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Still the Shazzbots: Columbus “kindie” band hasn’t forgotten their retro roots

J.R. McMillan

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Music for kids tends to get a bad rap for good reason. From the Wiggles to Barney, inane to annoying, somewhere along the way, “kids” and “music” became decoupled, as though children don’t deserve sincere songwriting, and education and entertainment also became mutually exclusive.

That’s why parents are over the moon for the Shazzbots, the credible Columbus kids band that might just save the universe from one more infernal refrain of “Fruit Salad” or a hyperkinetic purple dinosaur professing his static affection.

Founded by Ian Hummel more than a decade ago, the Shazzbots began a live show which eventually evolved into an Emmy-winning television pilot, funded entirely by loyal fans. Their latest album, LIGHTSPEED!, is their long-awaited third release and an apt metaphor for their change in trajectory, marked by a growing international audience.

Kyle Tracey

“When we first started, it was just songs. But I didn’t want it to just be me. I wanted it to be more, something along the lines of Sesame Street, with characters and a backstory behind the songs,” recalled Hummel, whose nautical alter ego Captain Captain travels the galaxy with an acoustic guitar and an archetypical band of misfits in a heavily-modi ed Winnebago. “We weren’t even sure what form the band would take. For a while, there was no drummer, only percussion. For a hot minute, there was even an accordion.”

Hummel recruited friend and bass player Mike “Navigator Scopes” Heslop to help craft the band’s elaborate backstory, with characters whose talents matched those of their real-life counterparts. Josh Tully, better know to kids as Professor Swiss Vanderburton, moved back to electric guitar when Steve Frye, aka Watts Watson, settled in behind the skins. That initial lineup has remained unchanged, but there have been three female members of the crew. Amber Allen as Debora Nebula, Molly Winters as Aurora Borealis, and Diane Hummel as Luna Stardust, who rounds out percussion and also happens to be married to a certain space captain.

“It’s important to have female role models, and you can see from the stage how little girls connect with Luna Stardust,” noted Hummel. “Her costume is still girly, but you can tell she’s a member of the crew. There’s a team dynamic you see in cartoons like Voltron and Thundercats I knew I wanted in the Shazzbots.”

Though the age of their audience has stayed the same, expectations for the entire music industry changed course. Social media was barely a blip when the band began, and streaming services were almost nonexistent. Now they’re essential. But this too is where the Shazzbots shine, a retro band ready for a new frontier.

“After filming the television show and getting it on Amazon, we kind of hit a wall deciding what was next,” he admitted. “So we spent nearly a year creating content for YouTube, something new every week. Kids still listen to songs in the car, but they also watch music videos on their iPads. You have to be available everywhere they are.”

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Another giant leap into this new era for the band required rethinking the brand. Matthew Hubbard, one of the filmmakers behind the TV pilot, helped tap into the emerging “kindie” industry, clever slang for independent music catering to kids. Unlike commodity kids bands created to make a quick buck, so-called kindie artists are steeped in the sincere songwriting tradition that predates the digital age. They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes are more contemporary ambassadors for children’s music with a message, but even Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie released kids albums every bit as sophisticated as their more famous fare.

“Embracing the kindie label, as well as working through a distributor and with a PR person who understand that audience, has really opened doors,” Hubbard explained. “We’re now available on Sirius XM Kids Place Live and Shazzbots albums are in more than 600 libraries nationwide. There are also all of the major streaming services, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple as well helping to reach a global audience.”

The irony of the Shazzbots now broadcasting songs via satellite hasn’t escaped the band. It’s probably impossible to be more on brand. But that doesn’t diminish the analog roots and inspiration behind LIGHTSPEED!, available on CD, digital, and as an actual vinyl record with an intricately illustrated gatefold cover featuring a cross-section of the ship created by artist Joel Jackson, whom many may recognize as the ominous pirate from the television pilot’s cliffhanger ending.

“These new streaming options and the release of the new album have given us more reach and more information than we’ve ever had before,” Hubbard noted. “We know how many people are watching the TV show, which is really starting to take o in the UK. We can see which songs are doing well in Australia, a market that is also growing due to songs getting play on the in flight kids entertainment service on Quantas airlines. We use these insights to decide which song should be next for a music video, or maybe shouldn’t, at least not right now.”

“Having all of this data can be overwhelming, and you can overthink it. It can reinforce your instincts as a musician, but you also have to be careful not to let it affect you too much as an artist,” Hummel explained. “These are great tools to have, but you can’t let them keep you from pushing boundaries by trying to find a formula for success. Sometimes those simple little songs will surprise you.”

