Laurie Berkner brings a birthday party to Pier Six

The popular kids’ artist and her band make fun, catchy music that parents like, too

April 30, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Sometimes, Laurie Berkner scours the New York area in search of inspiration for her next children's sing-a-long, but there's not a "tra la la" moment to be found.

Occasionally, however, the woman dubbed one of the pioneers of the kiddie rock movement finds herself at just the right place, at just the right time.

Such as a few years ago, she says, when "I went around the Upper West Side, and walking along Broadway, hoping to hear kids say something that I could write a song off of, and I saw this kid playing with her father.

"He said, ‘I'm going to catch you. You'd better run. I'm going to catch you. Here I come.' I was reminded of how incredibly fun it was to be chased, and the thing was to be caught. I said to myself, ‘That's my chorus.' "

The result was "I'm Gonna Catch You," one of her more popular songs, which illustrates why Berkner is one of the most recognized children's recording artists in the country, a former indie-rock band performer who found her true calling in delighting young imaginations with music.

Her four-member Laurie Berkner Band is on an East Coast tour that visits Pier Six Pavilion for a concert on May 1. In addition to catchy tunes, the band uses themes for many of its shows, and the Pier Six Pavilion will be a backdrop for her recurring "Birthday Party Concert."

Kids who attend the concert are invited to take part in the festivities by wearing their favorite party hat and bringing their own artwork. They can visit her website (laurieberkner.com) to download a picture to color.

Berkner is also encouraging kids to bring new children's books that are to be collected and donated to an organization that gives books as gifts during birthday parties. The items go to children in need at each concert venue.

Said Berkner, "It's important to give back to the communities we perform in."

Though she's been a performer since 1992 — with stints in an all-female cover band called Lois Lane as well as her own band, Red Onion — Berkner has long been involved with children's music.

The Princeton, N.J., resident spent several years as a children's music specialist, teaching in New York-area preschools after graduating college.

"When I first started, I cried every day; I was awful," said Berkner who now lives in New York City. "I didn't know what I was doing at all. In some ways, I had to be more clearer and direct, and I had to learn how to structure songs so they worked in a classroom setting."

Berkner was still playing in classroom settings when she wrote "We Are The Dinosaurs," inspired by her children after she encouraged them to march, roar and eat like dinosaurs during one of her classroom sessions.

The makeshift song became such a hit with the children that they began asking Berkner to play it during class, and then parents whose children loved the song began asking about it as well.

Laurie initially performed solo and then formed her band. She and member Susie Lampert — who played with her in the group Lois Lane — played as a duo for several years. Bassist and songwriter Adam Bernstein later joined. The band's newest member, Bob Golden, joined the group last year.

Berkner was still a solo artist when she recorded her first release, "Whaddaya Think Of That?" in 1997, and later formed her own record company, Two Tomatoes Records. In all, she has recorded five albums; the last was "Rocketship Run" in 2008. Her 2002 album, "Under A Shady Tree," won National Parenting Publication Awards gold and Parents' Choice Silver Honor award.

In 2006, the Laurie Berkner Band released its first DVD, "We are … The Laurie Berkner Band," which sold 400,000 copies.

Her latest CD, "The Best of The Laurie Berkner Band," is scheduled to be released June 22. It includes Berkner's greatest hits plus some bonus tracks.

But many children might know Berkner from her appearances on Nick Jr., Nickelodeon's preschool station. Her videos have appeared on the channel (formerly known as NOGGIN TV) for six years, and the band has performed on the Nick Jr. original series "Jack's Big Music Show." People magazine hailed her as the queen of children's music, and in 2003 one of her songs was used in an episode of the HBO series "Sex & The City."

Not bad for a musician who thought no one would ever pay her to play music, which is one of the reasons why Berkner majored in psychology in college and, though she had played and sung most of her life, never studied music.

"After some years of playing in bands, I realized that people really liked the music I was playing for kids, and the responses were very moving," said Berkner. "This was the music people wanted to hear. I paid attention to what people liked and what I did well, and put those two things together."

If you go
The Laurie Berkner Band performs at 2 p.m. May 1 at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Gates open at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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