When David Landau was an elementary school teacher in Verona more than a decade ago, he would occasionally bring out his guitar at the end of the day to entertain his students.
Then he started playing outside the school, and one year decided to take a sabbatical to see if he could make a living playing music for children.
He never went back to school.
Instead, Landau can be found all around town playing for enthralled kids, from his regular every-other-Monday gigs at Glass Nickel Pizza on Atwood Avenue to his big annual High Noon Saloon show, which sells out every January and brings out the pint-size groupies in droves. He also spends the summer hauling his guitar around Wisconsin and Illinois, from a school library in northern Wisconsin to a recent gig at Milwaukee's Irish Fest. His songs like "Monkey & the Engineer" and "I Have a Rooster" are catchy without grating on parental nerves like some children's music can.
"In Madison, I know people are excited to expose their young kids to music at an early age," he said, adding that he wants to make music that parents can tolerate, but his primary target is the kids.
"As long as the kids are dancing, it entertains everybody," he said. "I just have to entertain the kids, and they entertain the rest of the room."
Perhaps the greatest asset a children's musician can have when trying to make a living: a never-ending supply of new audience members.
"As long as people keep making the kids, I'll keep entertaining," Landau joked.
And shows like his Glass Nickel gigs are a way for parents of young kids to have a night out.
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"The parents bring their 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds, and can relax and have a nice little dinner," he said. "When you have little kids and want to go out to eat, it's kind of hard. But if every table is full of kids and they can all run around and make friends, that's definitely some of the appeal."
Landau has been a fixture on the local music scene with his bluegrass band, Cork 'n' Bottle String Band, which used to play raucous and very un-kid-friendly shows at the now-defunct Ken's Bar. The band still gets together every week to practice and plays the occasional gig (they're on the Memorial Union Terrace on Aug. 16).
Occasionally, fans who used to carouse in the Ken's Bar days, now married and with kids of their own, will come back to see Landau's kids shows.
Landau said he's learned to make his shows as action-packed as possible, and he knows he can hold a young audience's attention for 45 minutes. An hour is too long for a child's attention span.
And when a child hits double digits, they're usually ready to move on from Landau's shows. And he's fine with that.
"Then they get that attitude," he said. "When they're little, they don't have any attitude, they'll dance in front of anybody. They're in their own world. They're fantastic."
When Landau started playing children's music professionally, he used to play a lot of schools. But as schools have tightened their belts, he's found other venues, especially preschools and libraries.
He gets offers to play from unexpected places, including an out-of-left-field request to play the northern Albertan town of Fort MacMurray in the middle of January. In August, he'll be playing a fundraiser at the Madison Children's Museum, riding up and down the elevator the entire time.
"I only see the people for 20 seconds on the way up and 20 seconds on the way down," he said. "And I never see them twice. On the way up I do a Johnny Cash song, and on the way down I do the "Auctioneer" by Leroy Van Dyke."
Then again, he's had years of experience playing for audiences with short attention spans.