Feature Friday Interviews spotlight rare and wonderful individuals who embody characteristics of The Liberation Artist: living outside the status quo while writing their own rules and carving a unique path to self-defined success. This week I am thrilled to feature the talented and very funny pied piper of kidsville, Patrick Raftery of “Music With Patrick” and the “Rock-A-Silly-Band.”
I first saw Patrick performing at a Christmas event at an area zoo. My children are grown, however I’ve close ties at the zoo, and enjoy this particular annual event quite a bit. I caught the “Rock-A-Silly Band” performing toward the end of a long, exciting, sugar-filled evening, at an hour that edged past many a child’s bed-time. I entered the building to warm up for a few moments before wandering through one more outdoor exhibit before heading home. What I stumbled upon amazed me.
Patrick and his band-mates were up there on that stage, singing songs and clowning around in a way that makes kids convulse with laughter – and may I add, you’d be hard pressed to find an adult without a smile in the room, as well. The music, the act, was pure entertainment…an expression of joy. However, the most remarkable element? A room full of overstimulated, over-sugared kids were completely mesmerized.
I commented to parents about this when the show was over. “Oh, we call him “Kiddie Crack,”” one couple told me. “We put on his CD and the kids go into the zone, and all is good again. I swear, he could lead them off a cliff if he wanted to.” I spoke with still more parents, and there seemed to be a consensus, and I couldn’t doubt it – I’d seen it with my own eyes.
I’ve seen Patrick perform a number of times since that crisp holiday eve, and each time has been the same. The rapture of the children; the joy that fills the room. It is as if the boundary between worlds dissolves, as everyone is caught up in the magic that is, Music With Patrick. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Patrick Raftery.
BIO: Patrick Raftery performs music for children and their grown-ups, both as “Music With Patrick” and with his group, “Patrick & The Rock-A-Silly Band.” He’s played shows everywhere from Central Park to the Staten Island and Brooklyn Children’s Museums and everywhere in-between. (Including many parties, camps, schools and one particularly memorable show at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, where he played surrounded by ancient Buddhist icons. Very surreal, indeed.) For the past two years, “Patrick & The Rock-A-Silly Band” has had the honor of playing at the Staten Island Zoo’s Groundhog Day ceremony, alongside the Mayor of New York City and the one-and-only, Staten Island Chuck. Their song “Staten Island Chuck” has become quite the hit at the ceremony. In 2012 The Staten Island Zoo asked Patrick to write and record a theme song for them, resulting in “Going To The Zoo,” which you can hear playing when you enter the zoo. And in 2010, he recorded and released “SI-350,” a collection of songs celebrating various immigrant groups that have graced Staten Island’s shores throughout its history. He’s twice been awarded grants from the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island (now known as “Staten Island Arts”), and in 2013 was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Staten Island Children’s Museum. Join the fun at Musicwithpatrick.com
LA: Patrick, you are the perfect example of what we call here a Liberation Artist, creating an unconventional career and life, stepping outside the status quo and creating your own path. Did you ever imagine the life you’ve created for yourself, or would your younger self be surprised to see the life you lead now?
Patrick: I think my younger self would definitely be surprised by what I do today. It wasn’t until I was about twenty-seven, when my nephew was born, that I really got a chance to watch a child grow and got to form a lasting bond with a new human being. My antics garnered me the name “Uncle Silly,” and I’d sometimes play some songs at his pre school. I had no idea back then that this was the start of something for me. Who knew being silly and making your nephew laugh would be the start of a budding career?
LA: Did you see yourself becoming a musician, or did you have other dreams or vision for your life, when you were younger?
Patrick: Let’s see, I recall wanting to be a cop, a baseball player, a firefighter, Batman, Spider-Man and Gene Simmons from Kiss when I was a kid, so I guess the answer’s no. Around age six I decided I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, but that was because my older cousin – who was my hero – wanted to be one. In fact, I don’t think I knew what one was, but if it was good enough for cousin Eddie, then it was good enough for me! Tell us about your earlier years as a musician, before “Music with Patrick” and the “Rock-a-Silly” band. I’ve been in an original rock group called “Joyous Noise” for the past twenty years. (Our drummer, Mike “Boom Boom” Campbell is also a member of The Rock-A-Silly Band.) Before that I was in a bunch of cover bands that did bad versions of bad music. (Think I have tapes of some of those bands, which I plan to burn immediately after this interview.) Writing music was not something I’d ever done until I met my soul brother, Vinny Campisi, in college. He and I gelled creatively right away on many levels, and here we are many years later, as close as ever and still writing music. It’s a real gift to find someone like that in life. One of these days I’d like to have him perform for kids with me – he’s a natural comedian, and since he’s got a young daughter, now he actually might take that leap.
LA: What was the defining moment for you, where you realized, “Hey….music for and with kids…”?
