“Well, it’s up to you,” Dan Zanes explained to the crowd who packed the dance floor into front of the stage at The Egg on Saturday afternoon. “We can have a concert, or we could have a wild party. A foot-stomping, sing-along kind of party.”
The crowd – most members were under three feet tall – roared back their answer. Zanes just smiled and launched into the rousing “The Fine Friends Are Here,” which immediately set to crowd to dancing. OK, well, maybe not exactly “dancing,” as Arthur Murray would know it. More like jumping around in wild abandon. Let’s call it a matinee mosh-pit for the mini-set.
Zanes has been doing the kids-music thing for more than a decade now, and he’s got it down cold. He and his band – drummer Colin Brooks, stand-up bassist Saskia Sunshine Lane, guitarist-vocalist Sonia de los Santos and violinist-trumpeter Elena Moon Park – know they’ve got to keep it interesting and fast-paced.
Zanes, for example, switched instruments frequently, playing electric guitar, harmonica, mandolin and banjo during the first three songs. And keeping it short and sweet, they managed to squeeze 16 songs into just over an hour.
Musically, they offered a lot of variety, too, from folk to funk to country, including three songs sung exclusively in Spanish and a bi-lingual strut through Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog.”
Of course, Zanes knows plenty about musical variety. I mean, can you name another musician who’s recorded with Philip Glass, Bob Weir, Matthew Broderick, Rosanne Cash, the Kronos Quartet, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Debbie Harry, Carol Channing and Lou Reed?
About the only missteps of the show were the selections from the brand “76 Trombones” album of show tunes. Both Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” and Frank Loesser’s “Thumbelina” sounded under-rehearsed and tentative.
And Zanes and his crew get bonus points for sharing the stage with some local talent. In the middle of the show, they turned the stage over to Silk and Steel, a steel drum ensemble from Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill Arts Center. They played an instrumental on their own, and then joined Zanes and the rest of his band for a rousing rendition of “Hop Up, Ladies.”
DAN ZANES & FRIENDS SET LIST
Water for the Elephants
The Fine Friends Are Here
Pay Me My Money Down
Cape Cod Girls
??? instrumental (Silk and Steel only)
Hop Up, Ladies (with Silk and Steel)
Catch That Train
House Party Time
Walkin’ the Dog
Sweet Rosyanne (with Silk and Steel)