- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

Let’s get this straight from the outset: Australian kid-pop sensations the Wiggles are not one of those hip indie rock bands (like Dan Zanes and Friends or the Sippy Cups) who’ve decided that making music for youngsters is the new badge of coolness.

Unlike their scenester counterparts, the Wiggles embrace cross-promotion, commerciality and behemoth concert venues; they aren’t of cheesy, pointy-fingered photo-ops; and their tours have been known to lead to weddings, not hangovers, for their crew members.

Being cool? It isn’t really even on the Wiggles’ radar. Being cherished by parents for wholesome music and videos? Being cheered on by children who love the way the Wiggles encourage them to sing, dance, learn and just be themselves? That’s more like it.

Call the Wiggles corny if you must, but be prepared to face the wrath of legions of full-grown and pint-sized Wigglemaniacs around the globe. Careful, they’ll have you singing the praises of “Fruit Salad” and “Getting Strong” before you know it.

The band’s history begins at an early childhood education program at a university in Sydney. That’s where Anthony Field (the blue Wiggle), Murray Cook (red) and Greg Page (the original yellow) met.

They started writing child-focused songs for a school project and decided to recruit Jeff Fatt (purple) — who’d previously played with Mr. Field in a band called the Cockroaches — to make a record with them.

“We did this … just to make a good album for children,” Mr. Field says. “It wasn’t for commercial reasons. We did a lot of it very quickly, like in two or three days. It was a lot of fun, but there was no market for it. There is now.”

In the 16 years since that first release, the Wiggles say they’ve sold more than 17 million videos and 4 million CDs worldwide. Business Review Weekly named them Australia’s highest paid entertainers of 2004. The group’s revenues currently support a touring crew of about 30, which includes around 16 dancers and several costumed character players (who are as renowned as the four Wiggles themselves).

“We’ve definitely got more money to spend on production now,” Mr. Field says. Besides that and a cast swap of Sam Moran for the ailing Mr. Page, the Wiggles have tried to remain largely the same at their core, particularly with regard to their values and goals.

Mr. Field and Mr. Cook both have children and find it difficult to be away from home for the standard half-year of touring. “It’s hard because you see the audience having a really great time and you wish your own family was there,” Mr. Field says. There is one upside to being on the road so much. “Going home, it’s always fresh,” he says. “I’ve only been married for four years and it feels like I only got married yesterday every time I see her.”

The Wiggles play the Verizon Center (www.verizoncenter.com) on Thursday at 3 and 6:30 p.m.

Fiddle ‘n’ frolic

Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson aren’t just musicians, they’re music scholars. These three young black artists, who together make up the Carolina Chocolate Drops, have spent the last several years studying old-time fiddle and banjo music and its connections to the black community.

Based in Triangle, N.C., the group has paid special attention to musical traditions of the Piedmont region, relayed to them by Mebane, N.C.’s Joe Thompson, said to be the last black traditional string-band player.

In playing this music — a precursor to bluegrass, country and arguably the blues — the Carolina Chocolate Drops have also unwittingly assumed the role of educators, slowly spreading the word about a musical legacy the American public knows little or nothing about.

“The fact that we can present something that helps to display another aspect of black culture is great,” says Mr. Flemons, who notes that most people are unaware that the banjo originally came from Africa or that black string bands were quite common at one time.

Cultural lessons aside, the Chocolate Drops’ real strength lies in their ability to bring an energetic contemporary spirit to old musical styles. (Check out their debut album, “Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.”) Their work has already landed them a guest slot on “A Prairie Home Companion” and a tour opening for Taj Mahal.

“Most everywhere we go it’s amazing; people know who we are, they’ve read about us or heard about us by going to our MySpace page,” Mr. Flemons says. “They say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ or, ‘I’m glad that you exist.’ ” The Carolina Chocolate Drops open for the Austin Lounge Lizards at the Birchmere (www.birchmere.com) on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

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