Story last updated at 2:09 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Banana Slugs bring environment to music
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo supplied
The Banana Slug String Band offers zany education.  
Can four men dressed in penguin and cloud suits while playing mandolins, banjos and harmonicas really teach kids science without the young'uns ever thinking to utter a groan.

The Banana Slug String Band

  • Where: Homer Mariner Theatre, Homer High School

  • When: 5 p.m., Saturday

  • Tickets: $6 per person

  • Call: 235-7740

  • Information: bananaslugstringband .com on the web

  • Absolutely, say 15 years of reviewers and appreciative crowds after taking in the unusual and always eventful performances by The Banana Slug String Band.

    More than a decade after fate brought these zany guys together while teaching science at a California camp, "Airy" Larry Graff, Doug "Dirt" Greenfield, "Solar" Steve Van Zandt and "Marine" Mark Nolan continue to wow crowds with their exuberance-shrouded message of environmental stewardship, served up in kid-sized chunks.

    "Our mission," said Van Zandt in a 1999 interview, "is to give kids a sense of wonder about the environment to see the beauty of how things connect. 'Dirt Made My Lunch' is about, 'Hey, this (food) didn't really come from Safeway - the Earth made it.' We're also accurate in our facts. We do a lot of research."

    Leaving the test tubes and white jackets behind, these unorthodox scientists have literally tuned in to a method of inspiring kids with songs like "Penguin Parade," "Slugs at Sea," and "Dancing With the Earth," to name a few of many.

    "Kids are so open to music - it's a hook into their soul," said Graff. "So when you make (science) fun and interactive, there's a deeper learning. It's a natural evolution. Our music is upbeat. It's about discovery, magic and fun. The songs inspire people to take care of the Earth because it's a beautiful place."

    The Slugs latest of nine recordings, "Goin' Wild" recently received two national awards: The Association of Independent Music 2000 (Indie) Award, and the National Parks Service Audio Interpretive Excellence Award.

    The record was written on location in Wyoming in the Yellowstone and Teton areas, a factor in its success, say the artists.

    "We owe a lot of our success to the sheer beauty of the land," said Graff. "It was incredibly inspiring to compose music in the midst of all that grandeur."

    While their show is part music, part comedy and costumes, these diverse musicians peruse the full scope of musical genres to get their points across. Songs hop from rap to reggae, folk and blues using a multitude of instruments.

    But it's lyrics like those in "Dirt Made My Lunch," that have enable the Slugs to keep the attention of their young audience members as well as leave parents and teachers humming for days.

    "Dirt made my lunch, dirt made my lunch,

    Thank you, dirt! Thanks a bunch,

    For my salad, my sandwich, my milk and my munch,

    'Cause dirt, you made my lunch."

    "Before you know it, Slug songs painlessly teach you enough fascinating (and accurate) science information to fill a Smithsonian-sized museum," said one reviewer.

    Even the band's name, derived from the Ariolomax dolichophalus, a banana-sized slug indigenous to the coastal redwood forests of Northern California, provides a learning experience. Slugs, say band members, embody values of the "ecotopian" culture of their environment, including "contemplation, flexibility, nonaggressiveness and an iconoclastic challenge to the status quo."

    Band members say their hope is that parents and children will increase their interest in the world around them after hearing this light-hearted and enthusiastic approach.

    "Don't just sit your kids in front of the TV," said Graff. "Take your kids outside; it can become very magical, especially on the beach or hiking trail. Find things under rocks. You'll be taken on a journey, when you let them lead the way."