Patrick: Hmmm. Well, I used to take my oldest son to Music Together classes, which the whole family enjoyed. One day the teacher – who for some reason knew I played guitar – told me I should take the training to teach the classes. Maybe she saw something in me – who knows? One thing led to another, and I guess you could say I slowly but surely discovered that this was something perfect for me. Music and comedy all in one happy package? Sign me up!
LA: Did you have doubts at first, about pursuing this path? Did you have that moment of thinking, “Wait, this isn’t who I thought I would be” or “What will this do to my career?”
Patrick: I don’t think so. I’ve always embraced what I do, and I think – particularly since a guy working with young children is still relatively rare – I give fathers the space they need to allow themselves to sing with their children in public and maybe let down their guard a little bit.
LA: You still play “for grown-ups” too – do the two readily reconcile, or has it ever created a sense of, what for lack of a better expression, ‘‘brand confusion”?
Patrick: No, not at all: especially because I’ve always played up-tempo, energetic pop rock. (If I was in a Joy Division tribute band, well…that might be a different story.) In fact, playing for kids has spilled over into playing for adults and brought a new energy to it. The past few shows I’ve done for adults have been lots of fun, and at the last show we gave out instruments to some of the audience membersso they could play along. This is at a bar, mind you. Let’s just say those people had a blast! And one woman in particular took her cowbell playing to a whole new level. So my answer is that music is music and fun is fun, whatever the age of your audience.
LA: Would you tell us a bit about how you view what you bring to the lives of children?
Patrick: I think I give children a safe space where they can indulge in the frenetic and silly energy that comes with being a kid. Kids these days are so structured and have so many restraints placed on them – in some sense we’ve created mini-versions of over-burdened adults. I take away the restraints and allow them to play and really enjoy themselves. Sometimes I think they can’t believe there’s an adult who sits on the floor with them and listens to them and allows them to do what they want to do. I don’t want to say I have no rules, but my rules are few and far between – if they want to throw the monkey puppet at me, that’s fine; if they want me to sing their favorite song six times in a row then that’s fine, too. They don’t have to be “right” or learn something because it’s “good for them.” I preach “fun-for-fun’s-sake. Especially today, children need face-to-face, person-to-person interactions, instead of more screen time. Ultimately, though, I hope I bring some joy to children’s lives.
LA: You obviously must think music (and fun!) matter in the life of a child. When you mix the two together, it creates an outcome very different from just basic exposure to music. What creates the magic? What do you see happening here?
Patrick: Playing music and making people laugh are like eating and breathing for me: they’re what I do and who I am. So when I perform, it’s from a very authentic place, and I think children and families can sense that. This is not something I decided to do to make money; this is something I happen to love to do and that helps define who I am. Children naturally respond to that.
LA: Clearly you must have guiding principles that drive your life. I have yet to meet a non-conformist who doesn’t 🙂 Could you share with us a bit of what those are, and how they’ve impacted your own life, and your work?
Patrick: I try to treat everyone I encounter with respect and good will and to contribute something good to the lives of the families I perform for. There’s so much suffering in life; I try to counter that, in some small way.
LA: What are the risks of living by those values, and what makes taking those risks worthwhile? Have you encountered nay-sayers along the way, folks who thought you were crazy to pursue music with kids, instead of the path of oh, say a “rock star” or “serious music”?
Patrick: Not really, fortunately, though I wouldn’t want to waste time listening to people with negative things to say.
LA: What about just being self-employed? Were there times where you questioned your sanity or security, taking this path? How and where did you find the confidence and courage necessary to embrace a free-lance life, instead of the safety of a paycheck?
Patrick: I think it’s important to mention that I do have a “day job” that is meaningful to me, too, though it is about as uncreative as one could get. For the past 14 years I’ve worked for the state of NY, doing inspections of homes and programs what served people with disabilities. Meaningful work? Good work? I think. Creative? Not at all. Though in some weird way I think having a job like mine allows the creative spirit to grow even more; and, let’s face it, your energy comes out of you in every part of your life, anyway. That said, this job is also flexible and allows me the time to do the music and the performing that feed my soul.
LA: You clearly use a different bar by which to measure success than the 9-5 careerists. How would you define success, not just in work, but in life in general?
Patrick: That’s tough to put into words, but I guess success is a sense of fulfillment and of sharing what’s inside you with other people. Success is something inside you, something you feel, so it’s hard to put into concrete terms. It’s certainly not about having the latest gizmo or the biggest car. Not for me, at least.
LA: You’ve clearly walked a courageous path, rejecting the ‘safety’ that comes with gently folding into the status quo. Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for our readers, on pursuing the life uncommon?
Patrick: Well, I don’t want to sound like a self-help author, but I agree with the cliché about marching to the beat of a different drummer (Or having your own woodwind section, for that matter.) I think it’s important to listen to that voice inside of you and to trust that your gifts are unique and need to be shared with the world.
I encourage you to check out Patrick’s work, both with “Music With Patrick” and “The Rock-A-Silly Band.” Patrick is available for performances & parties in the NYC area. Visit his website at www.MusicWithPatrick.com, and find him on twitter @rockasillyband, and facebook at Music With Patrick.