Flair Family – Richmond-Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA
Tuesday, August 22, 2000
‘WE GET TO BE A GOOF EVERYDAY’
By Janet Caggiano
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
Even as children, Cindy Kays and Shelly Craig knew they stood out in a crowd.
“Most girls our age wanted to paint their fingernails,” Craig said. “We just wanted to play music.”
They still stay clear of the polish. Guitar playing and long fingernails just don’t mix.
A small price to pay for their dream.
“I’m having so much fun,” Kays said. “I certainly don’t feel my age.”
With good reason. She’s around toddlers and elementary school children most of the day, every day. And Craig is right by her side. The two formed the musical group C. Shells in 1993 and have been performing in hundreds of programs a year since.
“It’s a great job,” said Kays, 44. “What other place can you perform where the audience comes up and hugs you around the knees when you are done?”
Shortly after forming C. Shells (“C” for Cindy; “Shells” for Shelly), Kays and Craig joined Young Audiences of Virginia, a national organization devoted to arts in education. They perform many programs through this group, singing their original songs that teach youngsters about science, character development, self-esteem, cooperation and honesty.
In one of their more popular programs, “The Finest Fanciest Science Fair,” the two wear lab coats and sing songs about volcanoes and other science-related topics.
They perform interactive songs that help children count and remember the alphabet. And they tell children’s jokes that hammer home facts about animals and conservation.
“This is not necessarily children’s music – it’s family music,” Craig said. “It’s up-tempo. It’s enjoyable stuff for everyone.”
Craig and Kays, who live in the Virginia Beach area, come to Richmond often. Last week, they performed at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, where the members of the audience danced, clapped and sang with the performers. They even played instruments.
“I love seeing the response in the kids,” Craig said. “And I love seeing the parents enjoying something with their children.”
The partners write about half the songs they perform. The rest are children’s favorites, or variations. “The Ants Go Marching One by One” might become “The Elves Go Marching” during the Christmas season. And “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” can easily change to “Old MacDonald Had a Haunted House” at Halloween.
Their songs can be found on two CD’s, released on the Southern Branch Music label in 1995 and 1998. They both won Parents’ Choice awards.
“We have wonderful jobs,” Kays said. “We get to laugh and sing. We get to be a goof everyday.”
They travel for weeks at a time, performing at schools, bookstores, libraries, museums, arts festivals and private parties. As they play, they talk to the children about their instruments – guitars, banjo, mandolin, Dobro (steel guitar), siren whistles and slide whistles.
They use puppets, hats and glasses to perform skits. At the Children’s Museum, Craig used a crab hand puppet to talk to children about pollution. The reason he had the blues was because people pollute. The duo then broke into a blues song about the “blue crab blues.” Kays and Craig also perform rock ‘n’ roll, fold and country. Anything to keep young minds entertained.
“It’s wonderful walking through the mall or grocery store and little kids come and say, ‘Look Mommy, she was at our school yesterday.’” Craig said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Raised in Portsmouth, Craig has been performing in local clubs with bluegrass bands since she was 21. She studied horticulture in college, figuring a day job was more conducive to raising children.
“When my children were little, I didn’t think it was a good idea to be working nights,” said Craig, a divorced mother of two girls. “But I missed the music too much.”
Kays, who grew up in Lancaster, Pa., played Celtic music when she was younger and managed local record stores. She moved to Newport News in 1980. Both started playing children’s music years later – Kays for Bible school and Craig at preschools.
The two met in 1993 while working at a Tidewater guitar shop. Kays was a clerk there and Craig was teaching guitar. They began talking and realized both were performing children’s songs.
“We decided to join forces,” Craig said.
They started out in preschools and gradually expanded to festivals and museums. The two also are members of a four-piece group, Music of the People, which performs in schools. And Craig continues to teach guitar while Kays sings with the Doorway Singers, a Virginia Beach harmony group.
“They say it’s hard to make a living in music,” Craig said. “But you can if you join a lot of groups.”
Neither has any intentions of becoming rich and famous.“Sure, we’d love to become rich, but that’s just not going to happen,” Craig said. “But we are doing good things with kids. That’s the satisfaction. That’s the huge paycheck.”
This Weekend – Lancaster New Era, Lancaster, PA
Thursday, April 17, 1997
McCASKEY GRAD PART OF CHILDREN’S DUO PERFORMING CONCERT AT BORDERS
New Era Staff
last time Cindy Ressler Kays was in the Lancaster spotlight was during the
Actors Company production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Fulton.
those of you who don’t remember, that was way back in 1980.
weekend the 1973 McCaskey High School graduate is coming home again-this
time as half of the children’s duo C. Shells-who’ll be performing a
rabble-rousing, goodtime family concert at Borders Books.
a resident of Norfolk, VA, Kays has spent the last five years or so
concentrating on performing for kids with her partner Shelly Craig.
