Parents might recognize Jason Ringenberg as the former lead singer of the 80's punk rock band Jason and the Scorchers, but children around the world are getting to know him as Farmer Jason. This energetic entertainer fuses his punk rock and country background with important messages that teach children about the environment in a variety of upbeat, interactive songs. His latest CD, Rockin' in the Forest with Farmer Jason, delivers important lessons about ecology, exercise and history in a style that only a former punk rocker can provide. Parent and Child asked Farmer Jason about his latest work, and how parents can help to extend his message into their own children's lives.
Parent & Child: You started out as a punk rocker in the early 1980's. What made you make the transition to kids' songs?
Jason Ringeberg: I did front Jason and the Scorchers during the 1980's and ‘90s so this is quite a change! I decided to make my first children's CD 4 years ago as something my young daughters could listen to. I had no big aspirations for it other than that. It has certainly taken on a life of its own.
P&C: Do you think that your rock and roll background makes your music more enjoyable for parents?
Jason: Absolutely. For starters many of those parents (and grandparents) are old fans of the Scorchers or my solo work so they really get into listening to Farmer Jason with their kids. I also think all those years as a rocker have permanently infused into me the habit that no matter what the context, put as much energy and spirit into the performance as possible. Both kids and parents seem to relate to that.
P&C: What's the best advice that you can give to parents who want to teach their children about animals?
Jason: Even if it's just a fish or turtle, I wholeheartedly advise parents to get their child a pet that they are personally responsible for. That teaches invaluable lessons.
P&C: How important do you think it is for children to grow up around animals?
Jason: I was extraordinarily lucky to grow up on a farm with animals everywhere and I loved every minute of it. Of course in these times very few folks live on farms, but anyone can have a pet. I do believe children learn priceless lessons from owning a pet. For starters, I can't imagine a better way to teach responsibility.
P&C: Do you have any pets?
Jason: We have a small hobby farm here in Tennessee with our chickens Lottie, Broodie Anne, Maybelline, Ella, Lizzy, Lod, the pony Tinkerbelle, a potbellied hog Petunia, two cats Velvet Elvis and Violet, and a crazy goat named Azalea. Azalea and Tinkerbelle are best friends. They are inseparable.
P&C: What are some other ways that parents can use your songs to teach their children about animals and nature?
Jason: The song "Forest Rhymes" is a good tool to teach rhyming and simple lessons about animals. In that song I tell a riddle and have the kids give the answer to the riddle in a rhyme. When the kids become familiar with the answer you can make up new verses. The rhyme and rhythm structure is quite easy to work with.
P&C: Most of your songs have to do with life on a farm or near a forest. How can parents compensate if they don't have access to these places?
Jason: It's amazing the wildlife and nature areas that can be found in a city. Coyotes are now seen in downtown Los Angeles and peregrine falcons live in Manhattan. Point being, there are lots of ways to experience the outdoors even in inner cities, although it takes a little research and exploration. City parks are a great place to start. Often the trees in those parks are old growth and contain incredibly complex ecosystems.
P&C: You're great at keeping everyone's attention during your public appearances. Are there any tips that you can give parents who want to play games or hold sing-a-longs for large groups of kids?
Jason: I always assume that no one has heard my songs. Arranging the music so you sing the line and have the kids repeat it back seems to work the best.
P&C: Have you started working on anything new lately?
Jason: I am developing ideas for a Farmer Jason TV series, and of course I am always doing shows and honing in on my live performances. In April I am doing the first European tour by an American children's music artist at this level. I can't wait to see little Dutch kids crowing like roosters, but then rooster crowing is the universal language!