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On a spectacularly clear fall day with panoramic views of the Flatirons, parents spread picnic blankets on the ground to stake out territory in front of the Thorne Nature Experience in east Boulder. Little ones wearing rainbow knee socks dance and play as they wait for the musicians to take the stage.
Duo act Jeff and Paige—Jeff Kagan, 36, and Paige Doughty, 35—are about to perform the interactive, kid-friendly nature songs that have made them a beloved part of the Boulder community and its many young families for years. The pair’s topical, educational music is neither lofty nor preachy, and (attention, Frozen’d-out parents!) it’s listenable for you, too.
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A few days after that October performance, we sit on the floor at the couple’s Boulder home, while their 11-month-old son, Wolf, paws at a puzzle. There are family photos, a Van Halen poster, a rainbow no-sew fleece blanket, a piano, and a Beatles songbook. Kagan’s black backpack sits under a side table, a rainbow necktie peeking out. Doughty is sporting the high pigtails she wears at most Jeff and Paige shows. Kagan, in a lumberjack flannel, pulls Wolf in for a snuggle after a puzzle-piece mishap.
In a stream of witty back-and-forths, the couple details their journey from meeting as grad school classmates in 2005 to becoming a powerhouse educational performance duo. Since joining forces to become “Jeff and Paige” in 2008, they have attracted 900-strong crowds to Meadow Music, their popular weekly summer concerts in Chautauqua Park. Though the bulk of their income is CD sales and performances, they’ve also done consulting work and written jingles for companies like Horizon Organics. They’ve even witnessed an influx of “Jeff and Paige” Halloween costumes. And on November 1, they’ll celebrate the release of their fifth album, Mighty Wolf, with a concert at University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom.
Kagan discovered his love of the outdoors and music through a series of odd jobs including a summer counselor at a children’s environmental camp and a youth hostel desk worker. Deciding to further pursue the former, Kagan enrolled in graduate school at Marlboro College’s Audubon Expedition Institute (now the Expedition Education Institute), where he became fast friends with classmate Doughty as they both studied environmental education.
Kagan moved to Boulder in 2007 and worked for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks, where he asked to lead a weekly Chautauqua Park family hike. Armed with a handful of environmentally themed songs (one about photosynthesis; another on what to do if you see a bear), Kagan’s audience grew from two or three families to more than 10. Shortly thereafter, he landed a couple of local gigs performing his songs about nature and ecology, and incorporated bright, colorful costumes to complement his performances.
In 2008, Doughty also happened to relocate to Boulder to work at New Vista High School, and the two reconnected. She remembers attending one of Kagan’s performances at the now-defunct Playgrounds Café, sitting on a colorful carpet among 20 or 30 enraptured kids.
“Jeff was singing ‘The Bobcat Walk,’ and I started doing some hand movements,” Doughty recalls. “All of a sudden, the kids were looking at me, and I felt really self-conscious. After the show, Jeff asked me if I wanted to be [chuckles] ‘part of the band.’”
“With a large starting salary,” Kagan adds with a smile.
Doughty, who had been a French and English teacher in Australia prior to graduate school, enjoyed bringing a theatrical bent to her students’ learning—and Kagan says his early “guy with a guitar” shtick needed exactly this kind of facelift. After Kagan composes a tune, Doughty will choreograph the mid-song skits and brainstorm ways to encourage audience interaction. Bolstered by Doughty’s talents, the pair’s following ballooned.
Kagan describes integrating skits, costumes, and dance with their songs as “lesson planning,” saying there is a ton of Internet research and book reading that goes into learning how to introduce certain subjects, like decomposition (“New Tree Grows”), climate change (“Green World”), or saving water (“Please Turn Off the Tap”). Doughty says Mighty Wolf —their first album since becoming parents—is the most diverse to date, with musical styles from blues to bluegrass and folk to choral. (Kagan and Doughty have also hired a public relations firm in hopes it will gain traction nationally.) The album pushes lyrical boundaries, tackling subjects like Keystone species, and the benefits (and, oh yeah, drawbacks) of black widows.
The pair’s numerous costumes—which include a beaver, a bumblebee, and poison ivy—are stored in a spacious and well-organized shed behind their house, and are made by a local mom/fan who never accepts payment. And then there are the socks.
Kagan darts out quickly and returns with a small cooler, onto which a singular ratty, multicolored, striped sock is tied…or, more accurately, hanging on for dear life. “This is the original rainbow sock,” Kagan says. It was once a pair, he adds, but neither knows what happened to the other. Now the couple, who married in 2013, performs more than 100 shows a year and always wears “The Socks,” as do many of their fans.
Kagan’s mom, Bev, encouraged her son’s creativity by adding to his quirky show wardrobe. “She went online and bought socks,” Kagan says. “And she did not stop. All the rainbow socks we have are from my mom. I don’t even know where she gets them.”
If You Go: Jeff and Paige are hosting an album-release concert to celebrate their latest record, Mighty Wolf, on Sunday, November 1, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., at Glenn Miller Ballroom at the University of Colorado, 1669 Euclid Ave., Boulder. Enjoy free activities hosted by CU Science Discovery from 2:30 to 4 p.m.; concert begins at 4 p.m. Appropriate for kids 3 to 9 years old, as well as adults; tickets are $15 (crawlers free) and can be purchased at jeffandpaige.org