Grammy Award winners perform in Spring Lake Park

Kids and families from Spring Lake Park District 16’s Early Childhood Program got a surprise recently in the form of a Grammy Award-winning performance by popular duo the Okee Dokee Brothers.

The Okee Dokee Brothers, recent Grammy award winners for best children’s album, performed an evening concert Feb. 12 for kids and parents in District 16’s Early Childhood Program. The duo - Justin Lansing, right, and Joe Mailander - staged a fun-filled concert involving toddlers from the first chord they strummed. Photo by Elyse Kaner

The Okee Dokee Brothers, recent Grammy award winners for best children’s album, performed an evening concert Feb. 12 for kids and parents in District 16’s Early Childhood Program. The duo – Justin Lansing, left, and Joe Mailander – staged a fun-filled concert involving toddlers from the first chord they strummed. Photo by Elyse Kaner

The musical talents, who have known each other since the age of three, had toddlers Feb. 12 dancing, singing along and paddling in rhythm in make-believe canoes to the “Brothers” original guitar strumming, banjo pickin’, just plain fun, blue grass tunes.

The district’s Early Childhood Program had booked the duo in December 2012 long before they snagged a Grammy Feb. 10 in Los Angeles, Calif., for their “Can You Canoe?” CD in the Best Children’s Album category.

Justin Lansing, 28, and Joe Mailander, 27, who comprise the duo, are from Colorado, but have relocated to Minnesota. Their album was inspired by a trip down the Mississippi River.

“It was pretty special,” said Lansing about receiving the Grammy. “We had no clue.”

“The first thing we did when they called our names, we got out of our seats and gave each other a big hug.”

The “Brothers” have also been named winners of The Parents’ Choice Gold Award, The American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Recordings, the NAPPA Silver Award and the Kids First All Star Award.

The SLP concert

The Okee Dokee Brothers performed a fast-moving, 45-minute concert in the multi-purpose room in the old section of Spring Lake Park High School.

The concert was free, but a donation of a child’s book was encouraged. The books will be distributed to District 16 families unable to afford them.

The young audience members and their parents, numbering about 275, joined in the fun, while listening to a lineup of bluegrass, a train song and south of the border rhythms, parodies on “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” and more.

Before breaking into their award-winning album title song “Can You Canoe?” the Okee Dokees asked the excited kids to sit on the floor and to pretend they were paddling canoes, from side to side, in time to the rhythm of the music.

The two musicians encouraged their toddler fans.

“Nice singing,” Lansing said.

“I think I heard some harmony out there,” Mailander chimed in.

Nuria Rivera was enjoying the concert with her son, who both participate in District 16’s early childhood program. When she heard the duo was coming to Spring Lake Park, she went online to hear a sampling of their music.

“I thought they were fabulous,” she said, surrounded by her family at the concert. She also liked the idea that the concert supported children’s literacy.

“It’s just so good, the value of reading. I believe in it,” she said.

Panther grant

The concert was made possible as part of a Panther Foundation grant awarded to the district’s Early Childhood Program for children ages zero to five.

The three-part grant, called Give the Gift of Reading, comprised a book fair and pizza party in December 2012 for families unable to afford books.

The second part of the grant was the free concert, while the third part of the grant will bring story tellers, The Wonder Weavers, to Woodcrest. Their appearance is tentatively scheduled for April.

The idea behind the grant is to encourage early literacy, to get kids interested in books and to have their parents read to them, said Barbara Saunders, Early Childhood Family Education teacher.

“We want to encourage having books at home because some people don’t get to the library,” she said.

The Okee Dokee Brothers concert brought in donations of 50 new children’s books for distribution to lower income families.

Jessica Fabb, an Early Childhood Family Education teacher, and Saunders co-wrote the grant application.

This is the first time the Early Childhood Program has hosted such a concert, Saunders said.

“It was nice to get the funding from the Panther Foundation to do this.”

Saunders, named elementary level Spring Lake Park Teacher of the Year in 2011, was excited anticipating the Okee Dokee Brothers’ appearance earlier this month.

“It’s really neat to think that they were at the Grammys two days ago and now they’re in Spring Lake Park tonight,” Saunders said.

Earlier in the day the Okee Dokee Brothers had performed at the Mall of America.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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