Sippy Cups make psychedelic rock for kids and their parents

The Sippy Cups have been dubbed “the Sgt. Pepper’s of kid music” and have performed at prestigious events such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Lollapalooza.

They helped launch the “House of Kids” series by playing at House of Blues clubs around the nation in 2007, and this summer already have had gigs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago.

They even appeared in a feature this year about hipster parents on ABC’s “Nightline.”

Featuring three Jewish members, the four-year-old Bay Area band is fast winning a national following by combining ’60s-style psychedelic rock with whimsical lyrics and a colorful theatrical show geared toward kids.

The end result: Kids (and adults) spend the whole show up and dancing.

Even though their renown is growing, the Sippy Cups aren’t at the selling-out-arenas level of the Wiggles, so they still play a lot of shows in the Bay Area, including a July 27 outdoor gig at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Foster City.

They also play Sunday, July 20, in Emeryville and July 26 in Walnut Creek, but it is the JCC show that will have special meaning for one of the band’s members, keyboardist-vocalist Alison Faith Levy.

Levy, 42, attended the Peninsula JCC day camp as a youth, when it was located in Belmont.

“We lived right up the hill and I went there every summer, so it’s a very special place to me,” says Levy, an accomplished vocalist from the 1990s indie band the Loud Family and currently part of McCabe & Mrs. Miller (along with Camper van Beethoven alumni Victor Krummenacher and Jonathan Segel).

As if her music doesn’t keep her busy enough, Levy and her husband, underground filmmaker Danny Plotnick, have a 7-year-old son, Henry. “I definitely have a newfound respect for touring musicians,” she says.

The Sippy Cups were born in 2004 when guitarist Paul Godwin played a playground fundraiser, along with another guitarist and a juggler. After the final song, Godwin blurted out, “Thanks a lot — we’re the Sippy Cups.” The band started out playing covers from groups such as the Beatles and the Velvet Underground, as well as reworking tunes such as the Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated” into “I Wanna be Elated.”

Shortly thereafter, they were writing original songs and adding members — such as Levy — to form the current six-person lineup.

“We’ve got juggling, unicycles, giant balloons, confetti cannons, streamer cannons — with everything happening related to the songs,” Levy says. “Our goal is to create something the parents and kids can enjoy equally together … [Parents] want to take their kids to something they think is cool.”

While the band’s music and shows don’t have any Jewish content, Godwin says Jewish music played an influential role in his development as an artist. He grew up with a stepfather who was a Jewish scholar and a music and dance critic who had a large and varied library of Jewish music.

“I think we do have a following with Jews,” Godwin says. “What could be more fun than rock ‘n’ roll with little kids? And I think Jews have an inherent love of seeing their families dancing around together.”

Godwin nurtured his love of Jewish music when he became involved with Chochmat HaLev in Berkeley and the Coastside Jewish Community, a synagogue near Half Moon Bay. Both of those places utilize music more than standard congregations, Godwin said.

Godwin also wrote the score for “The Tribe,” a short film by Tiffany Shlain that is self-billed as “an unorthodox, unauthorized film about the Jewish people and the Barbie doll … in about 15 minutes.”

At the time he formed the concept for the band, Godwin was director of Music Together of San Francisco, “a mommy-baby music class.” Godwin began to feel that standard kid-music repertoire (one-person guitar folk) was growing a bit stale.

“It was my peculiar light bulb that went off,” he says. “In the midst of all that, I sat down at the piano one day while my toddler was riding a tricycle and started playing [Pink Floyd psychedelic classic] ‘Bike’ … and I could see this fit of early psychedelic and kids on tricycles.”

That’s how the idea came to him, he says. “I thought of the Flaming Lips and Polyphonic Spree, a concert environment with an ecstatic vibe, but safe for kids.”

Over the past few years the band has recorded a debut album, “Electric Storyland,” and played in many U.S. cities. The San Francisco Chronicle once called the band “the illegitimate offspring of the Cat in the Hat and Joey Ramone.”

In addition to Godwin and Levy, the band also features Jewish bass guitarist Rudy Trubitt, a noted sound designer and founding member of the Squids. All of the band members have kids, ranging in age from 4 to 13.

Godwin believes the band is offering a vital service to today’s parents who have little affection for the songs of characters such as Barney the Dinosaur.

“It had to happen,” he says of the band’s emergence, “or people would have gone insane.”

The Sippy Cups’ upcoming shows: 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at the opening of Blue Sky Family Club, Emery Bay Public Market, 6005 Shellmound St., Emeryville; 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. July 26 at the Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, free; 4 p.m. July 27 at the Peninsula JCC, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City, $15 in advance, $17 at the door, $12 members. Information: