paper, have students draw a picture of the healthy food associated with the student, or another healthy food they love. Have students cut out the hands.

4. Add the hands to wipe board, or paper (identified as the “Food Calculator”), with a share out from students.

VIDEO PREMIERE: “Dynamite” – Alphabet Rockers + FREE DOWNLOAD

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Alphabet Rockers‘ fans unite! Get ready to groove along with Kaitlin, Tommy and Stef in the video premiere for “Dynamite.” Based on the popular classic “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” “Dynamite” integrates positive messages aimed at invigorating kids’ minds with the notion that they have the power to be superstars. This live action video is filled with infectious energy directly capturing the spirit of the song, which was selected as a finalist in the 2014 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

This is one of our favorite Alphabet Rockers’ songs and the ridiculous amount of fun you are about to see in this video is exactly like being at one of their concerts…kids (and grown-ups) just gettin’ down!

In her interview for the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, founder Kaitlin McGaw explains “…We incorporated cross-body movements in the pre-chorus because it is the movement itself which activates brain activity and primes children for a more focused learning experience. The main themes of self-esteem and celebrating how each of us is a “body rockin’ superstar” were organic creations from singing to the groove. It’s incredible to see the message come to life on children’s faces when we play or perform it for them.”

Read a behind the scenes account of the “Dynamite” video shoot here.

BonusThe Alphabet Rockers are offering a FREE download of “Dynamite” which is available via the Bandcamp widget below.

“Dynamite” is from the Alphabet Rockers’ album, Go! which is available for download from iTunes. You can also find updates and connect with this awesome trio through their Facebook page.

Be a part of the Alphabet Rockers’ fan club through their official site and stay tuned for updates on their upcoming web series which will feature facts about healthy food, writing confidence, and bullying-prevention messages for kids ages 4-8.

Teaching Resources: The Alphabet Rockers believe in mixing educational messages with fun. They have a myriad of resources for teachers, one of which includes a nutritional food activity (based on their song “Food Calculator”). Download activity sheets and learn how to incorporate this into your classroom here.

Kindiecomm featured performers: Also making it’s premiere is Kindiecomm, a new family music conference for musicians and related industry folks, and the Alphabet Rockers were selected as featured performers for the Kindiecomm Industry Showcase! This is definitely something I’m looking forward to!

The Bay Area is alive with the sound of music this weekend (Sept 14-15)

There are some spectacular family events happening throughout the Bay Area this weekend. I wish I could attend them all!

If you are in the Bay Area, rest assured that there is no shortage of movement, energy and creativity. So polish up those dancing shoes and consider your weekend planned!

1) Tricycle Music Fest! Coined as the Bay Area’s biggest little music fest on the west. Taking place every weekend in September, October and early November, the 5th annual Tricycle Music Fest will peddle its way through 28 libraries for a total of 29 FREE concerts featuring 9 award-winning performers (full schedule here). Think indie music– family style– and libraries and you have the essence of Tricycle Music Fest. Last week was a huge success with Seattle kid rockers, The Not-Its!. This weekend features San Francisco, indie pop darlings, The Corner Laughers.

The Corner Laughers Sept 14 | 11:00 am and 2:00 pm

What better way to capture the delight of a Bay Area music festival than with a band that sings about their passion for living in San Francisco. With lyrics like, “My heart’s in San Francisco/ The city by the bay,” San Fran’s, The Corner Laughers, bring sweet, dreamy vocals with a bit of a sparkle and a jangle. There’s a hint of Karen Carpenter in there, too. Noone puts baby in the corner with this group! In fact, get ready for baby to be up there dancing and laughing right along with the rest of the crowd.

Saturday, September 14 at 11 am, Parkside Branch Library

Saturday, September 14 at 2 pm, Portola Valley Library

2) Charity and the Jam Band Jerry Garcia Ampitheater, San Francisco Sept 14 | 2:00 pm

Charity and the Jam Band will be playing the first-ever Saturday in the Park McLaren Festival (performing in the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater) produced by Friends of the AMP. Join them for a free 2-hour rock n’roll show in this beautiful and under-appreciated SF park. Bring a picnic and get ready to be a part of the show as Charity and her lead their audience through each song filled with movements and lots of energy.

