The Pinkletinks play rock music, but not late at night in bars. Instead, they play for young children and their parents at libraries, and during events like First Friday and the Agricultural Fair. The trio, originally formed as Jellybone Rivers and the Maniacs of the Heart, was playing at the Farmers Market a few summers ago when they noticed something. “The people who paid the most attention to us, who were the most into it, were the kids,” says Rob Myers, alias Jellybone Rivers. “Kids really are the best audience; they can be just transfixed by it.” For the adults, it was just background music.
Myers had recently found himself in his mid-40s with a young family. After decades of playing indie rock, he didn’t want to give up music, but he didn’t want to spend a lot of late nights out either. The other two band members, Andy Herr and Anthony Esposito, don’t have kids of their own, but they teach. Jeremy Berlin often plays with the band too, and all of them are regular members of several other Island bands. When they decided to do a rock concert specifically for kids, Myers called Beth Kramer at the West Tisbury library. Olivia Gately, who manages programming there, says that the rock concerts add a lot to the library’s kids’ program. “It’s interactive, it gets them moving, and it teaches them songs,” she says. The band has returned again and again, taking on a new name, the Pinkletinks.
The pinkletink is a small frog, known off-Island as the spring peeper, and its chirping call marks the beginning of spring. “It’s just the perfect name for a kids’ band,” says Myers. “It really is, genuinely, one of my favorite sounds, I absolutely love that sound.” But getting the right sound for a kids’ rock band is a delicate balancing act. It’s tricky to find songs that will appeal to kids of different ages and their parents. “You can play anything to a 2-year-old, they’re just amazed that there’s sounds coming out,” Myers says. “But once you get to be 5 or 6, they’re going to get more and more discerning.”
Kids’ rock encompasses new renditions of well-known kids’ songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the ABC song, but also some more modern music. Most of the parents of the kids in the audience grew up on “Schoolhouse Rock,” and They Might Be Giants has been making kids’ educational albums since the 1990s. “We sometimes will throw different styles into the same song, starting it off slow or reggae, then moving it into rock, just to keep it interesting for ourselves,” Esposito says. Herr says that his favorites are interactive songs, in which they make a call to the kids to interact, like doing the hokey pokey, or being airplanes. The call and response goes both ways. When they play, “Down by the Bay,” Myers always asks the kids to pick an animal, then he has to make up a rhyme based on whatever they say — easy enough if they call out “dog,” harder with “elephant.”
Playing for kids has its own special rewards and challenges. “Music is pretty important to kids’ developing motor functions,” Herr says. “Not just doing it themselves, but also with each other. A room full of kids dancing together, they’re all looking at each other and observing and seeing what’s the other one’s doing.” They copy each other, and experiment with wacky moves. That spirit of experimentation frees Herr up when he’s improvising. “With adults you sometimes feel extreme judgment, and with kids you don’t. If they’re not dancing, sometimes they’ll come up right in front of you with the mouth-open stare, and/or start knocking the music stand over multiple times.” Esposito says that the drums are a big draw, too. “They’re just fascinated by the drums,” he says. “Every time, at least one or two kids come right up onto the stage to see the drums up close.”
Although they play all over, libraries have been central to the band’s development. “Without the West Tisbury library, in particular, this just wouldn’t be possible. They’ve just been so supportive of us,” Myers says.
The Pinkletinks’ December schedule includes three library shows: West Tisbury on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 3 to 4 pm, on Thursday, Dec.19, at the Oak Bluffs library, from 4 to 5 pm, and at the Edgartown library on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 10:30 to 11:30 am. They play on Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Aquinnah library at 3 pm. In February, they’ll be recording a live album at Alex’s Place at the YMCA.