Playing in the 'grass

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / February 20, 2010

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WHO: Globe columnist Joanna Weiss; her husband, Dan DeLeo; and her two kids, Ava, 5, and Jesse, 15 months

WHAT: Hearing music at a festival

WHERE: Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, Framingham

Taking little kids to see live music - live music that isn’t cloying kids’ music - is a challenge, at best. The thrill of seeing a real band at work is offset by the fidgets, the fussies, the ever-present need for food, and the curse of the short attention span. But over the course of some trial and error, we’ve found our best success on the festival circuit. Music festivals tend to be informal enough that you don’t have to worry about late entrances and early exits, expansive enough that you can expose your kids to different sounds for as long - or short - as their interest lasts. (Also, kids’ tickets are often discounted or free.)

We had our best festival experience so far at last weekend’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union and held this year at the Sheraton Framingham. Joe Val isn’t just informal but participatory: There are classes and featured performances, yes, but this is largely an opportunity for bluegrass players from all over to bring their instruments, gather in impromptu groups, and play tunes all around the hotel hallways. Ava and Jesse got to see their dad play bass with some newfound friends (some of whom later entertained Jesse at dinner and helped get his little arms into his coat). And Ava was enthralled by a group of older kids playing tunes beside a stairwell - including a preteen girl who played a full-size bass by standing on a chair. If anything motivates her to take music lessons herself, this will be it.

Jesse, meanwhile, learned to identify a banjo, though it sounds like “ba-ba’’ when he says it. He took some baby steps in the hotel hallway, too, plus a metaphoric step on the path to a lifetime of festival-going. At 15 months, he got his first-ever wristband, which he fiddled with for 10 minutes of utter fascination before it finally slipped off.

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