While hunkered down at the start of the pandemic, Johnstown musician Bill Ackerbauer started writing silly tunes with his son Finnegan.
Together they wrote “Chicken Milk” a funny folk tune that eventually ended up on “Chicken Milk & Other Mysteries,” an album filled to the brim with lighthearted kids’ songs.
“It’s something I always wanted to do because I have always enjoyed playing music for kids, especially little ones,” Ackerbauer said.
For more than 15 years, the former Gazette copy editor has performed around the Capital Region, sometimes solo and often with The Insolent Willies, with which he released “Mostly Harmless Acoustic Mayhem” last year. The two albums were released around the same time and share a similar upbeat nature, with folk songs meant to make listeners move.
The roots of the children’s album, however, go back well before 2020.
“When my middle son, Carter, was a little guy, he and I wrote a song together — it’s actually one of the songs on the album — just a ridiculously silly song that we would sing just for fun. That made me think ‘Maybe I ought to write a whole batch of these and put out an album.’ And I didn’t get around to it until the pandemic gave me the time at home to work on it,” Ackerbauer said.
At the start of the pandemic, with Finnegan (7) learning virtually and Ackerbauer working from home, they had plenty of time for writing songs like “The Ferret Song,” a folk tune about the friendliness of ferrets.
“He was going through this phase where he was obsessed with ferrets. Now, we don’t have one, he doesn’t have a pet ferret but he just went through this phase where he wanted to do nothing but look at videos of ferrets on YouTube,” Ackerbauer said.
As he was getting ready for bed one night, Finnegan started singing about the creatures and it sparked the idea for the song. On the record, Finnegan not only sings on the track but also plays the xylophone.
While working on the album, Ackerbauer and Finnegan performed a few virtual concerts through the Johnstown Public Library in a series called “Singin’ in the Kitchen.”
“We made a little TV show out of it with Finn and I telling jokes and we would go to different locations to film the performances of the songs and things,” Ackerbauer said.
The video series and the making of “Chicken Milk & Other Mysteries” became a positive thing to focus on during an otherwise uncertain time.
The album features instrumentals and vocals by Ackerbauer and Finnegan, with a few guest singers and friends appearing during one song. They released it in June of 2020. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many opportunities to play out last year.
Fortunately, they’ll have a chance to do just that on Saturday at Caffe Lena. The show, which is part of the Little Folks series, will be held in front of a limited in-person audience as well as live-streamed.
This will be the first time since the pandemic that a “Little Folks” show will be held in-person at Caffe Lena. The venue, which has only in the last month been able to start hosting in-person shows again, has kept up live streaming throughout the pandemic. The first show that it live-streamed was a Little Folks show, according to executive director Sarah Craig.
“Our experience with that Little Folks show back on March 14th, 2020 was what told us we were really onto something with this live streaming, that it was worth doing,” Craig said. Normally, whenever they live-streamed shows, anywhere between 12 and 24 people would watch, but with that show, 140 families tuned in. They were also engaged in the comments section, some saying it was exactly what their family needed after a week of virtual learning.
Craig said it made her realize “There is the potential to create a meaningful place of connection here. Let’s keep going.”
For Finnegan, the Little Folks show will be his first in front of a live audience.
“He’s part of the show, they made sure that he was going to be on the bill with me. I wouldn’t want to do it without him,” Ackerbauer said. “He’s going to bring his xylophone to play on his ‘Ferret Song’ and maybe I’ll get him to tell a joke or something in between songs.”
Beyond the songs on “Chicken Milk & Other Mysteries,” they’ll also perform their own rendition of the gospel song “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
“I changed the words to make it sort of a topical thing about COVID but geared toward kids, so it’s not terribly political or controversial or anything. It’s just an attempt at optimism,” Ackerbauer said. “We’ll probably end the show on that song because I think it’s a good note to end on.”
Saturday’s show will kick off at noon. For more information on the show, visit caffelena.org. For tickets and more on the album visit smokinbill.weebly.com.
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