Story last updated at 9/26/2012 - 2:37 pm
When I finally reached Jim Cosgrove, the kids' rocker known as Mr. Stinky Feet, he was negotiating exit traffic in the parking lot of a Renaissance Fair near Kansas City.
"It's so rare to actually go to a festival as a festivalgoer, and not a performer," said Cosgrove, 47, and you can believe it - he plays around 250 live shows a year (and he's been at it for more than a decade). This coming weekend, Mr. Stinky heads north, bringing his brand of high-energy, interactive "free-range family rock" to Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium, Sept. 30 at 2 p.m., as a fundraiser for Juneau Montessori School.
The odoriferous moniker, Cosgrove explained, came from his earliest fans, who originally called him "Bop Boppers" or "The Dinosaur Guy" after his first album, "Bop Bop Dinosaur" - "mostly because they couldn't remember my name."
"When I released my second album, "Stinky Feet," kids started seeing me around and yelling out 'hey, Stinky! Hey, Stinky Feet!'" he said. "And I'd yell back 'that's Mr. Stinky Feet to you! Show some respect!'"
A peal of laughter erupted on his end of the line. Clearly we were on speakerphone and the interview, like Cosgrove's career, would be a family affair. His wife, Jeni, doubles as his booking agent and tour manager (through her own production company she handles a stable of children's rock acts). And their daughters, Lyda, 7 (she actually turns 8 the day of the Juneau show), and Willa, 5, serve as Mr. Stinky's traveling entourage - every kid rocker's got to have one. Sometimes they even perform with him.
Of course, they aren't the only children who take the stage at his concerts. Wearing a trademark baseball cap, Hawaiian shirt and expression of tongue-in-cheek bemusement - Cosgrove simultaneously calls to mind Bill Nye the Science Guy and Jimmy Buffet - Mr. Stinky involves his audiences as much as possible.
"I'm not the star of a Mr. Stinky show - the kids are," Cosgrove said. "I get them dancing, playing and jamming and that means getting their parents dancing, playing and jamming."
In fact, Cosgrove is part of a burgeoning kids' rock scene specifically geared to appeal to a new generation of parents, including (among many others) straight-up children's acts such as Recess Monkey, Trout Fishing in America (who played in Juneau at the 2005 Jazz & Classics Festival) and Justin Roberts, as well as recent "crossover" adult acts like They Might Be Giants, Dan Zanes (of popular 80s group the Del Fuegos) and the Verve Pipe.
"Young parents are eager to turn their kids on to music they like," Cosgrove said.
Case in point: at Jiggle Jam, the family music festival he co-founded five years ago, audiences now top 25,000, making it the country's largest event of its kind.
"When I hear people complain 'it's so hard to find good kids music' they're obviously not looking very hard," Mr. Stinky continued. "There's a ton of it."
He's right. At a time when most segments of the music industry are shrinking, sales of children's music continue to rise. Interestingly enough, Cosgrove said, most of that music is sold on compact disc as opposed to downloaded.
"To you and me, it's an obsolete form of storing information, but for kids, a CD is tangible and tactile, like a toy," he said, suddenly reminding me the havoc my daughter once wrought upon a Pink Floyd box set overlooked in the baby-proofing process. "It feeds their curiosity."
For his part, Mr. Stinky's curiosity is fed by the kids themselves. He's the youngest of eight children in a "big, loud, Irish-Catholic family" from Kansas City, which also happens to include local Juneau storyteller Tom Cosgrove (see "Nearly Normal Storyteller," http://bit.ly/QbQh63), Mr. Stinky got his start writing and playing for his nieces and nephews.
"I was the fun, young, single uncle," he said, a role he parlayed into fun, slightly older, married dad. "Working with children is an endless source of inspiration. Every day there's a new Mr. Stinky Feet fan born."
To Cosgrove, his songs - which run the gamut from energetic dance tunes like "Buggy Hop" and "Fancy Pants Dance" to the wackier "Pizza Tree" and "Spaghetti & Goofballs" to more sentimental numbers like "Daddy's Girl" and "Let's Stick Together" - are like children, too.
"I love them all," he said. "Although, there are days when some find themselves in better favor than others."
Though Mr. Stinky Feet's travels have taken him throughout North America and Europe, Alaska ranks near the top of exotic venues.
"We did perform two weeks after 9/11 on military bases in Germany - that was pretty special. Also once at a NATO naval base in Southern Spain. We actually got engaged at that show."
"That one was my favorite," his wife piped in. More laughter.
"And playing at the White House Easter Egg Roll - that was really wild," he said, describing a soundcheck at which the Cosgroves had the whole South Lawn of the White House to themselves. (No, they didn't meet the President.)
To Cosgrove, kids are kids wherever he goes and he's looking forward to visiting the Last Frontier for the first time, especially experiencing it with family.
"Plus, the girls are really looking forward to seeing their Alaska cousins," he said.
One last question: Do his feet really stink?
"That depends on what shoes I'm wearing."
Jim Cosgrove, aka Mr. Stinky Feet, a concert for children of all ages, to benefit Juneau Montessori School; Sept. 30 at 2 pm, JDHS auditorium; Admission: Adults $10, Children $5, Under the age of two - free. Tickets available at www.juneaumontessori.org, Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, Hearthside Books and at the door.