Dance party duo: Koo Koo Kanga Roo not the usual kids stuff

A show that takes kids' entertainment to a new level--and one that adults will enjoy, too--is coming next week to Grand Forks. Koo Koo Kanga Roo, a dance-along comedy show from Minneapolis, begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Empire Arts Center....

A show that takes kids' entertainment to a new level-and one that adults will enjoy, too-is coming next week to Grand Forks.

Koo Koo Kanga Roo, a dance-along comedy show from Minneapolis, begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Empire Arts Center.

Tickets are $15 each. A VIP ticket, for $40, includes a meet-and-greet, merchandise and early entry to the show.

Described as an "interactive dance party duo," Koo Koo Kanga Roo's vocalists Bryan Atchison and Neil Olstad present a high-energy, colorful show that relies heavily on audience participation.

The pair is equipped with a laptop computer for music, two microphones and some gold sneakers, Olstad said. "That's pretty much it."


Getting everyone involved and having fun is the premise behind Koo Koo Kanga Roo, he said.

Since 2008, he and Atchison have been touring and performing in clubs, theaters, schools, bars, colleges, church basements and even nursing homes.

They have staged performances at events for children as well as mainstream music clubs with rock and punk bands.

They've built a following by releasing numerous comedy sketches and music videos on YouTube, as well as touring extensively.

In 2013, the group independently published a children's book, "Unicorns R Real," followed by their DVD release of "House Party with Koo Koo Kanga Roo," a tongue-in-cheek "dance-a-long" workout video featuring 17 of their songs.

Next week's performance at the Empire is the duo's first appearance in Grand Forks, although they have performed in the area, including "a bunch of times" in Fargo, Olstad said.

They've toured throughout Minnesota, nationwide and internationally, appearing with the likes of Frank Turner, The Aquabats, Reel Big Fish, MC Lars, and Yo Gabba Gabba Live, and have been featured on the Warped Tour.

Their songs, written specifically to elicit audience interaction, feature silly sing-along lyrics typically teamed with a call-and-response technique and dance moves unique to each song.


Their juvenile, goofball approach touches on topics such as dinosaurs, letters of the alphabet, ninjas, food fights, fanny packs, hopscotch, slumber parties and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Fun for all ages

Even so, the pair characterize themselves as "a kids band for adults," to signal their connection with fans of all ages.
"We shoot for goofy, more than kids' music specifically," Olstad said. "It's not about being a kids' thing. It's about being a fun thing."

Many who come to their shows are familiar with Koo Koo Kanga Roo through "brain break" videos that elementary school teachers-especially those in kindergarten through third grades-show on YouTube in classrooms "all over the country and the world," Olstad said. "Kids get up and dance along to them. They know the words."

"We've made those videos for as long as we've been a band-probably about 50 or 60-along with other videos that have a more traditional theme and are more varied," Olstad said.

The videos feature songs written by Atchison and Olstad, who describe their musical style as "hip-hop and dance."

At their shows, to ensure that adults are entertained too, the duo sometimes tap into nostalgia, combing their memories for bits that older audience members will appreciate.

"It's more fun for us to connect to adults as well as kids," Olstad said. "It's not easier that way; it's more difficult, and kind of frustrating at times. But, from a business standpoint, it makes more sense to try to fill a gap in the industry."


In one sense, they're plowing new ground in this emerging category of kids entertainment, which is more of a regional rather than national phenomenon, he said.

"There's nothing out there that's like what we do," he said, noting that he and Atchison bring "a different sort of attitude a different mindset" to this entertainment niche.

With such a strategy, "we can really stand out a lot more," he said.

'Happy accident'

Atchison and Olstad met as college students in 2004 and bonded over shared musical tastes.

They eventually started a band-a "folky pop" ensemble that they grew bored with-and later launched a radically different musical project, emphasizing dance-based theatricality, audience interaction, and a goofy sense of humor.

The band they've created has evolved "not by design, but kind of as a happy accident," Olstad said.

"When we started, we didn't have ideas of exactly what we wanted to be; it was free-flowing," he said. "There were no big, hard and fast rules; we just rode it wherever it would go. It slowly became a kids band in that way."


In the past, shows for children "were more in the singer-songwriter style-one person with an acoustic guitar-kind of quiet," he said. "That doesn't mesh with us."

"A lot of kids shows are boring, and are solely for kids," he said. "It's been fun to try and reimagine that, and what a kids band could be."

If you go:

What: 'Koo Koo Kanga Roo' comedic dance-pop duo

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (doors open at 6 p.m.)

Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 Empire Arts Center

Tickets: $15 per person; $40 per person for a VIP package; buy tickets online at or at the door

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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