Saturday, September 9, 2006

Memphis Rock-n-Romp

Memphis Rock-n-Romp
Stacey Greenberg

In 1992 I was in front of the stage in a now defunct bar rocking out as hard as I could to my favorite local band, Neighborhood Texture Jam (NTJ). Joe Lapsley, the lead singer, had filled an inflatable mannequin with canned dog food and ripped her to shreds on stage with a chainsaw while he sang NTJ’s anthem “Don’t Get Loud With Me Bitch.” I was making eyes at the drummer, Paul Buchignani, who was sweaty and topless like most of the band. As I banged my head back and forth, I felt the greasy brown mush splatter on my face and coat my hair. It was totally disgusting and I knew Paul would never love me, but I didn’t care. I scooped a glob of dog food out of my hair and lobbed it right back on stage, just missing Joe’s big mouth.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

I don’t get too many chances to go to see live music anymore. I’m usually fast asleep by midnight when most bands are just getting started. The idea of staying up late and hanging around smoky bars just isn’t appealing now that I’ve got a two-year-old, a four-year-old, and a full-time job.

But I still like to rock, and so do my kids. My youngest is already the self-appointed family DJ. Before I can get him into his car seat, he hurls himself into the front and grabs my CD holder with his chubby little hands. With amazing agility, he crams the Ramones’ mix into the tiny slot and flings his body back into his seat before I’ve even formed the words, “Honey, get back in your seat.”

After three years of driving down Cooper to and from my kids’ school and wondering who the bands were advertised on the posters plastered all over poles that line the street, I finally said, “That’s enough!”

I had heard of a family-friendly concert series in Washington, DC showcasing local musicians and bands called Rock-n-Romp and decided that despite being completely out of touch with the local music scene, I was going to bring Rock-n-Romp to Memphis. In 2005, I started talking the idea up at the Peabody Park playground, the Children’s Museum, and other places throughout midtown to parents who I used to see in bars and clubs before we were parents.

Since Rock-n-Romp shows are held during the day in a relaxed, kid-safe environment and give parents who miss their social life a chance to get out, enjoy some music that might be new to them, and expose their kids to great bands, the concept really wasn’t a hard sell. I kept a mental checklist of the people who seemed really interested in the idea and asked them to meet me for lunch at Alice’s Urban Market in January. Not surprisingly, everybody pretty much knew everyone else from one place or another, and thankfully I had chosen people who had musical connections and big backyards. By the time we finished our sandwiches, we had a list of potential bands to solicit and plans to host three Rock-n-Romps over the next six months.

The inaugural Rock-n-Romp was held on a Saturday afternoon in Dan Harper’s backyard and featured Amy Lavere & the Tramps, Noise Choir, and DJ Colin Butler. It was 75 degrees outside and sunny. A keg of Sierra Nevada was surrounded by ice. Sixty parents mingled, danced, and spread blankets on the grass. Sixty kids in face paint and multiple tattoos ran through the yard with various musical instruments. They rocked. They romped. There wasn't a cooler place to be on April 1st.

There were lots of instruments lying around for the kids to play with. Each of the bands included the kids in their sets. Amy Lavere asked everyone to come up and moo while she sang a song about a cow and Noise Choir set up a three-foot high live microphone for kids to join in whenever they felt the urge. When the live music ended, Noise Choir left their equipment set up and gave the kids an opportunity to put on their own show. Throughout the afternoon, DJ Colin Butler played an awesome array of songs that made it nearly impossible to sit still.

I truly believe most people left wishing there could be a Rock-n-Romp every weekend. I know I did.

After the show, J.B. Horrell, the lead guitarist and master face contortionist for Noise Choir, gave me a copy of their “Sings Out” CD. My two-year-old swiped it from me and immediately started tearing the plastic wrap off as he walked towards our car’s stereo. As we drove home, I caught a glimpse of him banging his head to “Muscular Pony” in the rearview mirror. I smiled to myself and thought, “Mission accomplished.”

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