Dan Zanes at the Old Town School of Folk Music


November 6, 2001


A leading light in the recent movement of underground rockers making cool children's music, Dan Zanes played two packed shows Sunday afternoon at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Along with his accomplished five-piece band, he entertained parents as much as he did their toddlers.

As the force behind Boston's Del Fuegos, Zanes helped lay the groundwork for what is now a thriving alternative-country/roots-rock scene. His band never hit the Counting Crows/ Wallflowers level of stardom because it was just a tad too sophisticated. So it's ironic that Zane's equally nuanced kids' tunes have won mainstream acclaim, garnering accolades everywhere from Martha Stewart's Living to Vanity Fair.

Currently residing in Brooklyn, N.Y., and drawing musicians from the insurgent country scene there (which is second only to Chicago's in terms of bountiful talent), Zanes mixes traditional folk songs delivered on mandolin and banjo with slightly more rocking electric Fender Stratocaster fare and the occasional hint of a calypso or reggae rhythm.

With his voice endearingly rough (albeit deeper and more often in key than those who were singing along), Zanes opened the first show Sunday with "Over the Rainbow." He proceeded to mix effervescent originals ("Hello," "Wonder Wheel") with imaginative readings of the classics (from "Polly Wolly Doodle" to the Carter Family's "On the Sunny Side of the Street") through an hourlong set that kept the short-attention-span crowd literally dancing in the aisles.

Zanes was joined on one tune by one of the finest members of Chicago's own hip kids' music scene, Justin Roberts, who will top the bill at a special Kids' Show Holiday Jamboree at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 2. Other Chicago musicians who'll play for the little ones include Tim Rutilli and Califone, Dag Juhlin of Poi Dog Pondering and the Slugs, Janet Bean of Eleventh Dream Day and Freakwater, the inimitable Brigid Murphy, and Robbie and Donna Fulks. Tickets are $7 for kids, $15 for adults. Call (773) 826-1230, ext. 32, for more more information.

Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic