Justin Roberts Climbs ‘Jungle Gym’ To Grammy Nom

Almost two decades ago, a musician in a Minneapolis-based indie band took a day job at a local pre-school, which eventually led to him writing songs for kids. Now Justin Roberts has a Grammy nomination for his 2010 CD Jungle Gym.

Roberts’ journey from playing in Pimentos For Gus to becoming a rising star in children’s entertainment includes a few detours. He recorded his first children’s CD in the early 90s. But instead of immediately pursuing a career playing for toddlers, Roberts went to grad school at the University of Chicago to study for a religious degree.

Justin Roberts & The Not Ready For Naptime Players

Eventually Roberts discovered the world of children’s entertainment, at one point comparing notes with Dan Zanes while discovering that “adult” venues like McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif., were doing daytime shows for kids.

These days Roberts and his Not Ready For Naptime Players keep a busy schedule. For Roberts, the life of a kids’ star is pretty much the same as it was when he was in that Minneapolis indie band. However, he has noticed a few distinct differences between his current audience and the young adults he used to play for.

“I was used to performing in clubs where people would listen to the music and respond by clapping or whatever. But you didn’t have to keep the audience constantly involved,” Roberts told Pollstar during an interview earlier this year.

“But with kids I found really instantaneously that no matter what the song was, I had to find a way to make it interactive. Stuff like hand motions, little comedy bits and various things to keep the audience guessing. That part of it was a learning curve.”

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Because the number of Grammy nominations totals more than 100, the media usually focuses on the big names like Eminem, Lady Gaga and that other Justin who hails from Canada. For Roberts, the news he was nominated didn’t come from a Grammy press release or a news story. Instead, he had to go looking for the list of noms to see if his name was included.

“On the night the nominations were posted I went to Grammy.com and tried to access them,” Roberts told Pollstar. “The site was probably inundated because I wasn’t able to get to the page with the nomination announcements at all. It was not unexpected that I got a call from Jackie Schimmel, my bassist for the Not Ready For Naptime Players. She’s famous for finding anything on the Internet. She was the one to tell me that the CD was nominated.”

Roberts’ Jungle Gym CD is a contender for Grammy’s best musical album for children a category that also includes nominations for They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science album, Battersby Duo’s Sunny Days, Pete Seeger With The Rivertown Kids and Friends for Tomorrow’s Children and Judy Pancoast for Weird Things Are Everywhere.

Meanwhile, Roberts and the Not Ready For Naptime Players return to the road next week when they play Chicago’s Field Museum Dec. 29 followed by a gig at the Park Forecast in Miniland in Carlsbad, Calif., Dec. 31. The first 2011 date is Jan. 8 in St. Louis at the Off Broadway Nightclub with other stops including Louisville, Ky., at the Jewish Community Center Jan. 9; Pittsburgh’s Rex Theater Jan. 15 and Cleveland’s Grog Shop Jan. 16.

For more information, click here for the Justin Roberts website and here to read Pollstar’s interview with Roberts.