Silly Bus musician advocates arts education for children

By Josette Keelor

WOODSTOCK — Musician Justin Laughter has learned not to be too serious when it comes to music performance, because that’s not how the children’s band Silly Bus rolls.

“Early on we were too serious,” Laughter remembered Wednesday following a presentation he gave at the Woodstock Moose Lodge. “Our name is Silly Bus, but we were too serious.”

“It’s not about every note being perfect.”

What’s important is putting on a good show for his core fan base — children 5 and younger. It’s about helping children learn through music.

Laughter’s mission Wednesday was to advocate the teaching of music and art to children as early as possible by supporting programs like Virginians for the Arts. Laughter, 33, is interim executive director.

“We need to advocate for public support for the arts,” he told members of the Woodstock Moose Lodge. “Silly Bus exists because there are venues where we can play.”

He pointed out that Shenandoah County is home to 58 arts-related businesses that employ 182 people. Those numbers are part of 750,453 businesses nationwide employing 3.1 million, as of last January.

“Public funding, we have it now, but it’s always at risk to go away if we don’t reiterate its importance,” he said.

Established by musicians in 2005, Silly Bus is an educational media company that helps children learn “foundational components of elementary education in a fun and confident way,” according to its website, http://www.sillybus.net.

Though 85 percent of brain development is complete by the time a child reaches the age of 5, the site notes that 95 percent of public investment happens after the age of 5.

Silly Bus, which formed from the rock band Junction, focused its first album on themes like history, civics and science for children.

Through songs like “Outstanding Owls,” “Icky Insects” and “Snowman,” Silly Bus musicians write and perform lyrics and videos using advice from licensed educators who partner with them, Laughter said. Surprisingly, they reached more than just Americans, hearing from fans overseas who use the band’s YouTube videos to help teach their children English.

“It’s the most rewarding part of doing the videos,” Laughter said. “We’re reaching children in the U.S. but also internationally.”

The band follows in the footsteps of bands like The Wiggles, which Laughter said “busted down the wall” for bands like his to perform children’s music.

“It’s the Kindie music craze,” he said. “… For us it’s meaningful to write songs for children who are going to listen to them and it’ll mean something to them, and they’re gonna know the lyrics, and they’ll sing ’em back to you.”

Saturday the band will perform in Woodstock through a partnership between the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival and Woodstock ROCS, using part of a grant from the Shenandoah County Community Foundation, said Dennis Lynch, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival. The grant will also fund children’s performer Morgan Tayler, who will bring international phenomenon Gustafer Yellowgold to a performance at 11 a.m. Aug. 30 at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School in Woodstock.

“One of the reasons why we hired Silly Bus is because these guys really absolutely love what they do,” Lynch said.

“Any time you use the word ‘educating,’ it’s like, there goes the audience, but they’re so passionate about using music to stress the importance of learning, particularly with children.”

According to Laughter, it’s fun for the band too.

“It’s fun to write educational music and it’s fun to wear big shoes and to jump around. You’ll see lots of that on Saturday. … It’s music, but really it’s about the show.”

Silly Bus will perform free at 10 a.m. Saturday at the W.O. Riley Park, 540 Park Ave. Woodstock. For more information, call 540-459-3396 or visit http://www.musicfest.org. For more about Silly Bus, visit http://www.sillybus.net or watch a video at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lwGFyCeVuNY

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>