Plenty of musicians have been there before, watching an outtake or alternate track that barely made an album resonate unexpectedly, despite prevailing opinion. It’s also why live shows remain the best market research for the Shazzbots, even now that some of their earliest fans are old enough to be in college. Requests from the audience, often songs that may not have the obvious hallmarks of a hit single, still spark something unexpected. It’s evidence that those obscure deep cuts have sticking power too, feedback a synthetic studio-only kids band just wouldn’t understand.

“I was playing at Big Fun last weekend, and a dad and his two daughters were there. The youngest daughter was wearing one of our t-shirts she’d gotten as a hand-me-down from her sister who is now a teenager,” Hummel revealed. “The older daughter still knew all of the songs. It’s something they shared. She grew out of the shirt, but not the Shazzbots.”

For more on the Shazzbots, LIGHTSPEED!, and upcoming live shows, visit theshazzbots.com.

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Arts & Culture

(614) Movie Club: New Jon Stewart feature, Episode V Beer Tasting, and timely documentaries

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(614) Movie Club. It’s OK to talk about it. 

Every Monday at (614) we’ll be here to update you on virtual and physical screenings that are being offered by the businesses and organizations that make Columbus such a special cinema city. Read below for this week’s streams and showtimes.

NOW SHOWING AT GRANDVIEW THEATER

Jaws

The original Jaws will continue to show at Grandview theater after a July 4 weekend beer tasting. Fitting, right? Watching this might be what it takes to keep you away from the beach for the rest of the summer.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1975
  • Runtime: 124 min.

Jurassic Park

More Steven Spielberg horror on the big screen. Again, if you missed the beer tasting, you’ll have a few more shots this week at catching some dino-roaring action on the big screen.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (7 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Beer Tasting

One of the most popular picks for best Star Wars film of all time, the beer tasting comes during a year when the fifth episode is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Enjoy a 10-round beer tasting, free pint glass, raffle prizes, and a very entertaining presentation.

  • Showing: July 11 (3 and 9 p.m.) and 12 (5 p.m.)
  • Cost: $40
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

NOW SHOWING AT STUDIO 35

Irresistible 

A local town battling big-party politics, written and directed by Jon Stewart and starring Steve Carrell? Looks great on paper, plays out even better on screen. Rose Byrne is outright ridiculous in this one. Enjoy a 2020 release in an actual movie theater with grade-A recliners.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4:30, 7, and 9:30 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 2020
  • Runtime: 104 min.

Jurassic Park

See above.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (4 and 7 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

Jaws

See above.

  • Showing: July 6-9 (9:45 p.m.)
  • Cost: $9
  • Release: 1975
  • Runtime: 124 min.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back Beer Tasting

See above.

  • Showing: July 11 (noon and 5:30 p.m.) and 12 (2 p.m.)
  • Cost: $40
  • Release: 1993
  • Runtime: 127 min.

NOW STREAMING VIRTUALLY AT THE WEX

Cincinnati Goddam

A timely documentary that followed the Black Lives Matter movement around 2013, this film focuses on the corruption within the Cincinnati Police Department, whose force was responsible for killing a total of 15 black men between 1995 and 2001. 

  • Closes: July 9
  • Cost: Free
  • Release: 2015
  • Runtime: 103 min.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Ella Fitzgerald is one of the most prolific singers of all time. Although a lot of her life has been studied, this documentary goes deeper with some never-before-seen footage and interviews from greats such as Tony Bennett and Smokey Robinson.

  • Closes: July 23
  • Cost: $12
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 90 min.

The Last Tree

A coming-of-age journey that follows a Black teenager trying to find his identity in the UK and beyond. The movie was the winner of the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance and Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer awards at the British Independent Film Awards.

  • Closes: July 23
  • Cost: $10
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 98 min.

Denise Ho - Becoming the Song

Another unfortunately timely documentary, Denise Ho follows the personal journey of the openly gay singer from pop icon to human rights activist. What emerged out of the Umbrella Movement of 2014 saw Ho take to the streets in the midst of the Hong Kong revolution in 2019.

  • Closes: July 30
  • Cost: $12
  • Release: 2020
  • Runtime: 83 min.

NOW STREAMING VIRTUALLY AT GFC

Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly

Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist, transforms Alcatraz Island prison into an astonishing expression of socially-engaged art focused on the unjustly incarcerated. Known-whistleblower Chelsea Manning makes an appearance. 

