Dan Zanes and the Future of Music

February 7, 2008

In the 70’s, Jon Landau famously said: “I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” It’s a great quote, and justified to some extent by the impact Bruce Springsteen had on 70’s and 80’s rock.

I saw something spectacular last night. I don’t know whether it was the future of music, but I had never seen anything like it, and I loved it.

My 5 year old’s favorite musician is Dan Zanes, former member of the Del Fuegos, now a kindie rocker, meaning that he makes music ostensibly for kids, but that aging hipster parents like myself can enjoy as well. Zanes’s music is terrific, and we’ve listened to his CD’s literally hundreds of times. Zanes also collaborates with some pretty cool people, Natalie Merchant, Philip Glass, Bob Weir, and the like. I really like everything he does, but I had never seen him play live until last night.

There is something special about a small auditorium filled with young children. It was late enough at night that they were excited about the impending show, but not totally unruly, perhaps because, at 6:30pm, it was getting to be bed time for many of them. When Zanes came on the kids started dancing with each other, with their parents, with themselves. Everyone sang along, everyone knew the words, since, like us, they had listened to the CDs over and over again.

There was one special moment when Zanes encouraged everyone to make a conga line (he called it a Train, since it was during the song Catch That Train), and dance up on stage. My wife and son were the first ones up on stage. I stayed back with the bags and coats. I just sat and watched the beautiful, touching spectacle of a really talented group of musicians, playing really, really well, surrounded by dancing children and their parents.

Maybe this isn’t the future of rock ‘n’ roll, but I think it’s a new development. There’s a part of me that is sad that rock isn’t about rebellion necessarily anymore, but there’s also something great about music that can unite rather than divide young families. There was energy and excitement and hope in the air. I’ve seen many great concerts over the years, but I don’t think any will stand out in my mind like last nights concert by Zanes.

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