photograph by Chip Chockley
Harlan T. Bobo and a youngster at a 2010 Rock-n-Romp.
Kids: There is no greater joy than the birth of your children and no greater soul satisfaction than seeing them grow up.
Kids are also hell on your social life. Who has the time or energy for a rock show that doesn’t start until after midnight when you’ve been chasing the tykes all over creation, wiping noses, changing diapers, chauffeuring them to soccer practice, fixing dinner, checking homework? It’s too exhausting to go on.
Memphian Stacey Greenberg knows. In addition to her day job as community relations coordinator at MLGW and a freelance writer, Greenberg has two children, Jiro and Satchel, with her husband Warren Oster. “When you have a kid, it’s isolating,” Greenberg says. “It’s awesome and life-changing, and it’s great to have children, but your social scene becomes all about the kids.”
So, when Greenberg heard about an event in Washington, D.C., called Rock-n-Romp, she was intrigued. The concept was “adult music in a kid-friendly environment”: a live rock show on a weekend afternoon, with food, activities, and room to run around for the kids and beer for the grown-ups.
“I thought it would be a great thing to do in Memphis,” Greenberg says. “This was an opportunity for the parents to get together — it’s about the kids, but it’s for the parents, too, to see other cool parents, to hear music, and to relax knowing the kids are safe and having fun. We’re trying to re-create what you might get at the Hi-Tone, but in the afternoon, outside at a nice place where your kids can run around.”
She enlisted the aid of a friend, musician Robby Grant (of the bands Vending Machine and Mouserocket), to recruit local musicians, a scene about which she knew little.
A board was formed, permission to use the name Rock-n-Romp was granted by founder Debbie Lee, and on April 1, 2006, the first show was put on in Dan Harper’s backyard in Central Gardens in Midtown. Amy LaVere, Noise Choir, and DJ Colin Butler performed. “We had about 100 people, we got a keg of beer, everybody brought a snack, and we put our blankets in the grass,” Greenberg says. She adds with a laugh, “We hadn’t prepared the neighbors, so the police did show. But once they saw it was harmless, they left. After that, as we moved it to different backyards, we always called the police first to tell them what we were doing, and we put flyers on neighbors’ doors to let them know.”
"It's about the kids, but it's for the parents, too."
Five shows were held in five backyards that first year, promoted via word of mouth and Evite. “The rule was you had to have a kid to get in.”
Before each show, the board members did a walk-through and gave their kids the run of the yard. Just by doing what kids do, climbing on fences and trees and getting into stuff, potential hazards could be identified before show time.
By the end of the third season, Rock-n-Romp had outgrown backyards, and it’s never looked back. The first show in a public venue was at the National Ornamental Metal Museum overlooking the Mississippi River. Nowadays, events draw more than 1,000. But, admission is the same as it always has been: $5 for adults, free for kids.
Rock-n-Romp shows feature three bands, most of them local and usually with at least one teen band to appeal to middle-school-age attendees. The Memphis Arts Collective will do a craft, and there will be hula-hoops, Sit’n Spins, and other activities for the children. Central BBQ and Whole Foods are 2012 season sponsors for chow, and Rock-n-Romp is currently seeking a beer sponsor; depending upon the expected turnout, Rock-n-Romp will have four to six kegs of beer on hand. “Even though we have beer, there’s not enough that anyone is getting wasted,” Greenberg says. “People aren’t partying like that.”
This June will also feature the second Rock-n-Romp Camp. Two separate week-long sessions will see boys and girls grades 1 to 8 forming bands, learning to play instruments and songs, and performing them at a showcase concert. The teachers are local musicians, and kids will play instruments donated by Rhodes College and Amro Music.
The Rock-n-Romp phenomenon has spread around the country, but it hasn’t caught on anywhere to the degree it has here. Memphis Rock-n-Romp has done more shows more regularly than anyone else.
“If we were to stop doing it, we’d get hate mail,” Greenberg says. “It’s hard work but it’s fun. Hopefully our kids will appreciate it one day. I don’t remember ever going to a show with my parents when I was growing up. Music wasn’t a part of our everyday activities. It’s been great for the kids to be so exposed to the music.
“When you see people who come back to every show, you know you’re doing something right.”
For information on Rock-n-Romp events, visit memphisrocknromp.com.