December 14, 2017
When the parents in the audience start singing along to kids' music that they're hearing for the first time, you know it's good. Like, this-ain’t-your-grandmother’s-wheels-on-the-bus, good.
Johnny Shortcake performances – which have been part of the Kimmel Center’s roster of free offerings over the past year – are full of toddlers and the parents who shuffle them from one family-friendly activity to the next, shaking their hips and belting out quirky lyrics learned moments earlier. (If this doesn’t sound unusual to you, at the vast majority of weekend children’s music performances you’ll likely find kids seated near the stage listening to yet another cover of the "Itsy Bitsy Spider," as their parents sneak glances at their phones and sip coffee in the back.)
From the moment he takes the stage with his sequin-bedazzled crew, Shortcake has his audience’s full attention, singing original songs developed with his musical partners – Rumi Kitchen, Ross Bellenoit, and his nieces.
Suppose your nose was where your elbows goes?
Would you call them #smellbows?
Would you call them #smellbows?
He also warns audiences not to pull on Gigi’s whiskers, looks forward to cupcake Tuesday, and recounts the time he turned into a dragon for three weeks – an act complete with fire-resistant and dragon-sized toothbrushes.
Who is Johnny Shortcake? The turquoise unitard-clad frontman and his soul band are the PG version of Johnny Showcase, a self-proclaimed troupe of South Philly funk folk heroes who channel Andy Kaufman and Prince in equal measure. But Shortcake doesn't come short, and is no less creative, magical, and downright funky than the adult show.
“The songs are super funky, and there is even a Zappa-esque song about brushing your teeth."
“[Johnny Shortcake is] very popular with parents and children because of the positive messages and life lessons in his music,” says Monica Robinson, public relations manager at the Kimmel Center.
His popularity is due, in no small part, to the fact that Shortcake approaches songwriting for kids and adults in much the same way.
“We don't water it down,” says David Sweeny, the local father of twin boys (with a girl on the way) behind the Johnny personas.
“The songs are super funky, and there is even a Zappa-esque song about brushing your teeth. These are songs for everybody, young and old. Performance-wise, the content is much different of course, but the spirit is the same.”
In an attempt to extend Shortcake’s reach beyond the Kimmel Center – the act’s only venue to date – the band recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $6,500 to create their first kids music album.
“I do hope that this an album that kids and adults can listen to together – laugh to, sing to, dance to together – because those are three of the most important things we can do with the kids in our lives,” Sweeny says of the proposed album.
“I hope that it's a record that parents genuinely don't mind bumping in the car, even really enjoy,” Sweeny continues.
“Music was a massively integral part of my childhood, with the exception of a Kids Praise tape my mom had, it was mostly Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and Top 40 (which was pretty bangin' in the 80s). I remember every note of the songs that were dear to me. I lived those songs...and I still get those feelings today. If I can help shape a childhood with funky songs of silliness, love, and tolerance, it’s really the best kind of thing I can do in the world right now.”