Hooked on Trout Fishing

An amiable team of songwriters brings joy to kids and adults alike

MUSICAL MUTT & JEFF Who? You know … Mutt and Jeff … they were … ah never mind! But you can see Kieth Grimwood (left) and Ezra Islet at Laxson Auditorium, 7:30 p.m. Wed., Sept. 12.

MUSICAL MUTT & JEFF Who? You know … Mutt and Jeff … they were … ah never mind! But you can see Kieth Grimwood (left) and Ezra Islet at Laxson Auditorium, 7:30 p.m. Wed., Sept. 12.

The best photo I ever took of my longtime friend Gary was at a Trout Fishing in America concert. There he was, along with his 13-year-old son Josh, both glowing with smiles, transfixed by the musicians’ antics on-stage. Unbeknownst to them, I took a father-son shot from the end of the row that stands as a joyful and enduring image of two family members.

With its original brand of acoustic wisdom, Trout Fishing in America has entertained kids of all ages for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the powerful yet friendly duo, guitarist/vocalist Ezra Idlet and bassist/vocalist Keith Grimwood, pull into Chico’s Laxson Auditorium for an evening of musical merriment.

Mixing comedy and clever original songs, excellent harmonies and a veteran comedy team’s timing, Idlet and Grimwood have built a loyal following—traveling coast to coast (and to Europe).

What’s their secret? The kids’ songs don’t embarrass parents, and the grown-up songs don’t bore the children.

“Our kids’ music is listenable for adults as well,” Grimwood said. “You can put yourself in a car with our music and the kids and drive for a long way and not feel like throwing the kids or the music out the window.”

Named after Richard Brautigan’s late-'60s novel of the same name, Trout Fishing doesn’t pretend to be a full-fledged, eight-piece combo. Its lyrics are the message. But although Grimwood and Idlet’s instrumentation is rather streamlined, they touch on a myriad of genres, from folk, R&B and country to reggae and pop.

The duo has played at the White House, appeared on The Today Show and been featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. The two men also performed in a PBS special, Family Music Party, which blossomed into a 1998 CD and video.

Their current tour spans the country from Virginia to California, with a few Zany Brainy in-store appearances and private functions thrown in. In addition to its Laxson appearance, Trout Fishing will visit Shasta Elementary School on Sept. 12.

Although they duo had enough success to open for Bob Dylan, Michelle Shocked and Delbert McClinton, when originally asked to perform for a grade-school class, the affable musicians jumped at the chance.

“The teacher wanted to show the kids that music didn’t come from boxes, like radio and record players; that people played instruments,” Idlet said.

And they haven’t looked back since that first children’s performance. “We never set out to make children’s music,” said Grimwood, “and we didn’t write any children’s music until we had kids ourselves.”

The two musicians joined forces in the mid 1970s, while both lived in Houston. Idlet was in a folk-rock group called St. Elmo’s Fire, and Grimwood played classical bass with a band called the Houston Symphony. Grimwood found himself out of work during a union lockout and quickly joined Idlet’s band when its bass player quit. They soon became good friends and performed separately as Trout Fishing in America, a novelty that soon blossomed into a full-time gig. They now call northwestern Arkansas home.

What immediately strikes Trout Fishing audiences is the charismatic duo’s appearance. Idlet is 6’9” with flowing blond hair, while Grimwood is a diminutive 5’5” with dark, curly hair. Give the duo five minutes on stage and their charisma begins to take effect. Kids gravitate toward the edges of their seats, while their adult friends begin to magically feel their everyday stress melt off.

Though they are now finally reaping some of the financial rewards that 25 years of momentum has brought, the Trout Fishing boys have never lost their humility. The first place they ever played was on the streets of Santa Cruz in 1977. If the audience wasn’t entertained, they would not eat. The duo said that the experience of receiving their only income from street performances shaped the way they approach their audiences.

Alternating album releases between children’s CDs and adult CDs, Trout Fishing has released the brand-new inFINity (notice the fish pun), its first kids’ CD since 1997’s My World, as a follow-up to 1999’s Closer to the Truth. There’s a good chance the boys will sample both types of tunes during their Chico visit. The intelligence and charm of Trout Fishing music gently persuades everybody to tap their feet and break out in a smile.

The new album, the 10th on their homegrown Trout Records label, contains 13 engaging songs chock full of catchy phrases, life lessons and guilt-free fun. “Your Name Backwards” explores the fun of palindromes. “I know a boy whose name is Fred, does his homework in his head. Turn it around and call him ‘Derf.’ Playing a game called Your Name Backwards. Anna, Otto, Hannah and Bob, don’t care a thing for this game. If your name’s a palindrome, back and forth, it’s all the same.”

There’s guidance: “It Did It All By Itself” urges kids to admit their errors, whether they knock over a trash can or use toilet paper to flood the bathroom. There’s whimsy: “There’s a dinosaur sleeping in your bathtub at home. There’s an alligator jumping up and down on your bed at home.” And there’s humor: “I don’t want to eat spinach, I don’t want to eat anything that green. Nutritious is not delicious, too much healthy food can make you mean.”

Also, the duo ever so slightly interjects just a little of their political leanings—"Everything that’s made of wood was once a tree, and it’s clearly understood by fools like me. While you’re sitting on a chair, feeling nice and cozy there, you’re really not sitting on a chair; you’re sitting on a tree.”

Fans will undoubtedly anticipate a performance of “The Window,” where the duo, and a great deal of the audience, dispose of unwanted people and things by, all in good fun, throwing them out the window. And be ready to have your hair mussed. Another favorite song, “My Hair Had a Party Last Night,” not only urges the listener to “make your hair have a party,” but also suggests, “Now make your neighbor’s hair have a party.”

Idlet and Grimwood take pride that they were “indie before indie was cool” and have garnered 18 national awards since their first album, Truth Is Stranger Than Fishin’. They’ve twice won the INDIE Award for Children’s Album of the Year, twice won the National Parenting Publications Awards’ “Gold Award” and were named “Outstanding Children’s Entertainer” four years in a row by the Kerrville Music Awards.

To keep abreast of all things Trout, call the Trout Fishing in America hotline, toll free, at (888) HEY-TFIA (439-8342). To subscribe to their mailing list, visit www.troutmusic.com.