By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Its not every childrens music band that gets commissioned by national parks to camp out for two weeks, write songs about what theyve seen and heard and then cut an album based on the experience.
But that was the happy task last year for the Banana Slug String Band, a Santa Cruz, California-based collection of former and current teachers who performed Sunday at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
Officials at Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks invited the band to Wyoming last summer to camp, hike and speak with experts in everything from wolves to geysers then produce a childrens album about what theyd learned.
The result was an album called Goin Wild, which was named childrens album of the year by the Association for Independent Music.
The group wrote 15 songs in the 12 nights they spent in Yellowstone, said Doug Dirt Greenfield, one of Sundays performers.
It was a wonderful opportunity to work science into childrens music, he said. How often do you get to spend a day with a wolfologist or a geyserologist?
Teaching children (and their parents) through music, dance and puppetry has been the task of the Slugs, as they call themselves, for the past 17 years, when four outdoor science class teachers Greenfield, Airy Larry Graff (who joined Greenfield for the Baker City appearance), Marine Mark Nolan, and Solar Steve Van Zandt all discovered they had music in common.
We were already musicians and clowns anyway, Greenfield said. Why not admit it?
Eight albums later, the four are still making music. Greenfield and Graff left teaching 15 years ago to concentrate on music full-time, while the other band members remain in teaching.
On Monday, the pair had a decidedly different gig from the one they offered their younger audience Sunday afternoon: they played for about 150 Bureau of Land Management employees.
They were a hoot, said interpretation specialist Nancy Harms. They did a skit called From Manure to Milk Shakes about how food gets put on the table. They grabbed 12 volunteers from the audience and turned them into farmers. And when they did the Water Cycle Boogie, everybody started dancing. They got great audience participation.
Indeed, the Water Cycle Boogie, featuring Greenfield as a drop of water, did get the crowd up out of their seats Sunday, too. It also taught the young crowd the definitions of evaporation, precipitation and condensation.
If you do this dance properly, Greenfield told the children, I guarantee you it will rain sometime this winter.
The pair also did songs about moose (Moose may be a little vacant upstairs, Greenfield said as he donned fake antlers, but they have a big heart) and beavers (sample lyric: Chew chew chew chew, Thats what beavers do we chew, Slap your tail, shout out loud, Im proud to be a beaver).
They also performed their often covered signature song, Dirt Made My Lunch, a song that reminds children that all food meats and vegetables originate from the ground.
Thank you dirt, thanks a bunch, the chorus goes, For my salad, my sandwich, my milk and my munch, cause dirt made my lunch.
After their performance, Graff said that he and Greenfield enjoy all the traveling they do but that, once in a while, they still miss teaching.
There are a lot of great people in teaching, and I think theyre the good-hearted people, he said. But when were performing in front of children and interacting with them, we pick up their energy. Its a real blessing.