STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
In songwriter Joanie Leeds’ world, weirdly fun things happen. One of her tunes tells the tale of a dinosaur that invades Manhattan’s Upper West Side. After subduing the creature with a bagel with cream cheese, the narrator takes the dino to a Broadway play, which he laughs at and loves.
“In my writing, I try to do something that’s a little bit different,” she said.
That’s been working for her for years as she tours the country singing songs to kids of all ages. She brings her unique song stylings to the University of Pennsylvania’s Morris Arboretum on Aug. 21 as part of the WXPN Kids’ Corner Concert Series.
She’s no stranger to Philly having performed in WXPN’s XPoNential festival before. She likes performing here because the audiences always are fun. She also likes the food.
“I like to stop at the Italian market or to get a cheesesteak somewhere,” she said. When asked where she goes for that Philadelphia staple, Leeds played no favorites. “Pat’s, Geno’s, other great places we’ve found over the years,” she said.
The show at Morris will feature Leeds with three other musicians and they’ll be performing songs from her new album, “Good Egg.” Some older favorites from her other six CDs will be sprinkled in as well.
“I try to see what I played last time and keep it new and fresh and do some variety,” she said.
Leeds, who lives in Brooklyn, used to write music for grown-ups, but loves focusing on kids now. She worked for a time at a children’s gym performing songs as they played.
“I really fell in love with children’s music,” she said. “And performing for families is more gratifying and way more fun. Children inspire me so much.”
Plus, the songs are usually happy.
“I don’t want to write heart-wrenching love songs anymore,” she said. “Maybe I’m in a happier place.”
When not performing in concert, Leeds teaches in nursery schools and summer camps all over the country. She’s married, but doesn’t have her own children yet.
“I have many children,” she says of her audience, “but I don’t have to discipline them.”
She’s watched some of her fans grow up through the years and that’s neat.
“They’re getting so big. Some were at my shows five years ago and now they have brothers and sisters coming along,” she said. “It’s wonderful to watch the families grow.”
The inspiration for her songs comes from the children, but also from parents who suggest ideas or themes. One asked her to write a song about putting on all the gear that Winter requires — hats, gloves, coats. Leeds grew up in Miami, so had to use her imagination for that one, but happily obliged.
When writing, Leeds sits with her guitar, ukulele or piano and tries to picture what a kid would be thinking. The music and the lyrics arrive simultaneously for her and she’s pleased with that.
Leeds, who took voice and acting lessons as a kid and studied theater in college, decided to become a musician to be her own boss, she said.
“When I write my own music and create on my own, I hold a magic wand and I’m in charge,” she said.
Leeds hopes to write children’s books that also feature her music. Until then, she’ll keep performing and will visit Philadelphia in August and again after that, she’s sure.
“We love coming to Philly,” she said. “It’s our close-by little neighbor.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights
WHERE: Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania, 100 E. Northwestern Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118
WHEN 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 21.
TICKETS: Online admission is as follows — $16 for adults, $8 for children, $8 for members, $4 for child member. Tickets at the gate (if available): $18, $10 for children, $10 for members, $5 for member children.
INFO.: Call (215) 247-5777 or check http://www.business-services.upenn.edu/arboretum/index.shtml