Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Splash’N Boots are on the road again.
The multi-award-winning musical duo are taking their blue-and-yellow experience across Canada to connect with their fans, big and small, on “The Big Love, Kisses and Hugs Tour”. Splash (Nick Adams) and Boots (Taes Leavitt) began Splash’N Boots as a Queen’s University class project. Their first performance was a rainy concert in a Kingston park in 2003, with an audience of 2. Likely, it was this occasion that inspired Taes’ now-iconic boots, as well as the title of their debut recording “Getting Our Feet Wet”.
Fifteen years on from that subdued beginning, they have released 11 albums and 3 dvds, and have a daily TV show Big Yellow Boot on Treehouse TV – plus a busy touring schedule that will bring their infectious music to fans nationwide this year. As Canadian children’s entertainers, Splash’N Boots find themselves in distinguished company. Australia might have given us The Wiggles (with whom they have co-performed many times), and Canada has given the world Raffi; Sharon, Lois and Bram; Jack Grunsky, and Fred Penner (with whom they have also co-performed). Splash’N Boots now count themselves among the ranks of these most treasured and beloved Canadian legends.
According to Nick, the source of their popularity is “connection”, which is an empathetic through-line for the Splash’N Boots story. “We listen and grow with our fans”: as evidence, he notes that the duo has performed over 2000 shows over the past 12 years. They realized early on that Splash’N Boots was only going to work if they forged a deep connection with their fans and earned their trust. Taes amplifies this sentiment, noting that what makes Splash’N Boots “different” is that each live concert experience is “really about the audience connecting to each other….to their parents, children, siblings, grandparents. It is all about connection. It’s all about love; and it’s all about everyone at the show being a part of a bigger family.” It may sound corny, but Splash’N Boots reflects the duo’s passion for what they do and for their fans. “We really want everyone to go and feel not only a part of the show, but like they can really let loose and have fun and laugh, and leave feeling like they have shared something unique with their kids.”
Cultivating this relationship is both their pleasure and priority. Nick and Taes interact over Facebook every Monday at 5 PM, and they also remain in constant touch through other social media. (Contact them through one of their various channels. They will respond!) They take pains to ensure that every Splash’N Boots concert is a fun, immersive experience which “starts the second you get the tickets”. Leading up to the concerts, they encourage families to get in a yellow-and-blue frame of mind: “do lots of pre-show dance parties, learn the words to the songs, get creative with your full-family yellow-and-blue outfits, get crafty with making signs and bringing socks for Charlie. (We will go out in the crowd to collect them.)” And afterwards, everyone can – and should – post pictures of their outfits and videos of their dance parties through the group’s social media.
Of course, their popularity stems from more than their “yellow-and-blue” recognizability and accessibility. There’s also the music: original songs that combine thoughtful lyrics with catchy melodies. “As far as songwriting goes, musically and lyrically, we have gone much deeper from the heart,” Nick reflects. Though they still sing songs about the “odd banana once in a while”, over the years, they have gained a greater sense of how music can bring people together. “One thing that hasn’t changed is writing a song that just makes you want to dance,” Nick smiles. Their musical influences include the “sounds of the east coast/celtic vibe, as well as singer-songwriters like Sarah Harmer and David Francey.” And, epitomizing the spirit of “if you can dream it, you can do it,” they have just announced a collaboration with Alan Doyle, lead singer of the award-winning Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, who will produce their next record and also co-write some tracks. A recent Facebook post presents a photo of their Splash’N Boots vision board from ten years ago. A note in blue marker on the bottom right corner reads “Great Big Sea on Album”. Their thrill is palpable in their description: “this is actually happening… We are so excited.” It ends “Dream Big!”
They have dreamed big, sure. They have also given big. Over the years, they have become known as much for their tireless efforts to promote compassion as their music. Through a partnership with Plus1, they will donate $1 from every ticket sold for this tour to music education for young children. Through their grassroots organization, Splash’N Boots 4 Kids, the duo supports sustainable, long-term musical programming for Canadian children. In April 2017, Splash’N Boots began working on outreach programs for at-risk children in over 12 Northern Canadian communities. Their inaugural initiative brought them to the remote town of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut to film a video for the song “Thank You”, which debuted recently on Treehouse. Their philanthropy also extends to organizations such as The Hospital for Sick Children, Camp Ooch, Kids Up Front, the Starlight Foundation, and Lucas’ Letters, a pen-pal program that connects children with Autism.
“The Big Love, Kisses and Hugs Tour” correlates with their recent Juno-Award-nominated album Love, Kisses and Hugs. It features songs of love for families, like “Blink of An Eye, “Promise You”, and “Worth Waiting For”. The tour was inspired by Nicholas, a little boy who was bullied at school. (Meet Nicholas here.) The duo met him and gave him a yellow and blue heart-shaped pillow to hug in times of stress, and as a tangible reminder of his secure place within the “Yellow and Blue family”. When his birthday came, Nicholas asked for money instead of gifts in order to buy hug pillows for other children, ultimately raising $200 for his cause.
That pillow has now spurred a movement. On this tour, one child in every community where the tour stops will receive The Big Heart Award from Taes and Nick. They will look for a child who is active in connecting people in their community, and could also benefit from love and support themselves. Taes explains that this whole idea [of the Big Heart Award] started from Nicholas, but also because she and Nick meet kids at every show who are doing “amazing things” for people in their communities. The award also represents the duo’s own heart-filled response to the “tons of emails” they receive from parents whose children are having a hard time, whether from being bullied or lacking a sense of belonging. “We often make personal videos for these kids, or do pre-show meet-and-greets.”
The Big Heart Award is the “next level”, giving Taes and Nick opportunities to showcase these remarkable young people, and show them “how incredibly important they are, while also inspiring other kids and families to be kind, and be open and non-judgemental.” In her view, anyone can act on their desire to help. Wanting to help or give to others can start with “really listening and getting into someone’s world, making them feel heard and loved for being exactly as they are. I think more and more in this world we are all longing for connection. Our goal is to make everyone who comes to our show feel connected, to make all kids feel loved and feel safe to be themselves.”
So yes, Splash’N Boots are on the road again, bringing the power of their music and message to connect Canadians across six provinces. This includes a GTA Toronto stop on – appropriately – Thanksgiving Saturday. The duo has travelled a long way from that rainy Kingston park, and their enthusiasm for the journey to come is infectious: “We love our Yellow-and-Blue crew so much, and can’t wait to travel across this country meeting you as we go!” The return to school each fall can increase social pressures and anxiety among children. Big Love, Kisses and Hugs – and the welcome of a large, friendly yellow-and-blue community – may prove a welcome respite.
New You Can Use
What: Splash’N Boots’ “The Big Love, Kisses and Hugs Tour”, featuring Splash (Nick Adams) and Boots (Taes Leavitt)
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: Thursday, September 20 – Sunday October 28, 2018
Where: Concerts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia
Info and Tickets: splashnboots.com
Connect with Splash’N Boots: @splashnboots and Facebook.com
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya