"Are you ready to soft-rock?" asks Morgan Taylor as he addresses a crowd of pre-teens and their parents at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. It's Saturday morning and a packed room full of kids have been dragged away from their cartoons to witness Gustafer Yellowgold, a fusion of indie rock and kiddie tunes that's become one of the most acclaimed children's acts in the country.
The stage, festooned with Christmas tree lights, looks like it could be for one of the more adult-oriented acts at Cat's Cradle just a few doors down, and indeed, Taylor's background includes playing in the band Autumn Season with members of Wilco. But it's not exactly the Wilco audience at The ArtsCenter—in fact, most members are still in preschool.
On stage, Taylor, wielding an acoustic guitar, is joined by his wife, Rachel, who sings backup and mans the laptop display—all with their 10-month-old son, Harvey, in a papoose around her. A large projection screen displays illustrations with limited animation as Taylor sings of Gustafer, a friendly character resembling a stick of melted butter.
Some of the songs involve such learning-based concepts as sharing ("Aye, Aphid") or counting ("Mustard Slugs"), but as you can tell from the titles, they're a bit left-of-center from the "Wee Sing Silly Songs" tapes your parents might have used to pacify you on car trips. At times, they're weirdly poignant, such as the imaginative "Rocket Shoes" or "Pinecone Lovely," an anthem about eating pine cones. It makes sense if you hear it.
It's an enjoyable set, but seeing as I'm not the intended audience, I surveyed some of the kids getting DVDs and stuffed toys afterward. Six-year-old Henry Carson, whose mother drove him from Hillsborough to the show, says he likes Gustafer "because he's weird, and I like weird things." Musicians take note: That's how you get kids hooked on alt-rock early.
For more on Gustafer, visit www.gustaferyellowgold.com or watch his videos on YouTube.