IMAGINE THIS: YOU’RE the lead singer of a dynamite cover band and you’re opening for your favorite group at 19 Broadway in Fairfax. You spend the night feeling like a rock star — the club owners are praising your chops, the drinks are flowing, and the guys from the main act invite you to open for them anytime.
Fast-forward to the next morning: the dog is puking. One of the kids, or maybe it’s your husband, is getting sick because the dog is sick. Everyone’s running late, and as the whole family stands in the driveway, you realize you forgot to unpack your sound gear from the car. All eyes are on you as you morph, a bit chagrined, from music mama to multitasking mom.
That kind of thing happens occasionally in the life of Mill Valley’s Danielle Hirsch, yoga and fitness instructor, wife, mother and lead singer for Fistful of Scandal, and she’s not alone. Hundreds of moms and dads in the Bay Area are attempting the ultimate balancing act: how to live the dream of being a musician while also playing starring roles at work and at home. They are the performing parents — not because they’re singing children’s tunes or wearing Barney costumes, but because at some point both the childrearing bug and the music bug bit and they have no desire to let go of either.
Who are the players?
Some have been playing music since they were kids, some rediscovered their love of music and found courage to gig in their 20s and 30s, and still others picked up an instrument for the first time in their 40s and found they couldn’t put it down. They have one thing in common: enough drive to go to work, come home and play parent, and, once the children are asleep, play music. “The energy you need to have is amazing,” says San Francisco–based singer-songwriter Paige Clem, single mom of a 10-year-old boy. “After you perform, sometimes you don’t get to sleep until well after 2 a.m. Then a few hours later the alarm goes off and it’s mom mode! ‘Look, Mom, I can make this dollar disappear. Do I have to put my shoes on now? Did you know that people in Iceland are into elves? Can we get frozen yogurt tonight?’ — all by 7:45 a.m.”
Where are they found?
They may not be driving cross-country in a tour bus or loading equipment for a jaunt through Europe, but these performers still find local venues to rock out in: the Sweetwater, Terrapin Crossroads, and HopMonk Tavern in Marin; the Starry Plough and Freight and Salvage in the East Bay; and Brick and Mortar, the Independent, and Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Clem hosts a songwriter series at the Ivy Room in Albany every fourth Sunday of the month. Joe Becker, a self-taught drummer from San Francisco currently playing in The Jean Genies (a David Bowie cover band) and The Bye Bye Blackbirds, has been playing some beloved venues in the city, like Slim’s, The Make Out Room and The Chapel. A resident of the houseboat community in Sausalito, local blues artist Fiver Brown has done his share of touring but walks from home to most gigs these days, whether at the members-only floating barge the Cruising Club or legendary dive the No Name Bar. Most rehearse once or twice a week and perform at least once or twice a month.
Why do they do it?
Every mom and dad interviewed said essentially the same thing: “Because I have to.” Music is a passion, a propelling force and a conduit to creativity, happiness and a huge endorphin rush. The pain of letting go of music as an outlet, as Becker felt when he left music altogether for a year to raise a family, can bleed into other facets of your life. It might be hard balancing alarm clocks and amplifiers, but Hirsch doesn’t mind. “The insane days don’t cancel out the kick-ass nights of playing music. I love my mom job and my music only makes me better at it.” San Francisco vocalist Terry Ashkinos, lead singer of Fake Your Own Death and a teacher, husband, and father of two, says, “I have no choice. It was built into my DNA; I love playing music, teaching, and being a parent. I love seeing the world through my kids’ eyes.”
How do they find balance?
Becker says it helps enormously to have a supportive partner. Brown believes it’s about sacrifice: he couldn’t be the dad he wanted to be if he were a full-time musician, and he couldn’t retain his sanity if he were to cut music out of his life. Ashkinos keeps it real: “I don’t sleep. And I don’t follow Twitter.”
Any pointers for other would-be musicians with kids?
“My advice is to make sure you are playing music for the right reasons. If you’re doing it for fame, money, or popularity, you should stop. Your kids need you at home,” Ashkinos says. “But if you’re doing it for the love and art of music, and if you’re doing it because you want to grow and you want to bring your kids along, then never quit.” Hirsch likes to quote motivational speaker/author Steve Maraboli: “Live your truth… take action towards your dreams… make today worth remembering.” Becker adds, “Years ago I gave up any notion that I would be famous, and there’s something liberating about this. It can be difficult to carve out time for a musical endeavor, and one has to bear in mind the age and temperament of one’s child and partner. Be respectful of them. It’s worth it.”
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Play Time“.