She’s a fixture on children’s entertainment scene, but Laurie Berkner is so much more than that. Known as the “Pied Piper of Pre-schoolers” or the “Queen on Kindie Rock,” Berkner is an industry unto herself. She has been a long time mainstay of kids TV (“Noggin,” “Jack‘s Big Music Show” and “Sing It, Laurie!”) and her original songs, music videos, books, and three original off-Broadway musicals have made her ubiquitous in American households.
Berkner, based in New York City, is also popular on the concert circuit — both with her band and doing her own thing. She arrives solo at Hofstra University on Sunday, bringing her “Greatest Hits Solo Tour” to her young fans.
She’s acclaimed as the uncrowned queen of children’s music and the power behind the progressive “kindie rock” movement. What sets her apart? Her music speaks to kids without talking down to them, charming youngsters without boring grown-ups. Berkner finds inspiration in her audience.
“I want to create songs that matter for children,” she says. “I was singing once and saw a four-year-old girl shut her eyes and start swaying to the music. I thought, ‘That’s the reason I got into music.’ It keeps me wanting to do more.”
Her solo show features popular hits like “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz),” “Victor Vito,” “We Are The Dinosaurs,” and “Rocketship Run,” plus — as a special treat for fans — a few well-loved songs that are not often heard at her full-band concerts.
“When it’s just me I get to fool around a bit and do more a capella,” she says. But, of course, she has plenty of favorite tunes from her extensive catalogue to play for her fans. And she makes sure there is plenty of interaction with all the families in attendance — her trademark.
“Almost every song choice has something the kids can do movement-wise,” she says. “They can jump, spin, blast off. This is definitely not a ‘sit down and watch me’ show.”
A former pre-school music teacher by day and indie rocker by night, Berkner started selling her music 20 years ago out of her living room on her own label, Two Tomatoes Records.
She has received much critical acclaim throughout her evolution into a children’s music superstar. Time Magazine lauded Berkner as “a kind of sippy-cup Sheryl Crow. Berkner inhabits a kid’s curious perspective in her lyrics and pens folk-pop melodies that bear repeated — very repeated — listenings.” The Wall Street Journal named her ‘one of the most popular children’s performers in America ... her music is distinctive because it speaks to kids without talking down to them, charming youngsters without boring grown-ups.”
Looking back on her transformation from her rock band days to the darling of the family music circuit, Berkner is both delighted and surprised at her career’s progression.
“I didn’t anticipate this to be a career,” she says. “I never thought about the TV stuff and the books — the longevity of it all.” (In 2017, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers began publishing a series of picture books by Berkner; each one based on one of her songs. “We Are the Dinosaurs” was released in March 2017. “Pillowland” came out in November 2017 and “Monster Boogie” is scheduled for next month.)
“I didn’t imagine I’d do as well as I have. It’s weird to think of myself as the ‘Queen’ of kids music. I feel very lucky.”
She attributes her success to “some combination of thinking about what it feels like to be a kid while writing and singing. It’s easy to forget to do that. The kids feel an ownership of my music. They use their bodies to express the songs and feel like they [the songs] are their own.”
Berkner reaches even the youngest in the audience with dynamic expressions of musical joy in tunes like “I’m Gonna Catch You” and “Rocketship Run.” She gives everyone a chance to catch their breath between high-energy moments by including quieter interludes featuring songs such as the classic “Moon Moon Moon.” Throughout Berkner isplays an instinctive understanding of children’s natural rhythms and energy.
“I could play all day, but the kids might get tired,” she adds.
Of course, she’ll be sure to involve her audience in many of their favorites ,including “Party Day,” and the memorable “Pig on Your Head.”
“Come ready to have fun,” Berkner says. “And don’t forget bring your dancing shoes and an animal for your head.”
The concert is presented by the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC of Cedarhurst. All proceeds will benefit the S.H.O.P., the Gural JCC’s new Sustenance Hope Opportunities Place, which provides food, clothing and support services to those in need.
“I’m excited to support the S.H.O.P.,” Berkner adds. “I don’t have an opportunity to do a lot of fundraisers and am thrilled to be involved in this fundraising effort.”
When: Sunday, June 24, 3 p.m. $36 and $54 VIP, which includes a meet-and-greet following the show. Tickets are available at etix.com.
Where: Hofstra University, John Cranford Adams Playhouse, Hempstead.
For more information, call Stacey Feldman at (516) 569-6733.