NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The children’s folk duo “The Okee Dokee Brothers” are set to perform at 1PM and 4PM on Sunday and will also play two performances for schools on Monday at 10AM and 12PM, at the Crossroads Theatre on Livingston Avenue.
In May of this year, Joe Mailander (guitar) and Justin Lansing (banjo) released their latest album, “Through the Woods: An Appalachian Adventure Album,” which features songs written during their month-long hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Their previous record, “Can You Canoe? A Mississippi River Adventure Album,” released in 2012, won the Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album.
NPR said of the band, “They remind us of the American belief that we’re bound for better weather.”
The Crossroads Theatre event will include songs from both albums, as well as what Mailander called “an engagement aspect” to every song—which might include sing-along or short dance moves for children and parents to have fun with.
This will be the New Jersey debut for the duo, who grew up together in Denver, Colorado.
Their albums are clearly written for young children, but they make sure their music steers clear of the infantile or juvenile—they play songs that people of all ages should enjoy.
“The whole point for us, when we write a song, is to write something that’s universal,” Mailander told New Brunswick Today.
One of the band’s earliest albums, “¡Excelente Fabuloso!” was in Spanish and was intended to help children learn the language.
They do not plan to play any songs from that album at the Crossroads.
A lot of the music from Through the Woods features backwoods characters like Fiddlestick Joe, Hillbilly Willy, and Ruby Jane.
Each character is influenced by, but not a direct replica of, people the duo met while hiking the trail.
Other experiences had a more direct impact on the music: “We went to an actual jamboree in Appalachia and we clogged and saw all the musicians on stage playing while the whole town was dancing,” Mailander said.
That night turned into the song “Jamboree,” the album’s third song. The music video has footage from the jamboree that inspired The Okee Dokee Brothers.
“Country music has this stigma this days,” said Mailander. “In the nineties, that kind of music was taken to the masses through a kind of corporate machine. It was ultra-cheesy at times.”
“The thing to realize is that country music, traditionally speaking, like Hank Williams and the old Willie Nelson stuff, back in Nashville before it got really corporate, that’s really important music to our national heritage.”
Mailander added, “Elvis Presley wouldn’t have come up with the rock and roll style without him being a country musician first and foremost.”
But what The Okee Dokee Brothers play is not exactly country —they make a distinction between country and folk music: folk music is the more acoustic style, with less artificial production, and that is what the band strives for.
In addition to using their own adventure experiences for inspiration, Mailander and Lansing looked to old-fashioned American “hootenanny dancing songs” that are in the public domain, and reworked them to fit in the album.