The concertgoers alternately giggled and burst into tears. When they weren't running up and down the aisles, they fidgeted in their seats, concentrating more on the action in the rows behind and in front of them than on the stage.
It's not that the audience at Chicago's Skyline Stage didn't like the performer. In fact, he was one of their all-time favorites, easily selling out the spectacular, lakefront, 1,500-seat, outdoor theater a late summer evening. They didn't mean to be rude, either. Most simply weren't yet schooled in the niceties of concert-going.
That's understandable because most of this crowd hadn't even attended preschool yet and were still in diapers. The performer, meanwhile, seemed remarkably unruffled by the commotion. He worked hard from beginning to end to engage his audience, ignoring their social gaffes and the ever-rising noise level, gamely singing and telling stories.
Later, however, Raffi, the enormously popular Canadian children's songwriter and singer, had a few words of advice for parents of his fans, "We recommend children come when they're 3 or older." This is for kids who can hang in there for the duration.
"A live concert is a lot different than listening to a CD at home or watching a video," he explained.
The first rule
Concert-going Rule No. 1: Make sure you -- and the kids -- know what you're in for.
Chicago Children's Memorial Hospital psychologist Sharon Berry couldn't agree more. "A concert and a 2-year-old wouldn't mix. There's just too much stimulation all around." The same child who listens for hours on end in the car to the new release "Raffi Radio" or goes to sleep to Tom Chapin's gentle "Zag Zig" melody may not respond the same way at a concert. Many are so attuned to television that they don't know how to respond to a live performance that may require more from them than simply watching -- such as clapping hands or singing along.
Short attention span
It may be just too difficult for very young children. "Be prepared that they won't sit there like little angels. The attention just won't be there. They'll probably only focus for 7-10 minutes," says Dr. Jeff Fireman, who recently moved his family and pediatric practice to the Chicago suburbs from Los Angeles.
But that doesn't seem to faze the parents who are rushing to take their kids to see Raffi, Mr. Chapin, Fred Penner or other up-and-coming children's performers, such as John McCutcheon, who are packing houses all over the country. "The audiences are growing every year," says Ellie Chambers, who oversees the nine-concert series for children at Chicago's Ravinia Festival.
"There's a magic in live music that doesn't come off the CD," explains Jill Jarnow, who monitors the children's music scene for parents' magazines and is the author of "All Ears" (Penguin $9.95).
All the more so for parents who have fond memories of their own concert-going days on college campuses. "It's the music experience we all grew up with," says Tom Chapin, a 50ish baby-boomer himself and the father of two teens. "It feels safe and familiar." Besides, he observes, parents are eager for an experience they can share with their children -- an experience away from the television set.
No wonder, then, that when families are vacationing or visiting relatives, taking the kids to a concert -- especially when they've been listening to that musician's tapes across the country and can sing their songs in their sleep -- may seem like just the right splurge in a strange city.
"Parents like the music, too. That's driving this," says Ms. Jarnow, who is delighted, in this age of television and videos, that the growing number of children's performers are encouraging youngsters to listen and imagine.
But no matter how much the kids love the music, taking a young child to a live performance isn't going to be the experience we have in mind -- or anything like the experiences we remember, sitting mesmerized by the music and the ambience.
Instead, plan on spending your afternoon (or evening) chasing, cajoling and, yes, bribing a child to sit quietly and listen. It won't work and you may end up outside, wondering what possessed you to ante up for expensive concert tickets in the first place.
Efforts not wasted
Take heart, though. All of the effort isn't wasted. In their own fashion, the kids are developing a love for music. Raffi, for one, has begun to attract "retro" fans to his concerts: youngsters who grew up on his music and now as teens or young adults have rediscovered it.
It might help, Tom Chapin suggests, to explain to the kids beforehand how watching a live performance differs from a video, that here kids have a chance to be part of the action by clapping, singing along or dancing.
"The idea is to give the kids the language of music," Mr. Chapin says, "and let them use it the way they like."
Pediatrician Jeff Fireman suggests heading first to local performances in your community or the town you're visiting to see how the children will respond and react before planning an excursion to see a big-name entertainer. Also, talk to the kids about what kind of behavior is expected. It helps if they're not hungry and are well-rested. Bring along a favorite "lovey." Make sure they're exceedingly familiar with the music they'll be hearing.
When all else fails, and they are disturbing those around them, you have no choice. No matter what the tickets cost, pick the kids up and head outside for a break. You'll find plenty of company.
And then, try again next year.