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Home on the (free) range: Local parents help kids explore risk through music

Nala Walla, Keeth Monta Apgar and their son Montana on their property near Port Townsend. For Apgar, front man for The Harmonica Pocket, free-range parenting pretty much starts at his back doorstep.

Photo: Joshua Huston


For Keeth Monta Apgar, front man for The Harmonica Pocket, free-range parenting pretty much starts at his back doorstep. 

“It’s very wild around here,” says Apgar, who lives outside of Port Townsend with his wife and bandmate Nala Walla and their 4½-year-old son Montana. “There’s a cougar that walks through our property, black bears and bobcats on our property. These are the hazards that are on my mind when I let my kid go out and play.”

Apgar embraces the wilds of the outdoors in his parenting and in his music. He has company among some fellow kindie rockers, including Andy Furgeson, a Portland-based kids’ musician who performs as Red Yarn. Furgeson’s latest album includes a song recounting an afternoon from childhood when he accidently clipped a bird with a BB gun. 

“I think there was just a different ethos around giving kids a little more space to explore, to take risks, to learn lessons the hard way sometimes, and not so much fear of the possible outcomes,” Furgeson says. “I think that’s a harder experience for a kid to come by these days, especially kids living a more urban life.” 

The Harmonica Pocket and Red Yarn share authentic, potentially risky experiences with children through song. They hope their lyrics help kids confront and deal with challenging issues including death and fear. And they’re likely to find a more receptive audience these days as free-range parenting gains support, with at least one website dedicated to more permissive parenting and moms and dads speaking out in favor of the practice.  

Critters are a particular inspiration for Furgeson. “Animal life and death is all over the old folk songs. There is a sense of danger, of mortality there. I think it’s important that we’re candid with our children about those topics,” he says. “It’s very easy for a kid to be completely removed from where there dinner comes from, or why their pet disappeared.” 

Photo courtesy of Red Yarn

Andy Furgeson connects kids to nature via song and puppetry.

On Apgar’s latest album is an ode to digging and worms and a kid getting dirt under their fingernails.

“This is a subtle piece of the message contained in the music — just getting outside and playing,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to give your kid the iPad and cook dinner, and that’s what we as a society are starting to do more and more.”

While free-range parenting has focused on risks like going to the store alone or playing in the forest, listening to music — especially music with adult subject matter — represents a different kind of peril. 

“There’s a lot of kids’ music in the universe, as long as we have a conversation with our children about the content,” Apgar says. “I really want my child to hear Paul McCartney’s melodies, John Lennon’s melodies, Bob Dylan’s lyrics and images.” 

Furgeson is a bit more reserved: “There are subjects that I think do qualify as too adult to discuss with a young child.” This is reflected in the organization of his new album, Deep Woods Revival, which is divided into two halves: “For everyone” and “For brave kids and grown-ups.”

Red Yarn is playing around the Puget Sound area in November. Find a show near you: redyarnproductions.com

Photos by Joshua Huston

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