It seemed a typical day at Al's Bar. From outside the door, you could hear a drum pounding out the thundering end of a set. But the sign on the door let you know this is not as usual: "Romp at Your Own Risk."
Inside, hipster 20- and 30-somethings, an equal mix of khaki-attired soccer moms and those adorned with colorful tattoos and piercings did the head-bopping rock thing, adult beverages in hand.
And on the dance floor? Joliegh Buckingham, 21/2, indulged in the innately intense joy of twirling while Charlie Quinn, 4, took theatrical licks on what was literally an air guitar: an inflatable instrument from a dollar store.
It was the May installment of Rock 'n' Romp, a quasi-monthly moms-dads-and-rugrats music event created by parent groups across the country who don't want to give up on good, loud, local music just because they have kids.
Never miss a local story.
"I went through live-music withdrawal," said Melissa Wallace, one of the Lexington organizers. "It's a great chance to let kids be exposed to live rock and roll.
"There were some people that were a little bit shocked that there was a kids concert in a bar," she said. But, really, when you think about it, it's not much more decadent than a neighborhood barbecue.
As the bands performed, dad Derek Wingfield complained that he'd drawn the short straw for the day. He had to leave the concert to take son Duncan, 6, to a party at Chuck E. Cheese. His wife got to stay at Rock 'n' Romp.
No bad words
This isn't just another concert. There are some ground rules. Adults must come with a child. If necessary, lyrics are scrubbed to be suitable for the teeny demographic.
There have been three concerts, said Amberly Warnke, a Lexington DJ with a rock radio show aimed at kids that airs on WRFL-88.1 FM.
There have been some obstacles.
Safety concerns have to be considered. For example, Dorothy Shaw, 2, sat securely on her dad's lap, shaking a matching maraca with large, blue headphones buffering the sound level of the live band. And for those who didn't think ahead, there are foam earplugs available at the door.
It's easy enough to change a pool table into a craft area by covering it with a green tablecloth. But more kid- proofing of a bar is required. That explains the extra padding on sharp corners of a pillar in the middle of the room.
It helps, Warnke said, that all the electrical outlets at Al's Bar are high off the floor — far above little hands — so there's no need for those plastic plugs.
The music is pure rock performed by local bands, almost all of which normally play for adults. During breaks, though, there is bubble-blowing in the parking lot, and there's a buffet for old and young alike. (Al's Bar switched to a buffet for the event, Warnke said, after the kitchen ran out of tater tots at the first Rock 'n' Romp.)
Idea struck a chord
The Lexington rompers are part of a growing movement across the country that began in 2002 with a mom in Washington, D.C., who was desperate for some adult company.
Debbie Lee had enjoyed indie music with her husband, but after having her first child, she drifted away from the club scene and the friends she hung out with there.
"You start to feel so removed from your old life. You are looking for a new network who have kids and still have the same interests," she said. "When I started, there wasn't anything out there that was totally kid-friendly."
For the first concert in Washington, "there were 10 people in my back yard, and that included the bands."
The Washington concerts eventually outgrew her yard, drawing hundreds of people at their peak. Now she knows of groups holding regular Rock 'n' Romp concerts in Memphis; Boston; Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Philadelphia; and, of course, Lexington.
Lee is not as involved in the event as she once was. Her kids have gotten older. The appeal of romping sort of fades when kids hit about 5, she said. Still, she plans a couple of concerts a year.
"You can have a beer with a another mom and you can talk and you can have your kids running around feeling safe," she said. "For me, I don't know why, it always involves having a beer."
A rock block party
The Al's Bar concert was a true family affair for the Jeters. Dad Christian Jeter said he and his family live in the neighborhood, so it is kind of like an extended block party.
Plus, he joked, "you always want to expose your kids to going to the bar as young as possible." His wife, Candace, quickly told him to shush.
She said Rock 'n' Romp really is just a great way to hang out with friends and their families. She, her husband and their kids can walk over as a family, she said. Plus, Christian Jeter responded with a smile: "There are also a lot of hot moms."
If things go as planned, the Jeter family will be a bigger part of the next concert, on Saturday.
The recently established family band, Mr. Moose and the Stache, will be a featured act. Daughter Sophie, 6, who wore a black T-shirt with the sparkly words "Girls Rock," will be the lead singer.