The newly remodeled Wilma Theater, one of Missoula, Montana’s oldest venues, made a great location to host the CD opening party with a beach theme. The Whiz Pops, played music from their new album on stage while the children danced in a pit surrounded by parents and grandparents watching intently.
For my youngest sons, ages 4 and 20 months, it was their first experience among the green and red strobe lights and open dance floor. They watched me closely as their older siblings inched them into the crowd of dancing children and helicopter parents. Then as if a primal instinct switch was thrown the music started and they danced, instantaneously forgetting about my husband and me watching from the edge of the pit.
Much to my surprise, the lyrics bucketing from the posse onstage were thoughtful and fun but also catchy. My husband, a man who rolls his eyes at our teenager’s music and preaches the gospel of grunge, caught himself beginning to sing along before ducking out to the bathroom before his cool exterior was lost. Too late, hubs, we all know you’re into the Polar Bear song, now.
And why not? It is a great song! My children danced and even the pre-teen inched toward the stage and hung out just below Casey, the lead singer smiling up at them and bobbing his head.
The WhizPops, Missoula, Montana’s seven year-old sextet, named for a term coined in Roald Dahl’s book The BFG, has recently released their third album, another solid effort from a consistently entertaining band with a heart. On Earth Day, The Ranger Rick’s Trail Mix Vol. 1 went on sale and includes a half-hour's worth of music inspired by David Bowie, The Beatles, Billy Joel, and Weezer set to the theme of “endangered species”.
The songs on the new album feature “Swift Fox”, “Everything’s Better with a Mustache”, and “Polar Bear”, all of which highlight endangered wildlife across North America and the need in preserving animals and protecting their vital habitats. The album ends with "Extinction Really Stinks," an homage to “We Are the World” featuring a chorus of other children's performers. The WhizPops intend to follow-up the album with others in the future, as there is no shortage of endangered animals, sadly.
The album keeps up the nature-oriented theme of The WhizPops’ previous albums while maintaining their catchy licks which won them the Parents’ Choice Recommended award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, an award given for their impressive number of facts about the natural sciences and their positive appeal to children.
As a mother of six, finding good children’s music is something I have braved over the last 15 years. There is a fine balance that must be attained for a band to make the cut. Number one, of course is that it should be something that we can listen to over and over (and over) again. Secondly, it should have a good message. For our children, this is their first introduction to music and everything sounds new to their raw minds. Music has a way of enlightening and inspiring and children’s music is no different.
The WhizPops, meet the criteria and I believe it’s because at the heart of their message, the group has a dedicated outlook about their purpose.
Elementary teachers by day, Casey Schaefer and Kevin Cashman, have been meeting with their band in their free time and writing upbeat educational music about nature with an original blend of rock, pop, and country.
The goal was to write music that was fun to listen to as well as informative with the intention to make learning fun. Over the years they found that very few things could make learning fun like music can and so Schaefer and Cashman, working with a fluid group of talented individuals, created The WhizPops.
“Really all it just started because we are both elementary teachers who like to play music in our classrooms,” said Cashman. “There is a clear shortage of quality educational music out there for a lot of the units that we teach. We just kind of saw that need and began filling it for ourselves.”
Soon they began taking requests from other teachers and eventually had enough content to begin playing public events and releasing albums. Now people contact them from across the globe to write about endangered wildlife and the natural world.
The WhizPops recently partnered with Ranger Rick, a magazine produced by the National Wildlife Association, as they move into celebrate nearly 50 years of educational publications which promotes outdoor activities informs youth about wildlife preservation. The mascot himself is featured on their album and made an appearance at their May 20th CD release party at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana.
“It’s been this great relationship where they are helping us to reach a wider fan base and we are helping them expand their readership as well,” said Schaefer. “It was almost serendipitous. The timing was perfect.”
In addition to the partnership with Ranger Rick, they are also donating a portion of their sales to the National Wildlife Federation, America’s largest wildlife conservation and education organization, to help protect the species that they sing about.
According to Cashman, they are motivated to write music that addresses a growing need for families as they find it harder to get into the wilderness in today’s “plugged-in era”. But mostly they are driven by the fact that they just love to play music.
“It’s a cohesive coming together of our personal interests in the natural world, our professional lives as teachers, and our hobbies as musicians. It’s not hard to keep this going. It’s an organic process,” said Cashman.
They have fun writing the music together and attribute their success to being able to work together laughing and enjoying the process. According to Schaefer, it’s about doing something that they love in a fun and carefree way.
“It comes from a good place and that really resonates with kids,” said Cashman. “The kids pick up on that. Those experiences are what keep us going.”