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Music, games, books: big fun for small fry PLAY DAY


If kids had their own Woodstock, there would be mountains of mud, endless silly songs and enough toys so no one would have to share. Nudity probably wouldn't be a problem, either.

Well, watch for the caravan of vans headed for Pier 6 tomorrow, when Baltimore's first ever all-day kids' music festival, Kids Jam USA, kicks off at noon. (Clothes are required.)

Three top-name acts -- Sharon, Lois & Bram plus Sam Wright (the voice of Sebastian the Crab in "The Little Mermaid") and Bobby's World -- along with a playground full of toys, food and books, make this festival the Lollipalooza for little ones.

"People have told me, when I was putting this together, that 'My kids will never sit through three concerts,' " says William Derella, the Kids Jam organizer, from New York. "But . . . this is more than that. It's a concert, and it also has plenty of places for parents to hang out and watch the kids run around."

Part of the fun of Kids Jam is that there's plenty for kids to do. Several corporate sponsors are donating play equipment, storybooks, coloring books, stickers and sports equipment.

True to the tradition of many all-day musicfests, some of the corporate sponsors are what could be called alternative. They touch many of the hot buttons of parenting choices, such as breast-feeding (La Leche League) and cloth diapers (The Natural Baby Catalog).

Mr. Derella, who is the parent of a daughter, says he at first hesitated bringing in the mainstream day care centers and toy manufacturer. "I've been termed as a progressive parent, just because I believe in breast-feeding. [Kids Jam] has these groups not to be in anyone's face, but because many parents don't know about them," he says. "The whole concept of this village part of Kids Jam is really grass roots oriented. It's learning about your town. It's not done by the Mayor's Office . . . it's done by people who want to share their parenting expertise."

When Mr. Derella came up with the idea of Kids Jam, he was already familiar with the world of children's entertainment. He's the personal manager of Bob from "Sesame Street" and the musician Rory. He decided to do it after attending several "Kids Days," where he often felt frustrated with the cost.

"I've taken my daughter to fairs, and it's $5 to get in, and that's OK. But then it's $2 for the pony ride, $1 for this and that," he says. "I wanted to have an event where it's one price. And there would be lots of free stuff."

Sharon, Lois & Bram are seen daily on "The Elephant Show" on Nickelodeon, and "Bobby's World" is a Saturday morning cartoon on Fox 45.

Sebastian the Crab has been very good to Mr. Wright. In 1990, he won an Oscar for Sebastian's song, "Under the Sea," and now tours the country singing Sebastian's songs; he also works on "The Little Mermaid" TV cartoon.

This fall, Mr. Wright is using the money he's earned from Sebastian to open a performing arts conservatory in New York. "When most people get a break, they go out and buy a boat, or beautiful home. I go out and buy a school. That is why I will never be rich!" says Mr. Wright.

Whenever Mr. Wright speaks, there's a touch of Sebastian's West Indies/French/British/whatever accent. That's because Mr. Wright is probably one of the first method actors involved in children's entertainment. One of his first professional jobs was a part in the old Fruit of the Loom commercials. He played the grape; F. Murray Abraham played the leaf.

"All of us were Broadway actors," he says. "We took this gig very seriously. We were going to make you believe that we live together in your drawer, and that every once in a while we come out, remind you that 'You don't need any more underwear, because you have the best.' "

The costumes from those commercials now hang in the Smithsonian, and Mr. Wright is happy to add Sebastian to the culture of Americana. At Kids Jam he will premiere his newest album, called "Sebastian's Party Gras." Parents will recognize many of the cuts -- "Iko, Iko" and "Day-O."

"This is a new approach to what I call A/C, adult and children entertainment. I don't consider myself as only a children's performer," says Mr. Wright. "I am going to be in the audience, jumping up and down with everyone. It will be a wild time."


Where: Pier Six Pavilion

When: noon to 5 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $9 kids (under 2 free), $12 adults (grandparents free)

$ Call: (410) 625-4230

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