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February 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Tweens

Attention: Tots to tweens, Milkshake performing live!

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Here’s a kids’ recipe for super-fun entertainment: take three cups of playfulness, one pint of cool, mix in some groovin’ rock ‘n’ roll, and swirl in a dollop of happy. Then, whip it all up and pour, smile, and enjoy!

If your kids love yummy milkshakes, they’re going to go crazy for Milkshake — the band. Millions of American households are familiar with the Baltimore-based kindie band, through its light-hearted, high-energy music videos featured on PBS KIDS, Nick Jr., and Discovery Kids.

Now, Milkshake is returning to the Big Apple! Younger and older fans of all ages are looking forward to singing and clapping along, as the band celebrates the March 26 release of its fifth studio CD, “Got a Minute?” with a concert on March 3 at The Jewish Museum in Manhattan.

“Got a Minute?” showcases a fun-packed collection of 13 minute-long tunes, originally created in 2006 for a series of PBS KIDS videos, plus 20 additional “Milkshake miniatures” (33 little gems for young listeners).

“We thought it would be cool to do 20 more short songs, no longer than two minutes each,” says lead singer, co-founder, and “hands-on” mom Lisa Mathews. “This CD runs the gamut, age-wise, with the newer songs reflecting more tween subjects, like bullies, looking outside oneself, and caring for others.”

So what do kids — and parents — love about Milkshake?

For an entire decade, the pop-rockers have created and performed memorable, melodic, sing-a-long songs that transcend age and bring to mind Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Julie Andrews, The White Stripes, and Bo Diddley.

Mathews feels that kids “love the interaction that our music encourages, and the full-out fun factor; they realize we do songs about what kids really care about — things they can relate to.”

In fact, young fans even bring special symbolic stuff to concerts.

“We see kids bringing their own ‘Bottle of Sunshine,’ and even little bags to catch all that yellow confetti, during that song. Some wear caps for our ‘Superhero’ song, and many little girls sport a tutu,” she adds.

A musical evolution

The band has never stopped growing and evolving since forming in 2002. When Mathews first worked with friend and band mate, guitarist Mikel Gehl, in Baltimore, Md., the experience could be described as musically karmic.

And it all started with an ad in the Village Voice.

“I was playing in a cover band, but kind of wanting a change. I would always read the music ads in the Voice, and I saw Mikel’s,” says Mathews.

Gehl remembers when they first met.

“When Lisa came down from the city to sing with us the first time, I tried not to appear too exuberant because I was afraid she would realize she was too good for us, and hop on the bus back to New York!” says Gehl. “She had a way of transcending the mechanics of performance and going directly to having an intimate musical conversation with the listener.”

Their indie rock band, Love Riot, became popular in Baltimore’s music scene.

“At the time, I had purple hair, and I remember going down to meet the band, and I’m sure I was a sight in bright sunlight,” says Mathews. “But as things meant to be, always happen — I loved this band, the guys, and the scene, and one day, got a one-way ticket to Baltimore.”

“She understood that each song had its own story and mood, and it was important for those stories to be unique, even as the performance was cohesive. With that ability, I knew we would be versatile enough to embrace the stylistic musical changes that always come,” says Gehl. “Since we wrote very honestly about our lives, the transition to Milkshake, as a band for families, was a very natural one.”

When Mathews became pregnant with her daughter, the last thing she wanted to do was “sing in smoky venues until 3 am. So I told Mikel, ‘that was it — no more bands.’ When his wife became pregnant a year later, well, making music for our little ones seemed the thing to do. And Milkshake was born.”

Soon a new CD was also born, called “Happy Songs,” and inspired by those little ones.

“As a mom, this was a beautiful thing,” Mathews recalls. I would make up those early lullabies on ‘Happy Songs’ while I was nursing Jesse in the wee hours of the morning.”

That was the turning point for the band — when indie rock met preschool, and beyond. As songs were added to radio playlists across the country, it was clear that traditional kiddie music was changing in a big way.

The change from Love Riot to Milkshake also meant Mathews and Gehl could grow, as musicians.

“The subject matter we sang about no longer dealt with love in all its glory and demise. Now, we had a whole new, gigantic palette to pull from: counting, dress up, imagination, breakfast time, bottles of sunshine, being scared … it was seemingly endless,” explains Mathews.

“And, we were no longer obligated to use only the players in the band and do only rock-pop; we felt incredibly liberated. All of a sudden it was just me and Mikel, and whoever we wanted to play whatever we wanted. Tuba? Okay! Cello? Why not? And we explored different musical genres, as necessary.”

Both musicians agree that transitioning from rock music to kids’ tunes was an “absolutely natural evolution.”

Queens girl

The lead singer currently calls Baltimore home, but she’s still a Queens girl at heart, born and raised partly in Astoria, then Bayside.

“My early years were spent in Astoria, in this wonderful three-story brownstone,” she says. “On the first floor was Grandma, on the second was my aunt, uncle, and two cousins, and we were on the third.”

She fondly recalls the big, old house with the wraparound porch in Bayside:

“Oh, it was crazy! All of a sudden, I had a huge side yard and a real backyard… and, oh, the garden my mother had! We would have Sunday breakfast on the porch on warm days, and then my dad would read us the Sunday comics. It was idyllic.”

Mathews says that back in the day she wrote poetry and always dreamed of being a singer.

“All my Barbies were singers.”

As she got older, she became immersed in music, and the first song she ever wrote was a love song.

“By 16, I was playing my Fender Rhodes [piano] with the headphones on most evenings, and by 19, I was out of the house, living in Greenwich Village with a producer guy I met. Mom was heartbroken, and when I think back now, that was a pretty amazing thing to let me do.”

She lived in a “tiny railroad-style apartment, with very little light. But it was cozy, and I loved the Village and my little restaurants — especially Figaro Cafe and John’s Pizzeria.”

At 21, she was part-owner in a rehearsal and recording space nicknamed The Music Building because it had so many bands rehearsing on one floor or another — with a studio in the basement, where the Ramones loved to rehearse — really loudly!

“We had bands from England, bands passing through on tours; even a week with Weird Al Yankovic, who was just the nicest guy,” she says.

Milkshake ‘hearts’ the city

Milkshake’s band members love to visit New York.

“We’ve performed here many times and it remains one of our favorite places,” says Gehl. “Everything is more vital and interesting, and it’s easy to get around. It’s a walking town.”

Both Mathews and Gehl are now in their early 50s, and they say their music changes with their kids’ ages.

“As our kids move on to listening to ever more ‘grown up’ music, it seems fitting for us to come full circle, arriving at the kind of music we were doing before we started Milkshake,” says Gehl.

Milkshake at the Jewish Museum [1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd Street in Manhattan, (212) 423–3222, www.thejewishmuseum.org, www.milkshakemusic.com]. On Sunday, March 3 at 2 pm. Museum members: $15 adults, $11 children 12 and under. Non-members: $18 adults, $13 children 12 and under. Under age 2, free.

Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based writer and journalist who loves New York City. She has two bright and talented sons.

Updated 7:01 pm, October 28, 2016
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