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Caspar Babypants

Chris Ballew actually makes that fabled music that pleases both kids and grown-ups

Caspar Babypants is off to write a song about a marshmallow. Photo credit: babypantsmusic.com

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Years ago, the folks at the Weekly Volcano sent me on a dubious assignment to attend a live production of Yo Gabba Gabba!, a beloved children's show that ran for four seasons. Even though I was given two tickets, none of my friends were willing to wake up early enough on a Saturday to join me at the Tacoma Dome for what amounted to a kiddie rave: nonstop, frenetic music, streamers and balloons raining down from the ceiling, visuals psychedelic enough to give any of the adults flashbacks, and special appearances by hipster-friendly artists like Biz Markie.

Thankfully, given the cache that Yo Gabba Gabba! had with indie-rock-loving parents in their late ‘20s, I didn't feel like too much of a creeper attending the show without a kid. It was during this event, though, that I was given ample amount of time to ponder how difficult it is to create a show for very young children that doesn't aim to condescend, but rather strives for something resembling pure, exuberant art. Not many artists that take a stab at children's entertainment are able to hit that sweet spot, though, notable exceptions include such disparate examples as Fred Rogers, They Might Be Giants, Jim Henson, Kimya Dawson and Lisa Loeb.

One of the best children's entertainers was actually at that Yo Gabba Gabba! show, and his name is Chris Ballew, though, he may now be best known by his stage name: Caspar Babypants. That's how the kids know him, anyway, while their parents might still think of him as the frontman for iconic Seattle alt-rock trio the Presidents of the United States of America. His setup at that concert -- just a jovial man with an acoustic guitar -- looks identical to just about any other kids' entertainer out there, but that sly, vibrant lyrical wit is just as present in his Caspar Babypants work as it was with the Presidents. As he finished his performance, he left us with one final thought that played as both sincere and as a wink at the silliness of children's music: "Bye, kids! I have to go write a song about a marshmallow!"

Caspar Babypants has shockingly released over a dozen albums since he began officially making music for tykes in 2009. It's fitting that two of those albums are made up of covers of Beatles songs -- those great equalizers of uniting the musical tastes of kids and parents. Ideally, children's music should not only capture the imagination of kids, but not drive parents to the brink of insanity. Ballew's work with Caspar Babypants strikes this balance by not talking down to his audience, or getting lazy with his songwriting, treating songs with names like "My Pants are on Vacation" and "The Softest Guitar on the Moon" with precisely the amount of weight and importance they merit. Both of those songs are off of his most recent album, Jump for Joy!, which characteristically features that excitable exclamation point that's a fixture on all his albums.

Not surprisingly, Ballew has a hell of a knack for melody, a quality that stretches back to the days of the Presidents, and continues unimpeded with Caspar Babypants. Part of the misconception of writing music for children is that it doesn't allow the performer any sort of artistic growth; making art for a fixed audience of very young people seems like it can be limited. But Jump for Joy! is so packed full of interesting ideas and compelling music that it seems clear that Caspar Babypants is no restriction for Ballew, but is actually a rewarding step forward for a beloved singer-songwriter.

Caspar Babypants, all ages, 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, $9-$11, Real Art Tacoma, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, realarttacoma.com

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