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MUSIC / THE PARACHUTE EXPRESS : An Exuberant Landing : The popular, high-energy performers will give two shows for kids Saturday at Ventura College.


They're back. The Parachute Express, that high-energy musical group that pops up on the Disney Channel a lot, is back in town for another clap-your-hands, get-up-and-dance performance.

The three-member group drew a big crowd at last year's show, so this year they'll be doing two performances at Ventura College on Saturday. Show times are 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.

This Los Angeles-based group has been around 10 years, but in the last two they've hit the big time. First, they signed with Walt Disney Records, which frequently airs two of their songs: "Polka Dots, Checks and Stripes" and "Walkin' in My Neighborhood."

Then, they hit a broader audience when the television show "thirtysomething" used another of their songs, "When I Build My House," during an episode.

But they made an even bigger splash in January when they joined top kid entertainers like Raffi and Mr. Rogers for a special televised performance at the Kennedy Center celebrating President Clinton's inauguration.

"Sixty million people saw it," said Stephen Michael Schwartz, a member of the group. "What it did for Parachute Express was put us in a whole different level (of children's entertainment). Our bookings have gone up dramatically."

For the Kennedy Center show, the group performed "Happy to Be Here," which is their signature song and one they'll do in Ventura, Schwartz said. Other favorites they plan to do include "When I Build My House," "Polka Dots, Checks and Stripes" and "High-5-ious," a silly tune where they run through the audience slapping high-fives with the kids.

They'll also be doing some songs from their new album, "Happy to Be Here," and some cuts from a video to be released this summer. One is called "Dr. Looney," about a wacky doctor who has strange remedies for all your troubles.

They sing to a track, but they also accompany themselves with guitar, flute and banjo. They go from the gentle song "Grandpa Joe" about the ideal grandfather to the rhythm and blues style of the '60s in "Smooth Movin' Boogie Express."

Calling them singers doesn't tell the whole story. They move constantly, choreographing their own footwork, and they're exuberant. They don't use props on stage, opting for pantomime instead. They involve the audience in songs and when it's all over, they stick around, schmoozing with the kids and signing autographs.

Because their show is so lively, it holds the attention of kids as young as 2 or 3. The performance, the last of the season for the Ventura Children's Festival, runs about one hour.


Is your kid a cartoon addict? Here's a chance to rub shoulders with animators from Disney and Nickelodeon, creators of "The Simpsons," and even Mad magazine's Sergio Aragones.

The Ojai Film Society is putting on its fourth "Animation Festival" June 12 and 13 at Matilija Junior High School in Ojai. The society brings in animators from major studios, and it's a chance to see cutting-edge technology and get a peek at animated films not yet out. Computer animation houses and schools show top commercials and films, and the latest animation software gizmos are on display.

For kids, the best parts are hands-on workshops where animators show them how to make cartoons. The workshops are from 9 to 10:30 a.m., and from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each workshop is $10 per person, as are most other scheduled events during the festival. (The trade fair portion from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is free.) For reservations and information, call 646-8946.


Children can dabble in the culture of other countries this summer during a popular morning program offered in Thousand Oaks.

During the Youth Cultural Program, kids spend a week learning about the food, games, music, dance, arts, crafts and folklore of a different country. This year, they'll do Israel the week of July 5, England the week of July 12, Armenia the week of July 19 and New Zealand the week of July 26.

The classes run from 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and on Friday the kids present a program for their parents about what they've learned.

Since 1976, the Thousand Oaks branch of the American Assn. of University Women has sponsored this program for children entering grades 1-6. The cost is $45 per week, with each child signing up for no more than two sessions.

The classes are held at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave. For information, call 492-4401.


The Parachute Express performs two concerts, Saturday, 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., at Ventura College. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at Adventures for Kids in Ventura and Ventura College Community Services. To charge tickets by phone, call 654-6459. For information, call 646-6997.

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