I love tiny tba. I’m a preschool teacher and I’m always looking for ways to bring real art and grown-up friendly music into my school. Finding the good stuff can be a challenge. I was excited about this year’s line-up, with Anna Oxygen and Elizabeth Mitchell, unlikely enough bedfellows, but very successful entertainment. Sadly, I missed the opening act, and came in just as Anna began her goofy dancersize act. The kids loved it, and so did the parents, enjoyable music, good lyrics that aren’t childish, though child-appropriate enough. She’s a perfect match for tba in general, sweet and risky and hip. The real draw, however, was Elizabeth Mitchell who is far less tba-esque; she records for Folkways, singing classic folksongs; nothing wacky here, just an incredibly beautiful and simple voice bringing life back to songs that seemed hopelessly out of date.
My entire preschool is obsessed with a traditional folk song called “John the Rabbit” (and to judge by the response when she sang the song today, many other preschoolers and schoolers love it as well). It’s the kind of song you might hear someone else sing with a twinge of interest and then move on, looking for something clever about robots with a bunch of actions and rhymes. When she sings such songs, however, their power is clear, and I for one stop looking for something fast-paced and attention-grabbing, and remember why these songs have endured. She’s not a performer in the way that Anna is, or the way that most tba artists are; she’s a singer. The children were hushed, enchanted by her, thought a few minutes before they had been shaking imaginary pony-tails under Anna’s spell.
She didn’t expect the demand for an encore that she received, and she endearingly came back on stage with her purse over her shoulder. The harmonica had been lost in their earlier exit, which was to be played by a little girl about five named Story (her daughter?). An unfruitful search ensued, and Story was very sad until they convinced her she was needed for her voice. The lively attentive audience knew the songs, sang along, kept time, danced. The rendition of “Hey Bo Didley” was especially impressive and also very beautiful with its call and response.
The tone of this performance was very different from that of the rest of tba, but Elizabeth is an incredible artist, and I’m very glad she was able to perform. This year’s tiny tba was more fun than last year’s, with more to do, including painting a real car and other art projects. The smaller space worked better, and I suspect families felt it was well worth the cover. I’m glad that tiny tba is becoming a real presence in the festival, and that so many families were drawn in. I’m sure they’ll come back.