Max Tell, MC of this weekend’s Spirt of the Sea Festival family line-up at the Spirit Stage in Semiahmoo Park (until 4 p.m. Aug. 3 and 4) is a bona fide White Rock and Peninsula treasure.
Starting in 1986, the seasoned entertainer’s songs and stories for children have spread his fame much farther than the shores of Semiahmoo Bay.
He’s performed across Canada, in Brazil, Colombia, Singapore, Beijing, Macao, Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines.
He’s been a finalist in many writing competitions, and his latest accolades include two for his most recent song, Cat In My Hoody – it was an award winner in the children’s lyric division of the 2012 Great American Songwriting Contest, and is currently in the running as a semifinalist in the 2013 Dallas Songwriting Song Contest.
Closer to home, he can often be found busking on Sundays at White Rock Farmers Market or on the promenade beside White Rock Museum and Archives.
The secret of the genuinely friendly, gentle performer’s success seems to be that he’s never entirely grown up himself – listening to him croon the melody of the jazzy, swingy Cat In My Hoody, it’s evident he has just as much fun with it as children do.
He knows much better than to talk down to children, or talk up to adults. And he’s never happier than when parents stick around to listen to his songs, or watch him share his very shy puppet friend, Bagel The Beagle, with their children.
“When parents are involved as well as their kids, something absolutely beautiful happens,” he said.
A popular story writer for children – although he doesn’t include stories in his festival performances – Tell has recently been branching out into YouTube videos, including a modest first stab at animation for his story-poem The Knight, The Dragon and The Librarian.
But it’s fair to say he loves interacting with children best of all, particularly at events such as the annual Spirit of the Sea Festival.
His sets will open the stage performances each day, but he wants to make sure that no little buccaneers miss the fun of dressing up and joining in the annual Children’s Pirate Parade, which starts the event at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, following opening ceremonies with White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and the Semiahmoo First Nation blessing by Joanne Charles.
Led by ‘Fanny’s Pirate Band,’ the parade will enter the park around 11 a.m., leading into Tell’s first set.
Also featured in the family line-up will be the popular Ariel the Mermaid (Saturday only, 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.), the B.C. Hydro Outreach Power Smart Game Show (both days at noon) and demonstrations by Seung- Ri Black Belt Academy (both days at 12:15 p.m.).
Tell will be back on Sunday at 11 a.m., and another highlight sure to appeal to children will be Cupcake’s Teddy Bear March, 3 p.m. Sunday. Ron Fairbairn will play easy-listening music each day from 3:30-4 p.m.
Tell said he never preaches in his songs and stories, but he likes to approach the material from many angles.
“A lot are silly, but some are a bit thoughtful as well,” he says.
“Like the Cat In The Hoody – that cat has issues. He’ll only sleep in my hoody and nowhere else. Kids have their issues, too.
“And then there’s Weird The Beard – whose beard only has a couple of hairs, and there are only a couple on his head, too. There are unusual people, and sometimes we get afraid of them.”
Tell said he also likes to foster audience participation as part of his sets.
“I like to break up performances with little moments with kids that encourage them to be on stage with me, ask them questions. I have many musical percussion instruments, so I’ll take a moment to create a little band and encourage them to play along.”
The most powerful element – whether singing, or storytelling or simply blowing bubbles – he added, is allowing children space and permission to use their own imaginations.
“The look in kids’ eyes when I really make contact – it’s so unusual,” he said. “They just sparkle.”