Roberts rocks with ‘Jungle Gym’ 

The days of Raffi may be gone, but Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players have just released a new album, “Jungle Gym.”

The Chicago-based kiddie-rock phenomenon — whose sound has been compared to Elvis Costello, Weezer and Loudon Wainwright — is coming to San Francisco, playing an 11 a.m. Saturday show at the Swedish American Hall.

Roberts — a member of the Minneapolis-based alternative-folk band Pimentos for Gus in the early 1990s — initially didn’t set out to be a children’s artist, but he began writing songs about his childhood after a stint in graduate school and being a preschool teacher. 

“Everyone was a kid once, even though some want to forget it,” Roberts says. “I try to write songs about honest childhood experiences that will resonate with adults.”

Dubbed by USA Today as the “Paul McCartney of kids’ music,” Roberts prefers to be known as a songwriter of music for families. 

Unlike some children’s music rockers, Roberts doesn’t sugar-coat in his lyrics. Childhood isn’t perfect or happy in all his songs, some of which cover serious issues such as divorce, loss and death.

“I try to be honest towards kids’ experiences,” Roberts says. “Each song has a message, and I want kids to listen, think about it and talk to their parents.”

With no kids of his own, Roberts’ imagination is his inspiration. His wife, a teacher, helps him through his visualization process.

“When my wife tells me she has a snow day, I can think about how a kid would feel in that situation — and also how I would feel if I received the news I was getting a snow day,” he says.

“Jungle Gym,” Roberts’ seventh album of family tunes, is more musically adventurous than his earlier albums. “There are harder key changes, more-complex vocals, it’s just more symphonic and ... weirder,” he says. Yet, it still contains the vivid childhood themes that are his trademark. 

He named the album after a lyric from the song “Sign My Cast,” calling the jungle gym an iconic image that encompassed childhood.

Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players

Where: Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Tickets: $15 general, $50 for family four pack
Contact: (415) 861-5016,

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Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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