It's a funny place to find some of the top musicians in New Haven, but for the past eight years the United Community Nursery School has hosted a slew of celebrated singer-songwriters, rock guitarists, folkies and ukulele strummers, all performing for an appreciative and lively crowd of toddlers in the lounge area of the United Church on the Green parish house at the corner of Wall and Temple Streets in downtown New Haven.
The occasion is the annual UCNS Family Fun Fair, which combines a Scholastic Book Fair with an open house for the school, a silent auction fundraiser, kids' activities, refreshments and non-stop live entertainment. UCNS Board Member Christopher Arnott (whose daughters, now aged 8 & 10, once attended the school) books acts he's encountered during his more than two decades as an intrepid arts journalist in Connecticut. The event is a fundraiser for the school (which marked its 50th anniversary this year), so Arnott "pays" the musicians in homemade apple cake.
Past performers at the UCNS Holiday Fun Fairs include James Velvet, Dean Falcone, Bill Collins of The Rabble Rousers and The Swaggerts, Jonny Rodgers, Ray Neal of Miracle Legion, The Sawtelles, Frank Critelli, Bret Logan of Jellyshirts, Brian LaRue of Tyler Trudeau Experience, guitarist Robert Messore, David Heiser & Trish Mangold doing world folk and Appalachian clog dancing, performance artist Kim Mikenis, and many others. All have willingly rethought their acts for (very) young audiences. Collins, for instance, donned dog ears and revived a song cycle he'd composed years ago based on the classic kid's book Go Dog Go.
This year's UCNS Holiday Fun Fair is Saturday, December 1, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 323 Temple Street (the United Church on the Green Parish House). Musicians who've agreed to play this year include several returning acts: popular 13-year-old busker Henry Sidle, who had a full room of kids dancing up a storm last year to his acoustic covers of rock classics; impressive 7-year-old classical guitarist Jesse Balkcom; The Wayfarers, a group of United Church on the Green parishioners who've been involved with the fairs for over a decade; and Chris Arnott himself, who plays punk and jazz standards on the ukulele. At noon, puppeteer Betty Baisden (who is also the longtime director of the school) performs one of her popular Roxi Fox shows.
This year brings the UCNS Family Fun Fair debuts of:
• Buzz Gordo, of the great local rockabilly bands of the '90s Gone Native and Big Bad Johns. Gordo, aka Gary Mezzi, has a new kid-friendly bunch of songs which he played last summer at the North Haven Public Library. He may be accompanied by legendary local drummer Tom Smith.
• Todd Stoops, founding keyboardist of the nationally touring jam/rock bands Raq and Kung Fu. Stoops currently has a child at UCNS. Like Gordo, he hopes to bring a bandmate to enliven his acoustic set.
• Elm City Mayhem, a new family-friendly rap act featuring Lance Ligon, who not only currently teaches at UCNS but attended the school as a child.
Admission is $4 for everyone over the age of 2, and includes the entertainment, all the kids' activities and play opportunities in the nursery school rooms, plus the chance to browse the book fair, bake sale and silent auction.
Family Fun Fair at United Community Nursery School
Annual Holiday Book Fair & Family Festival
Saturday, December 1
10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
United Community Nursery School
323 Temple Street
(corner of Temple and Wall streets, downtown, a couple of buildings behind the New Haven Public Library).