As any parent knows, finding music you and your child can agree on is a difficult – nay, impossible – task. Put another way, it’s hard to find children’s music that doesn’t make you want to stab yourself in the eye moments before plunging your Subaru into the fiery core of the sun. Decent children’s music exists, of course; Pete Seeger’s Children’s Concert is great, and Sing Along with Putumayo ain’t bad.  But pity the poor son of a bitch who gets something from “Songs for Wiggleworms” stuck in his head; it’s a death sentence for hope and intelligent driving decisions. 

I first saw the Shazzbots at Comfest 2012, when I heard there was a children’s band playing at the Offramp Stage.  My daughter ran up to the band as soon as the music started, jumping around in the balloons and bubbles.  I sat back on the lawn, sipping a Columbus Pale Ale and feeling like a high-quality parent.  Afterwards, I picked up a CD at the merch tent and it quickly became one of my daughter’s favorites. I myself found it tolerable even after serious repetition – if you aren’t a parent, understand that this is high, high praise.

The Shazzbots were formed in 2009 by Ian Hummel and Josh Tully, alumnus of the legendary hillbilly-comedy band Poophouse Riley. According to Hummel, he felt that he had taken things in Poophouse as far as they could go, and he thought of children’s music as a chance to do something completely different. At the time, Hummel wasn’t sure he could even write a kids song, but sat down and gave it a try. He ended up with six or seven, and then asked the question, “what next?”

The answer was putting together an outer space rock band, which travelled from planet to planet playing music. Hummel began filling in characters – Tully took the role of The Professor on lead guitar, while Hummel became bandleader Captain Captain. Mike Heslop joined on bass as Navigator Scopes, and Steve Frye came in on drums as Watts Watson. Most recently, Dianne Hummel has joined on background vocals and percussion as Luna Stardust.

The band performs in costume live, and the personas of the members are explored on their CD’s. Their second CD in particular, “Blast Off,” has elements of a concept album, where spoken interludes between tracks create a storyline tying the album together. Members of the crew display varying levels of competence in terms of spaceship repair, but rest assured they always get to the big show on time.

I recently saw the ‘Bots at the Hoot Family Film Series at the Gateway Film Center, which the band hosts on the last Saturday of each month. Paranoid about south campus parking (there was actually plenty in the nearby garage for a nominal fee), I got to the theatre a little bit early. This would cost me dearly in the form of two trips to the concession counter. In the lobby, though, there were all sorts of arts and crafts projects to do and fuzzy animals to hold while waiting for the show to start. A paper peacock and some sort of yarn-thing for me to carry along with the popcorn, but that’s the way it goes.

I have repeatedly counseled my daughter with the life-truth that the cool kids always sit in the back. This fine advice was apparently not taken to heart, however, and as soon as the doors opened she charged to the front row and took a seat, leaving me with no choice to follow. The band came out and played the first of four short sets. They included songs from both of their albums, along with a nice cover of Johnny Cash’s song “Nasty Dan.”

In between sets, the theatre showed short children’s films. The movies were cool, but what the kids really wanted to do was dance. Every time the band started up, they came flying out of their seats as though attracted by a magnet. Some songs are plainly favorites – “Milkshake” from “Blast Off” went over huge – but the kids kept moving throughout. I came home with a tired and happy child.

I have a tendency towards cynicism, especially about music. As the band was tearing down following their last set, though, I saw something that convinced me that this really is a labor of love for Hummel and the others. A four year old came up to Hummel and asked why they hadn’t played a particular song. Hummel immediately got his guitar back out of its case and played it, with other members coming over to add harmonies. Happy kids, happy parents, and all in all a really nice morning.

The Shazzbots next play the Hoot Film Series on Saturday, May 31st from 10:00 AM to Noon. Admission is free with the donation of a canned good, benefiting the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.