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Originally published March 3, 2012 at 7:34 PM | Page modified March 3, 2012 at 11:05 PM

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Babypants rocks their preschool socks off at Northgate center

In addition to being the singer for The Presidents of the United States of America, Chris Ballew — aka Caspar Babypants — is the hottest music act in town — among the preschool set.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It was 11 a.m. at Northgate Community Center and the crowd was dressed to the nines, dolled up in tutus and sparkly sneakers; teddy bear caps and ladybug boots. One person carried a fairy wand; another wore a safari hat; a third brought a tiny tambourine. You could tell who was ready to go wild.

They were here to see Caspar Babypants, the hottest ticket in town among the preschool set. And Saturday morning's free concert proved to be quite the draw.

"This is going to be a little insane, I think," one mom muttered as she made her way into the building.

She was right. Hundreds streamed into a packed house. When the folding chairs filled up, people wedged themselves shoulder-to-shoulder along the walls, until organizers came up with the bright idea of opening a big garage door and letting the throngs spill outside.

Sometimes, Babypants said in an interview earlier in the week, the shows sell out in advance.

"I hate to see those little curly-headed, diaper-wearing kids turned away," he said. "It's terrible."

Before he turned into a "kindie superstar," Babypants was Chris Ballew, singer for The Presidents of the United States of America, a band that had hits in the 1990s with "Lump" and "Peaches." Back then, he played before throngs, too.

Once, he recalls, at a show at a racetrack in The Netherlands, "it seemed like the crowd went past the curve of the Earth," he said. "But honestly, I like playing for 10 kids at a birthday party better. I know their names. They like to talk to me in the middle of the show. There's a real honest randomness that kids have that's so entertaining for me — more entertaining than standing in front of a blurry field of humanity."

Ballew, 46, of Seattle, never set out to play kids' music. He simply was searching for "some form of music that wasn't the rock band ... this kind of innocent, simple, folky, bright, well-constructed little sound that I've stumbled onto."

He met his wife, Kate Endle, and her artwork looked exactly like the music he wanted to make — so he wrote songs to go with the art. Now, the two collaborate on children's books.

"The reason I make this music is to give a sonic oasis to a stressed-out family," he said.

In 2009, he made his first children's record. Last year, he played about 160 shows regionally, including gigs in libraries, yoga studios and kids' birthday parties. In April, his fifth CD will have its official release. He has his own website, babypantsmusic.com

The 60 advance copies he brought with him Saturday to Northgate sold out within 20 minutes after the show, at $10 a pop, autographs included.

"He's the Pied Piper," one mom said.

He still plays a handful of shows a year with The Presidents, but he's "wholeheartedly creatively invested in Caspar," he said.

"It's really who I am. The rock band is about 83 percent who I am. I'm really not that snotty and ironic in real life."

As Babypants, he sings original tunes and old nursery rhymes and sometimes hybrids of the two, mixing his own lyrics into a standard tune. The kids squeal and dance and follow every word.

He tells them about a spider, who can play "four guitars at the same time!"

A kid screams. "I know," he blurted from onstage. "It's insane!"

The tunes are catchy. Preschoolers go crazy pogo-ing to the rhythm. Moms and dads tap their toes. Babies even seem to like it.

"It doesn't make your brain bleed like a lot of kid music," said Jen Hargrove, who brought her 3-year-old daughter Callie to see Saturday's show.

"We are kind of ... what do you call those people? Groupies?" another mother, Marina Espinoza, said. Her son, 3-year-old Tomas Hamai, has seen four of Babypants' shows.

Four? Child's play.

"This is probably the 30th show she's been to," Brett Noggles says of his daughter, Emily, 4. She once gave up going to a birthday party to see Babypants.

Can Emily sing her favorite song? She shakes her head.

"I don't wanna."

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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