A Great Interview with Dan and Claudia about the Sensory Friendly Movement!

Paste Magazine Interview With Lizzie Manno  
Photo by Anna Zanes 



Dan Zanes is not your typical children’s musician. He founded the ’80s rock band The Del Fuegos, which was named “best new band” by Rolling Stone in 1984 and counted Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen as fans. Despite hit singles and releasing music on a major label, the band split up at the end of the decade. After becoming a father, Zanes began playing music for his daughter and the kids in the neighborhood. Several years later, Zanes has become a household name in the children’s music genre, winning a Grammy Award and collaborating with famous musicians on his extensive discography like Lou Reed, Sheryl Crow, Sharon Jones, Bob Weir, Aimee Mann and more.

Now, with the help of his wife and musical partner, Haitian-American vocalist and music therapist Claudia Eliaza, he’s fighting for more accessibility and inclusivity in music through his work in the budding sensory friendly movement. While Eliaza received her degree in music therapy from the distinguished Berklee College of Music and had experience bringing music into children’s lives, Zanes stumbled into it by way of his daughter, now calling his work in children’s music, “the most satisfying thing” he’s ever done. The pair are eager to share the story of the sensory friendly movement—an artistic movement that’s growing and transforming the lives of children and families across the country.

So, what exactly does “sensory friendly” mean and why is it so important? Performances that are dubbed sensory friendly refer to the conditions that make a show more agreeable and comfortable for all people, especially those who are on the autism spectrum or who have other social, learning and sensory disabilities. Among other things, this means sound and lighting, venue rules and seating arrangements are modified in such a way that the show is safe and enjoyable for everyone. Zanes was immediately struck by how powerful and unifying his first sensory friendly show was and he’s been devoted to the concept ever since.

“I remember that the first experience really blew my mind because I’ve never seen that type of inclusion and accessibility before, but what was interesting about it was that I just did my typical show,” says Zanes. “The work was really the venue because they did a little bit of work to make the conditions more agreeable for a larger community and more folks were able to come to the show. There was no question in my mind that that was the future of family performances. It was absolutely clear that there is no reason that [my shows] would be anything but that moving forward.”

Eliaza, who performs onstage alongside Zanes, talked in depth about why sensory friendly shows are so vital and why there should be more of them. “We’ve had experiences where there have been families with special-needs children and it’s a challenge for them because sometimes these families are afraid to go into public spaces because of the judgement, the stigma, all these things that come along with the unpredictable behaviors of their child,” says Eliaza. “So, what we were finding was a lot of the families are split where mom might be doing something with this child who is neurotypical and dad is taking the other child to do other sorts of activities, but the families aren’t coming together and having these social experiences together.”

Zanes also makes clear that these shows aren’t just for those with special needs. These are shows that are designed to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, but he says that the term “sensory friendly” is often misinterpreted. “Because it’s early days in this movement, a lot of the families with what we would call neurotypical kids don’t recognize that they’re still included in this thing,” says Zanes. “It’s just a way of opening the door wider or maybe even a clearer analogy would be that just because a show and a venue is wheelchair accessible doesn’t mean that the show is only for people in wheelchairs.”

Eliaza speaks to the tangible benefits of these shows, even for those without special needs. “We’ve been blessed to hear from a lot of families after the shows who might not have known much about what sensory friendly was and they brought their, for lack of a better term, ‘neurotypical’ families, and they expressed how incredible, to the point where they were moved to tears, it was to be in a shared space with neighbors that they might not have met and to have this joyous moment with their children,” says Eliaza.

The Kennedy Center has been leading the sensory friendly charge for the last several years as their 2013 guidebook has become the movement’s go-to, all-encompassing online resource. Zanes and Eliaza’s latest project, the comic folk opera Night Train 57 became the first sensory friendly album to be commissioned by the Kennedy Center and it’s available now. Zanes describes the organization’s Director of VSA and Accessibility, Betty Siegel, as “the Bob Dylan of sensory friendly” and Zanes and Eliaza have lauded the center as being a valuable resource when they were brand new to the movement. The center helped them educate venues and promoters about what modifications needed to be made in order for them to put on sensory friendly shows and according to Zanes, they were quick to get onboard.

“We’ve never had a presenter say no,” says Zanes. “Once they get the information and they realize how easy and straightforward it is, everybody says yes. If we’re talking about sensory friendly and it doesn’t sound like it’s tons of fun, we’ve done something wrong in communicating it because it’s an incredible atmosphere.”

Eliaza recalls one particularly moving experience where a nonverbal child was moved by one of the duo’s performances. “We had a child who was wheelchair bound and we talked to her mother after the show and the child was just so cheerful,” says Eliaza. “She was nonverbal, but very excited. She was crying and the mother told us how this was her first live performance. I think the child was about 12 or 13. That really hits your heart.”

Zanes emphasizes that he doesn’t just want shows to be accessible to people with certain special needs. He wants to see sensory friendly become the new norm to make sure that as many people can be included as possible. One of the reasons that Zanes and Eliaza’s effort is so worthwhile and inspiring is that music and art both are crucial in the development of young children, so the more children that are exposed to the arts, the better.

