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Hamptons Life

Apr 16, 2018 2:31 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Dan Zanes Will Bring Inclusive Family Music To East Hampton

From left, Yuriana Sobrino, Pauline Jean and Dan Zanes will bring family-friendly music to the First Presbyterian Church in East Hampton on Sunday afternoon.
Apr 16, 2018 2:31 PM

When Dan Zanes’s daughter was born 23 years ago, he wanted to make music for her.

It was a natural inclination for a lifelong musician like Mr. Zanes, who for years fronted 1980s rock band The Del Fuegos. His aim was to create songs that were kid friendly, but enjoyable for adults too—a goal that had apparently been hard for other musicians to achieve, according to several of his parent friends. So he drew from the influence of one of his favorite musicians, the folk and blues guitarist legend Lead Belly, and out of that inspiration, a mixtape was born. Mr. Zanes did not know it at the time, but that cassette tape he produced in the late 1990s would change the course of his musical career.

Mr. Zanes is now considered the gold standard in kids’ music—although he prefers the term “all ages” music—and his music has been featured on “Sesame Street” and Nickelodeon, among other television programs and networks. The Grammy-award winning musician will make his way to the East End this weekend, when he puts on a free concert at the First Presbyterian Church in East Hampton on Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m. He will be joined by Haitian-American vocalist Pauline Jean and Mexican-American percussionist Yuriana Sobrino. Together, they perform what Mr. Zanes calls “social music for all ages,” with an emphasis on audience participation.

Inclusivity and diversity are hallmarks of Mr. Zanes’s musical stylings, and the inspiration for that was born at the same time as his daughter, Anna.

“I wanted to have a shared musical experience with my daughter,” he said. “What I noticed was that all my friends who were parents would buy children’s music and sort of get discouraged because they didn’t like it themselves, and then they’d get the Beatles records out and that would be the end of the story. I always felt there was something important about music that families listen to together; that’s what it was like for me growing up listening to Lead Belly.”

Mr. Zanes said he was working on a solo album at the time he put together the mixtape, but soon discovered that his side project was attracting more attention—including his own.

“Nobody cared about [the solo record], they wanted more copies of the cassette tape,” he said. “And I thought, this is more fun for me, and I feel like a useful member of society. So a door opened that I didn’t even know existed, and once I saw it, I said, ‘This is exactly what I want to be doing.’”

In the more than two decades since, Mr. Zanes has showcased a commitment to versatility and cultural inclusiveness. He plays several different instruments—ranging from guitar and piano to mandolin and jaw harp—and has collaborated with a diverse array of musicians from around the globe. He said that while including a wide range of voices and styles is a good thing for many reasons, his primary motivation to do so is simple.

“The music is just better that way,” he said. “I played in a rock and roll band with four white guys, and when I look back, that’s kind of boring, especially compared to the experiences I’ve had making music with such a wide range of people. It’s a beautiful thing; that’s the reason to live in America right there. And it’s also important for young people to look at the stage and see themselves, and see people coming together from different places.”

That diversity will certainly be on display with both Ms. Jean and Ms. Sobrino bringing their own unique talents to the church on Sunday, but Mr. Zanes doesn’t want to stop there. He’s encouraging local musicians to join the fun and bring their own flair to the event.

“If there are people that play instruments and want to get up there and play with us on a song, they can reach out to us on social media or drop me a line,” he said. “We’d welcome that too.”

Musically talented or not, Mr. Zanes said he wants all community members to know they will be received with open arms.

“It’s come-as-you-are,” he said. “Kids are certainly a part of it, but we never want people to feel like they have to have kids to come to a show. All reactions to the music are welcome. We do have a lot of sensory-friendly shows, and we always make a point of saying that, because our special needs fans are very important to us too.”

Dan Zanes Trio performs Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-324-0711 or visit fpceh.org.

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