by David Klein
As a veteran of the Triangle music scene, Brian Buzby has faced his share of low turnouts. But when he and his Buzztown Band took to the Broad Street Cafe stage two weeks ago, it was, as he happily proclaimed before kicking off the first number, the largest gathering he had ever played for.
But there was a key difference between this gig and his previous ones: The average age of Sunday’s crowd could be counted on one hand. Indeed, some were so small they had to be held.
The Buzztown Band formed when Buzby found himself feeling, well, his age. After a lengthy tenure as director for the N.C. Conservation Network—not to mention the additional responsibilities of being a dad to three kids, including twins—he’d earned a sabbatical. But Buzby didn’t want to spend his time contemplating the music of the spheres. Instead, he decided to put both his experience leading Triangle band Saunter and his dad-hood to good use.
Buzby wrote an album of kids’ music—not the cloying Raffi kind, but more like the laid-back rockin’ of post-Modern Lovers Jonathan Richman, with a backbeat and a good smattering of shoo-bee-doo-wop. He understood he had to write music that parents could stand to listen to, while keeping the subject matter aimed squarely at the juice-box set. The result is Time Off For Good Behavior, whose CD release party packed the kid-friendly café.
In keeping with the age-old entertainment-industry axiom of knowing your audience, the set kicked off with a train song. Its cheeky title, “Check the Train Song Box,” is a knowing nod to the trope’s ubiquity. It and the numbers that followed achieved the essential aim of any successful kids’ song—that is, they can sing along on first hearing. Sure enough, by verse 3 of “Train Song,” the shoulder-born towhead behind me at the bar was joining in on the “choo-choo!” chorus.
Small children are motivated by egocentrism, and Buzby knows this. His songs focus on kids’ favorite subject: themselves. “Durham Kid” spoke of the delights of the Bull City from a kid’s-eye view, while “I Wanna Soccer Practice” matched a rainy-day scenario with the uplift of an “Ooh Child”-like chord progression. During this tune, one goateed dad, swaying gently, balanced a Rogue’s Dead Guy in the crook of one arm and a Cheerios-munching moppet in the other.
Buzby also knows the value of a good cover. The band’s nimble, jam-band-style take on the eccentric Sesame Street classic “Mahna Mahna” (recorded by Giorgio Moroder, Cake and the Boston Pops, among others) acknowledging a timeless kids nugget that has avoided becoming a cliché. Despite a paucity of rehearsal time, the six-piece band acquitted itself admirably throughout, maneuvering through the disco groove of “Robot Dance” and the hoedown-tempo take on the ABC song, “ABC Billy,” with aplomb. There was even a shout-out to Eli, “who’s turning 3 today,” followed by a spirited take on the Patty and Mildred Hill chestnut “Happy Birthday,” which morphed into the Beatles song “Birthday.”
Yes, there was a tantrum or two, and the aberrant lemonade spill. One kid with light-up shoes came tearing through the crowd with his dad in hot pursuit, and one free-styled a bit too emphatically at his side table and had to be gently restrained my his mom. But the audience was by and large extremely well behaved, and the show went off without a hitch.
Post-gig, with a moment to assess, Buzby was all smiles. “I had this inspiration in late 2010 and thought it would be a miracle if I got awarded a sabbatical, wrote decent tunes, got a band together, recorded an album and then, after all that, somehow pull off a gig.”
With said gig pulled off well, Buzby is ready to envision future performances, perhaps even recording some of the songs that didn’t make it onto the first release. Like him, his band members are busy with work and parenthood. But after playing together in a live setting, they are up for more.
“I figure we’ve got a few more years of this being fun to our kids,” Buzby says, “So why not extend the jam?”