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Ethan Rossiter & The Hartwells | Double Barrel Popsicle Release at Johnny D’s | May 2011

If you’ve never been to a children’s music concert before, allow me to share my rare opportunity to see a concert designed for children. Ethan Rossiter and The Hartwells were releasing Double Barrel Popsicle, so what was I going to do, miss it? In fact, when I enter Johnny D’s Restaurant in Boston, MA, the first thing I notice is a mass of people. This concert isn’t just for the mosh of children, (infancy to about six years old); it’s for the parents, too.

This is Ethan Rossiter and The Hartwells appeal. Certainly, songs like “Ladybug Picnic” have counting, repetitions, and choruses to sing along or clap with, but a kid isn’t going to hear the music unless Mom or Dad puts it on, meaning the parents have to listen to it too. Ethan and The Hartwells are relaxed, fun-loving dudes and dudettes. The mood is chill. Johnny D’s is a bar too, so Ethan has a brewskie in one hand, shaking hands with the other. The stage is sandwiched between booths on one side and tables on the other. You can sit, eat, and watch, or stand on the dance floor. This is where the children congregate, laughing, running in circles, and touching everything in sight with booger fingers.

Behind them, parents stand with cameras ready to capture their offspring smiling, dancing, or clapping. It’s only for o’clock in the afternoon, but that’s the perfect time for a concert like this, with enough time to get home for dinner.

Ethan and The Hartwells take the stage. They burst into songs like “Toothbrush Song” and “When You’re Smiling.” On “Five Little Monkeys”, Ethan teaches the audience hand gestures. It’s not the jumping on the bed song you’re thinking of. “Five little monkeys swinging from a tree,” it goes. “Along came that alligator and snatched that monkey right outta that tree.” That’s when you’re supposed to make your arms into an alligator mouth, clapping your hands together to simulate a “snap!”

What makes this group versatile and groovy is the addition of trumpet, which solos and doubles the melody, adding texture. Ethan looks, sounds, and plays guitar a bit like Jack Johnson, and with female backing vocals, there’s a lot of interesting configurations in the music. Tambourines float around the dance floor, where kids pound them off-beat, but Ethan only looks down and smiles. One kid, in green overalls, claps and spins around on one foot. Two girls hold hands and swing around, absolutely the driving force behind the dance party.

The band plays a slick mash-up: “If You’re Happy and You Know it” mixed with “Old McDonald”. But these covers aren’t nearly as fun as the originals, all with potential to become as classic as the medley picks.

A highlight is “Jamberry”. Over a funky groove Ethan coos, “Rasberry, jazzberry/ razzamatazberry.” He’s looking everywhere for these berries to make jam with. It’s a hoot. Because his songs get funky, or folky, and because he’s not a nerdy dad, not the sort of television host you’d find on Nickolodeon, but rather handsome and driven by the music aspect as much as the kid aspect, everyone’s getting down. If I walked in midway through the set I would have only seen that back of the audience, the parents getting down, and not the short kids up front.

“We have a lot of songs about animals,” Ethan announces. “And food.” That pretty much sums the music up. It’s fun, full of colorful tongue twisters and funny scenes, such as “Subway Animals”, a jazz tune, starting, “The hippo, he was headed off to Queens.”

If you’re a parent and are looking for live music you can not only stomach, but will enjoy, either get a copy of Double Barrel Popsicle or see this group live. Need proof? In the end, everyone filed onto the street smiling ear to ear. That’s Ethan’s MO. “Hopefully we can get the kids dancing,” he told me. “If we do that, we’ve done our job.” Well, Ethan, job well done.


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