Brooklyn Zoo

Dan Zanes builds an interactive kid rock empire one starstruck toddler at a time

"I just really want to get my music out there so that I can continue to make it," he says. Festival Five is profitable, but the proceeds go back into the label, and the band can only play so many weekend afternoons. "The old model was that the record company would pay to support the tour, but I'm the record company." In the past he's had more obvious sponsors like Stonyfield Farms yogurt, Annie's mac and cheese, and of course the Mouse, but he's cool with Starbucks. "We share the same values: We aren't interested in marketing to kids." Huh? "Look, I'm happy if kids see our videos on TV and want more, but it's still the parent's choice. It's something everyone can agree on before they bring it into their homes. Starbucks is selling coffee—they're not trying to build brand loyalty in eight-year-olds."

He's had plenty of time to think this stuff through. More than twenty years ago, on the eve of Live Aid, the Del Fuegos appeared in a Miller beer ad to universal derision. "We just needed new amps," Zanes recalls. "We were so cavalier that anything we did would be fine because people loved us. We thought everyone knew rock 'n' roll history, that Otis Redding did ads for Coke, Elvis sold doughnuts, the Stones did Rice Krispies."

He says he's learned his lesson. "You work hard on your career, you have to tend it like a garden. Of course, now everybody's crawling all over themselves trying to get into TV commercials."

Zanes is venturing into activism himself, signing on to play a June 3 show for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn in its fight against Ratnerville. "What makes Brooklyn so special is not just the architecture, but the small-scale community," he says. "Say goodbye to all that."

For an artist who's poised for global domination, Zanes remains homespun. "I went to see the Wyeth exhibit in Atlanta, and it looked like the guy never went more than four miles from home," he concludes. "That could be me, 80, sitting on the stoop with a guitar, waiting for someone to come along and sing with me.


Dan Zanes and Friends perform June 3 at Hanson Place Central United Methodist Church.

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