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All-Ages Music: Entertainer Dan Zanes Performs for Adults and Children Alike

By Suzanne Chessler

Reprinted with permission from the Detroit Jewish News

Special to the Detroit Jewish News

November 14, 2006

Dan Zanes is planning one show for Detroit and another for Ann Arbor, but his goal remains the same for both--invite the audience to join the singing and dancing.

Zanes, a family entertainer whose photo is part of the exhibit "Annie Liebowitz: American Music," will supplement its viewing at the Detroit Institute of Arts as he and his band take the stage 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, for what is anticipated as a generally adult crowd.

The troupe will focus on a younger gathering, sponsored by the University Musical Society, for two performances, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Rackham Auditorium in Ann Arbor. Selections from this year's Catch That Train! recording will be included.

"I'm thinking of the evening performance as social music leaning more toward grownups, but if they bring the kids along, that will be fine," says Zanes, 45, who wants everyone to connect and have fun with his shows and defines "social" as hanging around and having a good time with each other.

"We'll do a lot of old English songs that I think are particularly well-fitted for sing-alongs. We'll get a little naughty and humorous along the lines of what we've done on the CDs Sea Music and Parades and Panoramas and what I learned at summer camp when I was a kid in New Hampshire.

"The Ann Arbor concert will be drawing from our five family CDs. There also will be a lot of singing along, but we'll be ending with a family dance party."

Zanes, who has entertained in both cities, likes the company of diverse people as he vocalizes and plays guitar. His recordings generally have one-third original music with the rest traditional music that's been updated to celebrate different cultures.

"The songs we pick are fun, and I have an emotional connection to them all," Zanes says. "I don't think of any of it as children's music because it's not at all particular to the experiences of children.

"I actually think of my music as all-ages music, and this is what makes us different from other people in the children's field. I believe that grandparents and parents are just as important in all this as the kids."

Zanes started playing guitar when he was 8 and got caught up with rock n' roll in junior high school. Soon after starting Oberlin College in Ohio, he teamed up with Tom Lloyd, and they toured as Del Fuegos.

Rolling Stone named Del Fuegos the best new band in 1984, and they made several recordings with "Don't Run Wild" as their hit single. In 1987, Zanes married Paula Greif, video director for the Del Fuegos' song "I Still Want You."

After Del Fuegos dissolved in the 1990s, the Zanes settled in New York City. With a new daughter, he started exploring family music and learned how to record on his own.

"I didn't know I could relate to children," says Zanes, who recently appeared at New York's Carnegie Hall and soon will be at Disney World in Florida. "I think it's part of evolving over the years and genuinely caring about families and family life."

Although raised as a Protestant, Zanes focuses his spirituality on Judaism, the faith of his wife and daughter, Anna, who is preparing for her bat mitzvah next year. The family attends a synagogue in Brooklyn Heights.

"I thought it was important for my daughter to have a Jewish identity because her mother is Jewish," Zanes explains. "I enjoy being a part of the Jewish world in New York, and I've felt very comfortable with Judaism since the first time I went to the synagogue eight years ago."

As Zanes began to attend synagogue regularly, he noticed that other members of the congregation also were unfamiliar with the songs that were part of the services. He brought together a group of kids, and they recorded the religious selections so others could learn and relearn them.

Zanes' enduring favorite performance song is "The Welcome Table."

"I like it because it's a song of inclusion," says Zanes, who has worked with Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega and Simon Kirke. "That really says it all to me in all that I do. I think difficulties come from thinking of people as 'us' and 'them.' Music making can be a real antidote to that, and I want to spread my enthusiasm for it all."

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."

Suzanne Chessler is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

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