Prince isn’t the only songwriter/musician from Chanhassen with an enthusiastic fan base. Meet Billy Hartong, frontman for The Jolly Pops, a rocking and rolling band that will headline a multimedia music show at the Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, on Sunday, Jan. 19.
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them. But if you’re a parent of small children, you may already know The Jolly Pops are kind of a big deal. The Jolly Pops cater to an audience generally from ages 3-6.
Hartong and his band — bassist Justin Hartke and drummer Eric Schnee — perform at preschools, public libraries, and summer outdoor concerts throughout the Twin Cities, Minnesota and Wisconsin. And they’re beginning to experiment with multimedia concerts like the upcoming one at the Parkway.
Hartong came to the Twin Cities five years ago after he and his wife, an Edina native, started a family.
Hartong, a Colgate University graduate, had a band called “Broken Laces,” that toured up to 250 days a year, and even had some overseas tours. But with a growing family, Hartong and his wife moved to the Twin Cities and bought a home in Chanhassen.
Hartong, now a father of three girls, stayed home while his wife held a regular job. But he couldn’t let go of the music, and started playing at his daughter’s preschool. When the school’s music director left, Hartong stepped in. Today, in addition to The Jolly Pops, he teaches music at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis.
Hartong is especially excited for the Parkway live performance.
“Usually, we’re at preschools or libraries or places where parents drop their kids off and they (parents) never see us. And the kids are talking about Jolly Pops and singing our songs, but the parents have no idea. I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to create a special show, where the parents come along. I’ll meet parents who haven’t seen us, but know of us.
“So this is where you can bring the whole family,” Hartong said. “And this will be fun because we’ll have a movie screen behind us and we’ll be able to have background video to make it multimedia. It gives us an ability to create a narrative for the show, along with the puppets, Bacon the Pig and Chompy the Alligator.”
Increasingly, The Jolly Pops are being booked to play throughout regional library systems.
“And summers are bananas,” Hartong said. “We’re getting a lot of work. Honestly, I’ve seen every (Twin Cities) suburb you’d imagined. What’s even better, we’re going all over the state now, south, northeast and northwest, where there are groups of 10-20 libraries. We just did a tour of southern Minnesota at Austin, Rochester. We move around and can do two to three libraries in a day, and for overnights, we stay with people we know. Locally, we drive our own vehicles, but for tours, we take my family minivan.”
It’s a contrast to his days touring with his post college band, “Broken Laces,” Hartong laughs. “It’s similar but dissimilar. We joke that instead of the audience throwing underwear on the stage, it’s diapers.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Spending the day with 3- to 6-year-olds. Few things are better. They have imagination and let you know immediately, ‘I’m not really into this.’ And they have a willingness to accept a premise. If we say, ‘Let’s pretend we’re a bouncy house,’ there’s an immediate reaction. Or, ‘Can you imagine a pet dinosaur out of control?’”