Look (or listen) fast, and this concert tour will seem like so many others: A tightly choreographed show, complete with backup dancers, flashy lights and Crayola-esque costumes of yellow, blue, orange and magenta. The set list is loaded with popular originals – a few covers will likely be sprinkled in – and the fans will be into it, as one of the performers points out, “from head to toe.”
So far, this could be Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kesha or any number of A-listers. And those similarities – safe as they are – happen very much by design. Because this is the Fresh Beat Band, a four-member ensemble that delivers cool-but-G-rated pop music to preschool and early-elementary children.
Created for a Nickelodeon television show of the same name, the Fresh Beat Band is bringing its show on Wednesday to Darien Lake Performing Arts Center. The 2:30 p.m. start time is a quick reminder that this isn’t your normal concert. (You can’t mess with your fans’ bedtimes, after all.)
So, too, is the reaction of the crowd. The 2-to-8-year-old demographic is “a very honest audience,” said Fresh Beat’s Jon Beavers, who plays the disc jockey/rapper character “Twist.”
Beavers, who is based in Los Angeles, regularly plays live music in clubs. In those venues, he noted, “Half the people are there to drink their drinks, and talk to their dates maybe, or whatever.”
That’s part of life as a musician, sure, and as Beavers notes, it’s still fun. But as a performer, the experience doesn’t touch the rewards of playing a pop concert for families who are “rocking out together for the first time.”
“It’s not often that you have a captive audience, much less the way we do, where you have the full, undivided attention and enthusiasm and energy from head to toe of our audience,” he said.
The Fresh Beat Band was formed nearly six years ago by Hollywood producers Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde, a husband-wife team who wanted clean pop music that was appropriate for their then-preschool daughter Bea. The Nickelodeon show, which aired in 30-minute episodes, centered around a group of friends who are following their musical dreams. (Imagine “The Monkees” for small kids and you’ll get the idea.)
The show was popular; even its December 2013 cancellation didn’t spell the end. Next year, an animated Fresh Beat series will premiere with the same actors doing voice work, and the band is touring steadily through the summer, fall and winter.
“We’ve probably been most pleasantly surprised at how much the music and live tour have blown up,” Kraft and van der Velde said in an email interview. “We always wanted the music to be mainstream and the tour experience to get families out together, and we’ve been really blown away how successful the show has been. We love seeing dads and moms rock out with their kids.”
For the performers, the Fresh Beat experience was spawned some unexpectedly memorable moments. On the cool side, for example, the band performed at Carnegie Hall with the singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.
“When I was little, I always wanted to play and sing with him,” said Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, who plays Fresh Beat guitarist and violinist “Kiki.”
As for the memorable? At a meet-and-greet, the band met a 12-year-old boy who was autistic and had been nonverbal until three years earlier, when he started singing Fresh Beat music.
“He hadn’t said a word, he was watching the show one day and started singing our songs with us,” Tara Perry, who plays drummer “Marina,” said in a previous interview. “That brings tears to our eyes. That is why we do it.”
But not surprisingly, it’s not what they grew up dreaming to do.
“You don’t move to L.A. hoping to break into children’s TV – it’s a pretty specific niche,” Beavers said. “You don’t know what you’re going to do, to tell you the truth, in our line of work; it’s just as easily this as anything else. [It’s all] equally unexpected.”
Each of the Fresh Beat performers has a strong show-biz background and still does outside work.
Beavers, 32, a trained stage actor, is currently developing a show he wrote with four friends called “The Unfortunate.” Based on stories from classic American blues songs (Beavers calls it a “bluesical”), the show was performed twice at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and will be performed in San Francisco next year.
Thirty-year-old Thomas Hobson (“Shout,” Fresh Beat’s keyboardist) began acting at age 6 and studied theater at Yale. Perry, 28, is a noted improv comedian, and Gonzalez-Nacer, 32, is an accomplished violinist and opera singer who toured with Engelbert Humperdinck. She’s working on a solo album and is a songwriter signed to BMG.
“Coming to the show was really fun because I got the chance to take all these things I loved to do and somehow they all had a home in the show,” Gonzalez-Nacer said. “It’s such a rewarding and unique experience that we get to do, singing for kids, and getting to make so many families come together and share in that moment. It’s such a special experience. I just kind of marvel in all of it.”