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The Zanes train

Published on: April 01, 2008

Dan ZanesConcert in April, new CD in May

Maybe it takes a former member of ‘80s band the Del Fuegos, who once sang songs titled “He Had a Lot to Drink Today” and “I’ll Sleep with You (Cha Cha D’Amour),” to write children’s songs that adults can stomach. The Fuegos’ catalog may not be G-rated, but former lead singer Dan Zanes has transformed himself into a modern-day troubadour for the 10-and-younger set.

Even more improbable is Zanes’ wide appeal to parents. If The Wiggles make you feel like sticking your head in the oven, have a go with “Dan Zanes and Friends” at The Moore Theatre this month (see sidebar below). By the second song, Zanes’ homespun music and natural charm will have you capping that flask. “Parents love him as much as the kids — that’s what makes him such a compelling family performer,” says Terri Hiroshima, director of marketing and communications for Seattle Theatre Group, which runs The Moore. “Parents are just as ga-ga over him as the kids.”

Watch your iPod-conditioned sons and daughters thrill to a live band playing guitars, a mandolin, perhaps a tin whistle or tuba. More unusual instruments (lap steel guitar, cuatro, charango) might warrant a brief show-and-tell prior to getting a workout in the Latin folk of “Mariposa Olé” or the Zulu ditty “Pigogo.” Equally engaging is Zanes’ singing; he delivers “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” or the lilting Scottish folk of “Loch Lomond” with equal sincerity.

“It’s a hybrid sound,” Zanes says, speaking from a tour stop. “We’re not trying to go by the book on anything.” His latest album, the Grammy-winning Catch That Train!, samples folk, pop, Celtic, gospel, world, Latin, bluegrass and everything in between. Songs like “Walkin’ the Dog” and “Let’s Shake” establish his kid credentials. Crack songwriting and expert musicianship make grown-ups forget that the album art shows a goat playing a violin.

Despite Zanes’ widespread acceptance by parents, don’t expect Sabbath covers. Ms. Hiroshima says the bulk of his concert audience is younger than 10. Zanes encourages sing-alongs and, he says, “as much wild dancing as possible. I try to turn the concert hall into a big living room. We want everyone to feel like we’re all in it together.”

Zanes says this show will feature more Latino music. That figures, given that his new album, ¡Nueva York! (May 20 release date), celebrates the music of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Sunny, south-of-the-border songs such as “Colas” and “Son Borinqueno” conjure the sweet smell of sunscreen. “In this election year, this record is our way of celebrating what’s come to us through immigration,” he says. A gospel album is also in the works, with proceeds benefiting the New Sanctuary Movement, a coalition dedicated to immigration and deportation issues.

Deportation? Immigration? On a children’s record? In concert? Only Dan Zanes could pull it off. And he believes the crowd at The Moore will embrace his newfound passion. “That’s why I love to come to Seattle,” he says. “The audience is always ready for whatever we’re serving up at that moment. The shows we’re playing now are the best ones we’ve ever done, and it’ll be great to see you all again.”

Derek Blaylock lives in Seattle with his wife and two young sons.


Dan Zanes plays The Moore Theatre in Seattle on Saturday, April 26, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Single tickets can be purchased at Enter to win a ticket to a party with Dan Zanes before the 4 p.m. show — just for ParentMap readers! Buy your tickets to the 4 p.m. show, then email Tell us in 50 words or less why your little Zaniacs MUST be invited to this party. Include your name, your children’s names and ages, and your telephone number.

Sophie interviews Zanes

When Dan Zanes visited Seattle in 2007, Sophie Harris, now 8 and a half (daughter of ParentMap staffer Laura Glass), had the exciting opportunity to meet him and ask him a few questions. Here’s what our youngest reporter found out. Listen to song clips at — Kris Collingridge

Sophie Harris: How do you get your hair to stay that way?
Dan Zanes: I never brush it or comb it. You could have it too, Sophie — just cut your hair a little and don’t brush it.

SH: How many songs is Anna [Zanes’ daughter, now 15] on? How many instruments does she play?

DZ: Anna is on at least one song per album. When she was younger she was on a number of songs with her friends and now she can sing on her own. Anna plays the ukulele and the flute.

SH: How many do you play?
DZ: About 12, I think: guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, autoharp, harmonica, cuarto, jahar, lumberjack and a few others.

SH: How old were you when you started to create music?

DZ: I was 8 years old when my mom gave me my first guitar. She always wanted to play the guitar so she gave me one so I could learn.

SH: How many songs will be on your Spanish CD [due to be released in May]?

DZ: About 14 to 15, though it’s going to be tough to get it down to that number. There are just so many great songs!

SH: What’s Anna’s favorite song that you sing?

DZ: That would be either “Mariposa Olé” or any Father Goose song.

SH: Would you ever learn and record French or Hebrew songs?

DZ: Maybe. I just learned a song in Ladino and I already know a lot of Hebrew songs. I’d like to learn French. Do you know of any great songs in French, Sophie? Could you send me some?

SH: What’s your favorite song that you play?

DZ: Hmm — that’s a good question. It changes. Right now it’s “Catch that Train!”

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