Dan Zanes wants parents to get with the music

Sure, Dan Zanes wants you to buy his new concert DVD, "All Around the Kitchen!" — or his new book, "Jump Up," or any of his all-ages folk-rock CDs. But what he really wants is for parents to sing with their kids — no equipment required.

"We used to be a real society of music makers, but now we're a society of music listeners," said Zanes from his New York City home. "Everyone is plugged into their iPod, listening to recorded music. I have so much enthusiasm for making music — I hope that enthusiasm comes across in my records and performances, so anyone who hears it feels like they could do it, too.

"It's such a tragedy to let the professionals have the good time when anybody can do this. Just open your mouth and sing, or clap along or stomp your feet."

Families will get a chance to sing along with Zanes, former singer for the '80s band the Del Fuegos, at two kid-friendly concerts next Saturday at The Moore Theatre.

This is the third annual Seattle concert for Dan Zanes and Friends (the "friends" include Barbara Brousal on acoustic guitar and mandolin; Cynthia Hopkins, saw and accordion; Yoshi Waki, upright bass; Colin Brooks, drums; and Jamaican rapper Rankin Don, aka Father Goose). The theater says the performance, which includes Zanes' original songs as well as traditional ones, "ultimately dissolves into a full-venue dance party."

Zanes, for his part, loves a front-row mosh pit. "It's a little like a Grateful Dead show, which makes me happy. ... There's never a situation where everyone is sitting in chairs just listening. The undercurrent of chaos adds to the fun."

For adults who balk at throwing themselves into, say, the Hokey Pokey (Zanes looks like he's having a ball with the tune on his concert DVD), Zanes has this advice: "Get over yourself."

"It's a parent's job to be silly some of the time," said Zanes, the father of a 10-year-old daughter. "We're role models — do we always want to look like we care what others think of us? It's important to show we're comfortable in our own skin and able to get silly when the situation calls for it. Music really helps in that department."

The shows attract an all-ages crowd, from tots to grandparents ("I keep hoping for the day someone is born at one of our shows," he notes). "I'm committed to the idea of songs that everyone can listen to together and feel excited by," he said.

Zanes doesn't write kids music per so. "I've been eating with a fork for almost 40 years now, so it's not something I'm going to become emotional about," he said. "And it's not easy for kids to relate to romantic love. But somewhere in between learning to tie your shoes and songs about my old girlfriend is a huge range of subject matter. Almost anything is fair game once you get away from the two extremes."

Besides his own songs (such as "Wonder Wheel," a Ferris wheel ode), Zanes enjoys exposing kids to traditional folk.

"The idea is to take older tunes, turn them on their heads and drag them into the 21st century," he said.

For Zanes, this meant giving them a little more oomph, courtesy of "the rock and roll that's gotten into our blood."

He worried the traditional maritime songs — which include sailor hazards like drinking and drowning — on last year's "Sea Music" would alienate some fans of his previous four family CDs, including 2003's "House Party." But the response was all positive. "I really believe it's important to be in touch with these old songs and the stories that come with them," he said.

Along with his low-key DVD, featuring videos played on preschool channel Noggin, Zanes is now working with Playhouse Disney (a tour sponsor and home to popular preschool act The Wiggles) to develop a musical TV program.

Zanes denies selling out to a medium he often criticizes. "I've always felt that TV is definitely abused in our country," he said. "It's a national tragedy, the amount of TV kids watch."

But, "at a certain point I realized that no matter how much I said it, no one was going to throw their TV away. So I want to use it as a vehicle for my message. If I can make a show that kids watch, laugh, learn songs, get interested in instruments and get together to sing with their friends, then I can say I did something really good."

When his daughter was first born, he said, he thought the challenge was to find good CDs for family listening. "Now I think it's a different challenge: where to find good songs to fill my head with so when the time comes, I can start singing them."

Stephanie Dunnewind: 206-464-2091 or sdunnewind@seattletimes.com

Family-friendly concerts

Dan Zanes and Friends: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle. Tickets, $15 or $20 (plus service charges), are available at www.themoore.com, 206-292-ARTS, or in person from the Moore and Paramount Theatre box offices and at all Ticketmaster outlets. More information: www.danzanes.com

Experience Music Project Family Concert Series: EMP's next all-ages concert will be Robb Benson with the Withholders at 1 p.m. Sunday, followed by the Beatniks Nov. 6. Both take place at Level 3 of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and encourage audience interaction. Tickets are $7 for children under age 17, $10 for adults; a $25 family special includes two adults and all children under 18 sharing the same address. Advance tickets available at EMP or by calling 206-770-2702. More information: www.emplive.org