By Kate Brassfield
Times Staff Writer
YES, SHE KNOWS. There's a pig on her head.
A whole menagerie is likely to be perched atop the noggins of the audience at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday, when the Laurie Berkner Band steps onstage for an animal party with its young fans.
And young fans' parents, too.
Little people love Laurie Berkner because she sings with them, not at them — and not in a fakey, Barney voice — and big people love her because, well, same thing. With songs ranging from the silly Pig on Her Head and the bluesy I Know a Chicken to the sweet My Family, "kindie" rocker Berkner has a knack for connecting with her audience.
Sunday's show, Berkner says, won't be a sit-down affair. "Kids should feel free to get up and participate and move around," she says. The band will bust out older, zoolicious hits like We Are the Dinosaurs — freeing everyone's inner brontosaurus — and newer ones like Party Day, from the band's new DVD of the same name, in which four bugs hit the beach.
A former preschool teacher, Berkner began making up songs for her students in class, while performing evenings in her own rock band and a cover band called Lois Lane. But the nighttime gigs were tough, she says, because "it would take until everyone in the room was completely drunk" before they would respond. The kids, on the other hand, didn't even need a shot of apple juice.
"They responded so physically and immediately to my music," Berkner says. "It's so energizing and rewarding."
Appearing on the Today show in 2001 grabbed the band a national following; fame expanded when Nick Jr.'s Jack's Big Music Show came along in 2005 and featured the band in nearly every episode.
Writing for the romper room set involved making a few different choices — "phonetically," she says — and focusing on simpler themes and being silly. Still, she never condescends. Rocketship Run is great fun to jump and play to, with its chorus "5-4-3-2-1 blast off! Another rocketship run!" Yet, for all the stars and planets they visit, the song ends with a gentle homecoming.
Her song My Family has a special meaning to the artist. Celebrating all kinds of relatives, she sings, "When you're in my heart, you're in my family/ When I'm in your heart, I'm in your family." Reassuring to children, the song also speaks to adults: Berkner says she sang it to her father in the hospital this year before he passed away.
Sunday's show won't be somber, though. Come dressed in animal prints and ready to samba. And don't forget a pig for your head.