UC San Diego duo kicks out the kid tunes.
Given the way they get a sea of kids dancing, singing and laughing all at once, it’s only fitting that Steve Denyes ’93 and Brendan Kremer first met in kindergarten. Because when they hit the stage as the band Hullabaloo, their unique sound of “free range, organic kid-folk” brings out the child in anyone who listens, a spirit of silliness that has entertained families for 14 years.
“I made a short album of classic kid songs for my family and friends as a holiday gift and it all snowballed from there. We put together a live version for Brendan’s daughter’s first birthday party, and Hullabaloo was born,” says Denyes. “Once we started performing regularly, we realized it was really fun and parents were looking for things to do with their kids that didn’t involve purple, singing dinosaurs.”
What Hullabaloo does involve is a lot of foot-stomping, wing-flapping, and other fun and games directed by the duo on stage, with Denyes on guitar and Kremer keeping the beat on the cajon, a Peruvian box-shaped percussion instrument. As for the name, it comes from a classic “Skip to My Lou” lyric: pigs in the bathtub, hullabaloo. “We just liked the sound of it and figured the definition—a noisy commotion—fit what we were doing,” says Denyes.
The two-man band that started out playing backyard parties now plays 300 shows a year, from community festivals to large venues like Legoland and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Hullabaloo has won 17 national awards from top parenting organizations, and has sold tens of thousands of albums.
“A particular highlight was performing at the Austin City Limits festival in Texas,” says Kremer. “I have a poster on my wall at work that lists us in the same lineup as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Young.”
Denyes majored in cultural anthropology at UC San Diego, a subject that allowed him to indulge his inclination toward music. “I spent a good deal of my time in the music department taking as many classes as I could from professor Marnie Dilling,” he says. “She was a delightful soul who encouraged me to blend my love of traditional folk music with the academic world.” After graduation, Denyes was a music teacher in public schools before the band was born. “Hullabaloo is now a full-time job for me,” he says, “I thank my lucky stars every day that I get to do this.”
On the flipside, Kremer balances the onstage silliness with his role as the chief administrative officer of operations at UC San Diego Health, a position that involves a lot of responsibilities in keeping the clinics running well and ensuring the highest quality of care. “I join Steve for a few shows each month,” says Kremer. “Performing music live is a great way to relax and de-stress. I am very blessed to have a wonderful career and still be able to play music.”
Not only do Hullabaloo songs have a catchy beat, they are full of life lessons like how to tap into your imagination, foster acceptance and embrace happiness—things that children may do naturally, but adults may need some help remembering.
“The truth about kids’ music is that whenever a child is listening, a grownup is almost always there listening with them,” says Kremer. “We want to make it fun, entertaining and educational for the whole family, so we write and perform music with that in mind.”