Musical Science

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

One of Santa Cruz’s best-loved musical acts, the Banana Slug String Band, celebrates its 20th anniversary on Saturday with a “Slug-a-palooza” concert at the Rio Theatre.  If you have never heard the band’s music, which combines a timely message of environmental care with a wacky sense of fun, then Saturday’s show will be a great chance to get acquainted as the band will be joined on stage by special guests including a juggler and a steel band.  The band’s show combines music, theater and audience participation, and is fun for all ages.

The Banana Slug String Band came into existence, like so many good things, by chance.  The four members, “Airy” Larry Graff, Doug “Dirt” Greenfield, “Solar” Steve Van Zandt and “Marine” Mark Nolan, were all working as teachers at an outdoor education camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Students would come and stay at the camp for a five-day program to learn about conservation. At night, sitting around the campfire, the four teachers would break out guitars and make up songs about the day’s activities to entertain the students.  The songs became a popular feature of the camp and, through singing around the campfire and on the hiking trails, the performances began to develop.  “All of the ideas were stimulated at camp,” recalled Greenfield, “then, from there, we took our act to the schools, major teacher conferences and communities all over.  It just expanded dramatically because there weren’t a lot of people doing this.”

The members of the band soon found that they had a full-time occupation visiting schools to play at assemblies.  The response from the students was so enthusiastic that the teachers at the schools soon realized that the band could be a powerful educational resource.  In response to the many requests they received, the band members began to develop curriculum materials for schools and in-service training seminars for teachers.  This work has led to the Banana Slug String Band being invited to perform at national educational conferences.  Says Greenfield, “It’s an interactive, fun way to start off a conference, and educators can see how teaching science works in that format.”  Working with students and teachers now fills a major part of the band’s schedule – they offer a wide range of programs from 90 minutes to 6 hours in length.

The Banana Slug String Band has released eight CDs including “Penguin Parade,” which features songs about various animals, and “La Tierra y El Mar,” which features an English and a Spanish version of each song.  The band’s latest CD is “Wings of Slumber,” a collection of 14 nature-inspired lullabies.  A music book is available to accompany each CD.  A full-length video, “Dancing With the Earth,” is also available.  The band has won numerous awards from musical, environmental and educational bodies including the National Park Service and the Association for Independent Music.   

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 10, 2005

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