  • Opens: July 8
  • Cost: $10
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 78 min.

We Are Little Zombies

If eccentric Japanese cinema is your forte, you’ll want to check out We Are Little Zombies. A messy triumph of tragedy, comedy, music, social criticism, and teenage angst, watch what four teenagers do when they find out their parents are being turned into dust.

  • Opens: July 8
  • Cost: N/A
  • Release: 2019
  • Runtime: 120 min.
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Things To Do

Where to get your Red, White & BOOM on this July 4th

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It was a bummer to hear that Red, White & BOOM would be canceled and changed to a virtual format for 2020. However, that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating in a somewhat traditional sense. Even with one of the biggest fireworks celebrations put on hold, there’s still plenty to do around Columbus, fireworks or no fireworks.

We here at (614) know that given the modern-day circumstances, people have the choice to celebrate in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Below you can find three ways to celebrate–Local 4th of July events; Red, White & BOOM alternatives; and places where you can legally celebrate yourself.

THINGS TO DO ON JULY 4TH

Fourth of July Fireworks

West Jefferson July 4th Streetfest

When: July 4 at 10 p.m.

Where: Watch from home

Obetz Fireworks

When: July 4

Where: Watch from home

Fourth of July Activities

Neighborhood Bike Brigade

When: Various start times

Where: Dublin neighborhoods

Sherm Sheldon Fishing Derby

When: June 26 through July 4

Where: Any Dublin pond

Fourth of July Parades

Front Yard Parade in the Round

When: July 4 at 6 until 9 p.m.

Where: Your front yard

2020 Cruisin’ On The 4th of July

When: July 4 at noon

Where: Northbridge Ln., Columbus, OH 43235

New Albany 4th of July Parade & Festival

When: July 4 at 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

Where: Church of the Resurrection, 6300 E Dublin Granville Rd., New Albany, OH 43054

Other Fourth of July Events

Zoombezi Bay Family Movie Night featuring The Goonies

When: July 3 from 6 until 11 p.m.

Where: Zoombezi Bay, 10101 Riverside Dr., Powell, OH 43065

HOW TO CELEBRATE WITH RED, WHITE & BOOM

Red, White & BOOM was gearing up for its 40th anniversary before COVID-19 shut the mass gathering down. However, the beloved Columbus fireworks show will be hosting a virtual event over the first four days of July. The virtual campaign will air on NBC4.

Here are some of the events that will take place:

  • Highlighting the best Red, White & BOOM stories
  • Stories from local veterans inducted into the Ford Oval of Honor
  • Broadcasting the best Red, White & BOOM fireworks over the show’s 39-year history
  • Looking back on the tradition of parades honoring veterans

HOW TO TAKE CELEBRATING INTO YOUR OWN HANDS

We here at (614) also know that setting off fireworks yourself is illegal. We also know that buying them within the state is legal (OK?).

So here is a list of places around Columbus you can buy fireworks from. What you do from there is up to you, but we advise you to stay within the law:

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Zoo Babies! We’ve got the photo cuteness

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Start the ooo-ing and ahhh-ing, Columbus, because we’ve got Zoo baby pics!

A Masai giraffe calf, a sea lion pup, two red panda cubs, and a siamang (gibbon) baby—all recent births at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for these endangered species. It’s a show of commitment from the organization how they were able to nurture these species populations at-risk for extinction and bring new generations of them into the world. 

“We are extremely proud to welcome these babies as they all represent hope for the future of species that are increasingly facing challenges in their native ranges,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO, Tom Stalf. In the press release, Stalf detailed how special these births are as the threatened species received around-the-clock, top-quality care by the Animal Care staff over the three-month-closure of the Zoo, due to COVID-19. 

OK, no more waiting—get your fill of cuteness below with these Zoo baby pics!

Masai Giraffe Calf

“A Masai giraffe calf was born on June 28, 2020, at 2:29 p.m. to mother, Zuri, in a behind-the-scenes barn of the Zoo’s Heart of Africa region.”

Sea lion Pup

“During the early morning hours of June 25, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed the first sea lion pup ever to be born at the facility!”

Two Red Panda Cubs

“Two healthy red panda cubs were born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a welcomed addition to this endangered species.”

Siamang (Gibbon) baby

“On the morning of May 29, 2020, the Australia and Islands region welcomed a baby siamang. Mom, Olga, is being very attentive to her little one, whose sex and name have not yet been determined.”

Get information about conservation at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium here.

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