Milwaukee, unfortunately, doesn’t have a huge children’s music scene, so I make a point to check out the few local, kiddo bands that pop up, including Fox & Branch, The Figureheads and The Chickadees.
I wrote an article about The Chickadees a few months ago, and at that time, lead singer Mary Karlzen sent me their CD, "Songs From The Great Outdoors." It quickly fell into regular rotation in the car CD player, so when I saw that The Chicakdees were playing again this year at Summerfest, my family and I -- which includes my 6-year-old sons -- decided to make a pilgrimage to check out the band live.
Weather conditions were near perfect on the Big Gig's grounds, with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and a perfect lake breeze.
The Chickadees performed at 2:15 p.m at Summerfest's Children's Theater & Playzone, and there was a decent turnout in for the show, including OnMilwaukee.com senior editor Drew Olson who was with his wife and daughter. Most of the audience members, of course, were under 10.
Karlzen -- who uses the stage name "Mare Mare" -- appeared with co-Chickadees Anjl Rodee and Carmen Nickerson wearing brightly colored Chickadees T-shirts, jeans or pants and matching pink sneakers. I instantly appreciated that they were animated and smiley, but not fake.
"It's great that the kids have fun, but as a parent it's sometimes hard to sit through a kids' show, so we try to make it entertaining for the parents, too," says Karlzen.
The band's debut album, "Songs from the Great Outdoors," won a Parents’ Choice award, and the group plans to release a second CD by the end of the year.
At the concert, most of the material was drawn from "Songs from the Great Outdoors," including "An Owl In the Tree," "5 Shiny Apples" and "Chickadees Song." The majority of the band’s songs are about nature, seasons and animals.
The trio has an engaging stage presence with catchy lyrics and nice harmonies, although it was difficult to hear Rodee because her mic was too quiet. At times, Karlzen's voice sounds like soulful folkie Victoria Williams, and it was cute seeing Nickerson play a variety of percussion instruments, including a "shaker egg" that seemed appropriate for a Chickadee.
However, the band's greatest strength is their commitment to audience participation. For multiple numbers, kids were invited on stage to "help," which usually simply meant "dance," but the little folks loved it. Loud, group counting was another hit.
The Chickadees are also committed to weaving education into their lyrics. For example, I learned this afternoon that male chickadees and female chickadees look exactly the same. (Who knew?) The upbeat learning session continued with a song about recycling and reusing materials.
"What if instead of taking a juice box in your lunch, you took a refillable cup instead?" Karlzen asked the audience.
The band’s humor balances the educational component nicely. At one point, Karlzen told a joke about a frog eating at McDonald’s for lunch.
"Guess what he ordered? French flies and a diet croak."
Karlzen performed for many years as a singer-songwriter for adults who released albums on Atlantic, Dualtone and Y&T Music labels. After she had her second child, Karlzen decided her rigorous touring schedule was too much, and pursued making a new brand of music.
"At grown-up shows, people are stoic and show up sometimes with arms folded and with the attitude," says Karlzen. "At the kids’ shows, from the first note, the kids are smiling, dancing, laughing. We don’t have to have the serious rock pose. We are completely silly, spontaneous and constantly making bad jokes. By the end of the show, the kids are like Mexican jumping beans."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.