Their live show, Night Train 57, premiered in Fall 2017 and will be touring North America for the next several years. Zanes and Eliaza perform onstage as a trio with Mexican percussionist and comic actress Yuriana Sobrino. The album, Night Train 57, is available for purchase and on streaming platforms.

Dan Zanes is bringing his newest show to McCarter Theatre!

Greetings Friends and Neighbors!

The journey continues! This Saturday, February 3rd, we’ll be in Princeton, NJ with Night Train 57, our Sensory Friendly Folk Opera. Here’s an article that helps set the mood: A Musical Journey for the Family: Dan Zanes is bringing his newest show to McCarter Theatre

Night Train 57 was co-commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and VSA and had its world premiere at The Kennedy Center in October 2017.

Special thanks to Roger I Ideishi, JD, OT/L, FAOTA, Director of the College of Public Health’s Occupational Therapy Program, Temple University. Co-commissioners include The Whiting/Flint Cultural Center Corporation, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Additional development of Night Train 57 took place as part of The Harmony Lab program at People’s Light in Malvern, PA.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Princeton!

Your friends,

Dan and Claudia

New Video: Dan Zanes and Friends – Red Bird

The Red Bird has landed!!!
I’m so happy with this video…
Thank you to my brother-in-law Donald Saaf and to Dan Folgar for making this wild piece.
Thank you to my sister Julia Zanes for making the puppets.
Thank you to Ashley Phillips and Azalia and to Dan’s son for the awesome cameos.
Thank you to MC SHAISLIKE for the lyrical prowess.
Thank you to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings for making it all possible.
As always, thank you to Leadbelly, the father of modern family music (among other things), for the inspiration!

Your friend,


Strathmore, Chicago, Austin, NY + Big Video News

Greetings Friends, Neighbors, and Other Party People!

I have some exciting concert updates and some equally inspired video news.

+ Elena Moon Park just made a new video for the Korean New Years song Sol Nal

+ Sonia de los Santos is about to film a new video this Saturday. Would you like to be in it?

+ Is there a family band in Chicago that would like to join us for a song next Sunday at the Old Town School?

+ DZ will be in Strathmore, MD this weekend and Chicago next weekend!

+ Sonia is going to play Austin Kiddie Limits!

Let’s get right to it….

Here is the link to Elena Moon Park’s brand new video for the song Sol Nal (I like New Years). Can you guess who’s house it was filmed in?

If you want to be a part of Sonia’s new video, please see the listing below for her show in Battery Park this Saturday at noon.This is your chance to shine! The show ends at 1pm, everybody will take a short break and then shoot the video at 2pm.The song is “Esta es tu Tierra (This Land is Your Land)” so if you want to practice beforehand just put on her music and belt it out!

I’ll be playing in Chicago at The Old Town School of Folk Music next Sunday, October 2nd. Do you have a family or neighborhood band? Would you like to join us for a song? Please send me a video or audio clip at dan@danzanes.com. I’ll do a random selection in a few days, it’s not a competition just luck of the draw. If your band is chosen you’ll get free tickets to the show. I’ll be performing with the amazing Haitian-American singer Claudia Eliaza and I can’t wait to get back to Chicago!!

Here’s the calendar……

Saturday, Sept 24, 12PM
The Sonia de los Santos Band
Battery Park, New York, NY

Sunday, Sept 25th at 5:30pm
Dan Zanes Song Gusto Hour with Ashley Phillips
Amp by Strathmore
North Bethesda, MD
This is a pajama party….What a perfect way to end the weekend!

Sunday, Sept 25, from 12-5pm (show time TBD)
Elena + Sonia: Songs from East Asia and Latin America,
The Women’s Building
New York, NY

October 2nd at 10am and 1pm
Dan Zanes Song Gusto Hour with Claudia Eliaza
Old Town School of Folk Music
Chicago, IL

Friday, October 7 at 2:30PM
The Sonia de los Santos Band
Austin Kiddie Limits
Austin, TX

Saturday, October 8 at 2:30PM
The Sonia de los Santos Band
Austin Kiddie Limits
Austin, TX

Saturday, October 22 at 2PM
The Sonia de los Santos Band
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Brooklyn, NY

You know how much I like to use the word FESTIVE and I’m going to use it again….

This fall is looking positively FESTIVE!

I hope to hear you singing along you soon….

Love Dan

The Best Of Dan Zanes

Get Loose and Get Together!

The Best Of Dan Zanes

Get Loose and Get Together! The Best of Dan Zanes is a collection for the fans that have been following Zanes since the beginning and for those who are new to the party.

Generally considered a leader in the genre, Zanes has been referred to as the “crown prince of contemporary kid’s music” by People magazine and “the genre’s most outspoken advocate” by Time Magazine. He is known for his diverse range of collaborations which have created one of modern day America’s quirkier folk experiences in which sea shanties, North American and West Indian folk music, and play party songs, blend with the sounds of early rock-and-roll and soulful originals to create a musical landscape that captures the innocence of youth and the dreams and emotions shared by people of all ages.

Featuring fan favorites from over the years, “Get Loose and Get Together” is a perfect family soundtrack for this summer’s kitchen dance parties, backyard sing a longs and road trips.