ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Voices for Children rally is an annual event at the State Capitol, and it's one of the highlights for those of us who spend most of our time covering the grownups for a living.
The news cameras are drawn to the little faces herded into the Rotunda for the rally. Many of them are too young to understand why they're under the Dome, but they help send a message that early childhood education is a great investment.
What they do know is that the music is great. And that also draws those of us in the electronic media. The sound track is always provided by a group of guys known as the Teddy Bear Band.
They're four guys who all have day jobs, so to speak. Ron Gustafson, for instance, works in the Minneapolis Public Schools Early Childhood Education Program as an educator. But since 1985 the Teddy Bear Band has been playing music for kids, about kids, to kids.
Click here to for a link to the Teddy Bear Band's own web site.
Since 1988 they've cleared their calendar to make sure they can perform at the children's rally at the Capitol. I first discovered them in 2005, my first session covering the legislature full-time as part of the KARE political beat.
I can always sell my producers on using at least a blurb from the Voices for Children event, thanks to that lively music and those wonderful pre-K faces. But it hasn't always been smooth sailing for the bears in the band.
One year I showed up for the rally and heard no music. Sure, they had politicians promising to protect Head Start, ECFE and subsidized child care. But that's a message that goes over the heads of the little ones; it's designed more for the adults who will watch or read the news accounts later in the day.
Where was the music? What had silenced the Teddy Bears?
Gufstafson told me the rally organizers had been informed they missed the cut-off date for live music in the Rotunda. I'd never heard of such a rule, so I called my contact at the Department of Administration, which runs the Capitol.
The Admin guy calmly explained to me that the racket of a rock band, even one playing children's music, is simply too disruptive. The noise wafts through the building and makes it hard for lawmakers to hear the witnesses testifying at hearings.
And, the closer they get to the end of the session the more they need to pay attention to those witnesses. So, the man told me, you can't play live music in the Rotunda in the final 10 weeks of the legislative session.
It's too much to ask lawmakers to stop what they're doing and come and listen to the music for 30 minutes. After all they might start dancing, or worse, hugging each other. The 10-week cut-off rule made sense once the Admin man explained it to me.
After I got off the phone I looked at the calendar, and realized the final day of session was actually 12 weeks away! That's right, the Capitol Noise Police were invoking the 10-week rule at the 12-week mark!
I called the Admin man and pointed out the discrepancy. He said it was close enough to the cut-off date to stop the music. Could the Teddy Bear Band play unplugged, so to speak? No. It would still be too noisy.
Ron told me last week it wasn't the first time the bears in the band had been forced into hibernation. In the mid 1990's, after a particularly raucous rally, Capitol Security told planners that the Teddy Bear Band could not return.
"They play electric instruments, and they're too loud," was how Ron remembers the admonition.
When it was time to apply for the rally permit the following year, one parent suggested they could get the bears in the door by merely changing the name of the band. They billed themselves as "The Woolly Mammoth Band, featuring acoustic music for young children."
It worked. They guys rocked the Rotunda again.
Security wasn't fooled, though. According to Ron, as the guys unstrapped their guitars and walked off stage, a security person approached and said, "We just want to tell you, we know what was going on here."
Yes, we all know what was going on there. Some middle aged rockers did what they loved doing; entertaining children and contributing to a great cause.
After 25 years of playing together the guys in the Teddy Bear Band know they're always welcome in a group of kids. They're just never sure where they stand when it's time to bring the children's music to the people's house.
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)