3) Yerba Buena Family DayDowntown San Francisco’s biggest free family block party is back for its sixth year! Yerba Buena Family Day is a non-stop day of free indoor/outdoor family fun with free admission to local museums (SF Moma, Contemporary Jewish Museum, MOAD – Museum of the African Diaspora, Children’s Creativity Museum and the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival). These events are open for all ages and will have hands-on art making activities for kids. Visitors get in FREE to participating institutions.

Alphabet Rockers – Children’s Creativity Museum Sunday, Sep 15 | 1:00pm to 1:50pm

Alphabet Rockers will be bringing a high energy, movement intensive show filled with lots of dancing set to hip hop beats. Join them as they’ll have a very special show featuring Kaitlin + Tommy, DJ Wonway Posibul, and worldclass breakdancers Shinobi Jaxx (Mix’d Ingrdnts) and Brandon “Knowbody”. Dust off your old school dance moves and get ready to groove!

Story PIrates – Children’s Creativity Museum Sunday, Sep 15 | 2:30pm to 3:20pm

Story Pirates is a nationally respected education and media organization founded in 2003. They are made up of teachers, actors and comedians who perform skits based on stories written by children. Their shows are filled with music and improv. There may even be some solicitations from the audience.

Alison Faith LevyContemporary Jewish Museum Sunday, Sep 15 | 11am– 4pm

If you don’t get a chance to catch the awesome Corner Laughers on Saturday, you can find a couple of them playing along with Alison Faith Levy at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Sunday. Alison and her band will be performing 3 shows between 11am – 4p (more details here) accompanied by beautiful visual projections from the animated World of Wonder video by filmmaker Danny Plotnick.

4) Kidchella – Redwood City, CA

Redwood City is proud to offer a new music series this year especially for kids!

The Hipwaders September 15, 2013 | 11:00 am – 1:00 pm with Andy Z emceeing and opening with a few tunes of his own!

Join Andy Z and The Hipwaders as they close out Redwood City’s first Kids Rock Series. Andy Z is a children’s performer and singer/songwriter who combines music, movement, storytelling and character puppets to create an experience that keeps kids engaged and adults entertained. His songs and albums have won national awards and his performances earned rave reviews from educators, librarians, public figures, parents, and children alike.

The Hipwaders – The Hipwaders know how to bring a fun show filled with original tunes. As the SF Bay Times noted, “In the same spirit of completely wonderful, whimsical and musically gifted treats for the young set is the Bay Area-based Hipwaders, pulling off some brilliantly fun and surprisingly hip songs extolling touchstones of childlike glee including art cars and dinosaurs.”  The Hipwaders are a highly versatile group who also delight their audience with familiar tunes including the Sesame Street theme song and the Scooby Doo theme song. They come equipped with bubbles and inflatable guitars and microphones for your little rockstar.

Summer Songs

It’s heating up here on the West Coast and we’ve been spending alot of time in the car searching for cooler places.  As such, we have been racking up a list of some summer songs that take our minds to a better place and off the scorching introduction to summer.

Below is a Spotify playlist of just some of our favorites.  It includes old and new tunes we hope you’ll enjoy.

KidQuake! – The Not-Its! from KidQuake!
The Ground – Underbirds from Underbirds
The Seven Cs – Recess Monkey from Deep Sea Diver
Sailing – Ratboy Jr. from Champions of the Universe
A Bailar – Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band from ¡fantastico!
Go! – Alphabet Rockers from Go!
Bikeride (Bonus Track) – Vered from Good Morning My Love
Lazy Raisins – Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke from Pleased To Meet You
Big Wheel – The Pop Ups from Outside Voices
Bully Bully – Shine and the Moonbeams from Shine Your Shine
Sunshine Through My Window – Play Date from Imagination
We Just Wanna Have Fun – Milkshake from Got a Minute?
The Way It Goes – Grenadilla from Can’t Wait
Yes, We Have Rhythm – Lunch Money from Silly Reflection
Little Cloud (feat. Rachel Loshak) – Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights from Bandwagon
I Go – Mariana Iranzi from Hola Hello
Beautiful Mess – Kindiependent from The Happy Birthday EP
Turn Around – Cat Doorman from Songbook
Rain – Paul Spring from Home of Song