Hipster children’s music albums abound—everyone from They Might Be Giants to Bloodshot Records has cashed in on the laudable trend of non-saccharine music for kids. Members of Louisville jazz group Liberation Prophecy have taken the idea a step further with their 2013 project Liberation Living Room, a series of live concerts for kids by acclaimed musicians filmed for a web series—with nary a “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in sight.
The first season of Liberation Living Room features performances by Will (Bonnie “Prince” Billy) Oldham, Ben Sollee, Rachel Grimes, Tyrone Cotton and Norah Jones, all backed by Liberation Prophecy and recorded live in Greenhaus, a wine and vintage furniture store near Eastern Parkway. Two Squallis Puppeteers character puppets watch alongside the kids and contribute during the Q&A session that punctuates each show. The shows are filmed, edited and posted on the group’s YouTube channel, where they can reach a wider (even international) audience.
Jacob Duncan, who produces the series and plays saxophone and other instruments with the band, says he and many of his fellow musicians are dads now, playing in clubs at night where they can’t exactly share the live music experience with their eight-year-olds.
“I just looked around and thought there wasn’t anything like this. I love music and I play live music all the time,” says Duncan. “And I love the idea of empowering children to ask questions.”
“We need to create a space where we’re not talking down to kids,” he adds. “We’re going to play songs we like that we want you to like, or not like, but at least we can have a discussion and talk and hear how you feel about music.”
The Q&As are brilliant, in the way that only small children asking questions of indie rock stars can be. During Oldham’s discussion, things get a little personal right away with “are you very muscular?”
“What’s your favorite kind of pie?” another kid asks Oldham. (For the record, it’s chess.)
Duncan says the kids aren’t star-struck the way adult audiences can be, although they did recognize one of the performers.
“We had little kids who I think were kind of blown away to see Norah Jones in the back of a store because they had seen her on ‘Sesame Street’ with Elmo,” he says with a laugh.
Here’s Jones performing her hit “Don’t Know Why” at Liberation Living Room:
The first season features all music, but Duncan wants to expand in future seasons to include live arts experiences with dancers, visual artists and writers, too. At first, he envisioned the events happening in his own living room, but his brother Daniel offered his store, Greenhaus, with its vintage sofas and coffee tables, as a larger alternative. Each filming session has space for about 30 kids (and their chaperones), and the free tickets are won by entering a drawing for each show.
Demand for the tickets soared early in the series — Duncan says they had hundreds of entries for each show, reaching up past one-thousand for Jones. He’s not sure if they’ll be able to fit into Greenhaus in future seasons, but he’s also not aiming for too big of a room. An audience of sixty sounds about right, he thinks, and he wants tickets to remain free, so he’s looking into fundraising for the second season to keep it so.
“We don’t want to sacrifice the intimacy,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to do it somewhere with hundreds of seats because then it’s basically a concert.”
Check out the full video of each show: