Photo Gallery | David Grover weekly free kids' concert
PITTSFIELD — The Whitney Center for the Arts' newest artistic adventure brings out a mosh pit of characters — teetering dancers, droolers, a few loud clappers who let out the occasional joyful shriek and, of course, the criers.
"Now, it's not good if you cry before I even play anything," musician David Grover jokes on a recent Saturday morning before starting his hour-long free children's concert at The Whit.
At 11 a.m. every Saturday, families can come in from the cold and let their little ones roam, dance and sing along to the tunes of Grover, a Pittsfield native known and loved in the local children's music scene for his weekly summer concerts in Great Barrington. His calming voice, warm smile and easy strokes of the guitar put the young audience at ease as they bop around the gallery to classics like "The Wheels on the Bus."
The number of families and the ages of little adoring fans range from week-to-week, but Ghazi Kazmi, executive director at The Whit, said he's seen the audience grow since the first concert held Dec. 5.
"It's good to see new faces," he said. "But we also have a lot of repeat customers."
Grover changes the set list every Saturday, "depending on who shows up," he said.
He reads the crowd, saying at the beginning of the hour-long concert, from his stool in front of a colorful foam mat serving as a dance floor or front-row seating for little bottoms, "attention spans usually last about 42 minutes, so we'll just have a party the last 10 minutes, OK?"
From babies bouncing on parents' knees to wiggly toddlers bravely grabbing the mic for a sing-a-long of "You are My Sunshine," the mid-morning concert is a welcomed family outing.
"It's a fun thing to do on a Saturday morning," said Josh Bloom, who brings his 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Lola, to hear Grover play every Saturday. "She loves the music."
The concert is a grass-roots effort by Kazmi to introduce The Whit to a younger audience.
"This is our way to ensure we are here for the long term," he said. "Children are our future audience, and it helps us to introduce parents to the center. And we're giving back to the community by not charging anything."
Kazmi has been spreading the word about the weekly concerts through Facebook, creating a children's activity group page to encourage parents to suggest ideas for family fun at The Whit. Right now, he said, he is looking into yoga events for children, art projects and possibly bringing in other musicians and instruments for children to play.
At first, Kazmi said, he wanted to try a few Saturday concerts to see how they were received, but Grover said he insisted they commit to every Saturday.
"We want to get people in the door and you don't want people guessing week-to-week, 'Is he playing this Saturday?'" Grover said. "It's an incredible amount of work for a parent to get a child out of the house, so I want them to know I'm here, no matter what."
It's a formula that's been working for Grover for 32 years in Great Barrington, where he plays at the town bandstand every Saturday July through August.
Right now, Grover — who has performed at the White House, NBC-TV's "Today Show," the Detroit Symphony and the United Nations — asks for donations at the end of the set. When asked why he does it for free, he replied, "I'd rather spend an hour playing for kids than stay at home."
Both Grover and Kazmi hope to build on their growing audience every week.
"I want families to know that every Saturday they can go to The Whit and there is something fun to do," Kazmi said.