“on the road” to promote their self-titled debut on Southern Branch
a delightful blend of humor (“Betcha Can’t Guess What the Puppy
Did!”), inspiration (“Roll, Rocky Roll”), and just plain,
of the songs are written by Craig, who as a mother of two has plenty of
motivation behind her songs. One – “Halloween Ghosts” – in which
the mischievous spirits end up being frightened by the fearless kids, was
penned by Kays. Two are cover songs.
musical flavor changes from country in “The Cowboy Song” to Cajun in
“Bayou Boogaloo” to soulful blues in “Play Doh Blues.”
each, the duo combines a skillful use of their menagerie of stringed
instruments with crystalline voices. But most importantly, they stir in a
healthy repertoire of goofy wallops, yips, growls and shrieks.
upon their combined 35 years of musical experience has no doubt added a
professional dimension to their performances – but what sets them apart
is their ability to pull out the kid inside, and invite her to play.
live shows incorporate lots of audience participation, so if you go, get
ready to clap and sing along. And be prepared. You may be asked to bark,
meow, or “yee hah” on cue.
Friday, July 21, 1995
CHILDREN’S SINGING DUO KNOWS WHAT MAKES KIDS TICK
By Victoria Hecht
C. Shells’ audience really gets into music; performers make shows fun and educational
Most people would agree that watching adults roll all over the ground with their kids is definitely a sight to behold – and a rarity at that!
But Cindy Ressler and Shelly Craig, collectively the singing duo “C. Shells,” are used to seeing the young and the young-at-heart get down in the dirt, not mention rolling around as if they were dogs frantically trying to scratch and itch.
Why? Because Ressler and Craig probably inspired such actions with their song “Roll, Rocky Roll.”
“We literally have them tolling in the aisles,” smiled Portsmouth resident Craig, who penned the song for C. Shells’ ever-growing repertoire.
While they are still members of the Young Audiences of Virginia’s “Music of the People” folk group based in Virginia Beach, Ressler and Craig joined forces two years ago to form the down-home C. Shells. Their audience is primarily the “younger set,” as in children, but parents are encouraged to join in the fun, too.
When they met through Ramblin’ Conrads, a now-defunct guitar shop where Ressler used to work, something “clicked.” Eventually the two were put together through Young Audiences of Virginia and found that their individual skills complemented each other.
“Basically, I had been working with older kids, and Shelly had been working in pre-schools with the younger kids. It worked out really well,” Ressler explained.
“And working with a partner, especially with a guitar and hand motions, you have to get the kids involved. When you’re playing guitar, it obviously is really hard to get the hand motions going,” laughed Craig.
“I’ll either be shaking things or having them follow me in a Conga line, for example. And we just got a cordless headset-microphone, so now I’m a lot freer with the kids, too.”
Having performed at, among other places, the Ghent Art Show, the Portsmouth Seawall Festival, the Chesapeake Jubilee and the Tidewater Scottish Festival, Craig and Ressler have more than 35 years of musical experience between them.
Ressler, a native of Pennsylvania, who now resides in Norfolk, has performed at colleges in Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. In addition to her solo work and singing with Craig, she is president of the Tidewater Friends of Folk Music.
Craig, a Hampton Roads native who has lived in Portsmouth’s Lynn Shores for 10 years, was a featured performer with the local bluegrass band “Foxhill” before moving on to solo work. An accomplished guitarist, she performs a diverse variety of music from blues to bluegrass.
A talented songwriter, Craig writes much of C. Shells’ material. The mother of two young daughters, she swears that everything she writes about is true!
Craig laughed and said, “It takes a slightly warped personality to come up with these songs,” like “Playdoh Blues,” “Betcha Can’t Guess What the Puppy Did” and “Bayou Boogaloo.”
Although C. Shells’ performances usually teach the youngsters something, the whole point, they maintain, is for them to have fun.
“Sometimes we get them on stage, and sometimes we don’t,” Ressler said.
“But we made the mistake one time of getting all these kids up in a (platform) stage for a song called ‘The Little Sand Flea,’ in which they jump every time you say the word ‘jump.’ We had about 30 kids, and the microphones were smacking us in the head,” Craig laughed. “And we were worried that the speakers were going to fall off.”
Since then, C. Shells has learned to “tone it down a little” and invite only a few children up during that particular song.
Audience participation, however, remains an important part of their shows.
“We learn from show to show,” Ressler said.
“Yeah, like you can’t just give one kid a shaker to shake. They’ve all got to have one,” Craig smiled.
They admitted that if the children’s look like they’re having fun, C. Shells is having just as good a time as well.
“It’s the perfect outlet for us,” Ressler explained. “It’s just too much fun. But when we’re getting ready to go do a gig, people say, ‘Oh, you’re just going to have fun!’ I have to tell them, ‘No, we’re going to have fun and work.’”
“I love music – any type,” Craig added. “It’s so neat to have the kids laughing along and singing. It makes me happy. And especially with my writing, I can write about just about anything. It’s less restraining than writing your typical songs.”
They do, however, try to maintain their contacts with the “adult world.” Ressler prefers folk music, while Craig is more into contemporary or pop. Between the two of them, they can play the guitar, mandolin, bodhran (an Irish drum), lap dulcimer and hammered dulcimer. Ressler would also like to learn the concertina and harmonica.
But to the young – and young-at-heart – who attend one of C. Shells’ concerts, they just have one request: check your repertoire of dog barks, duck quacks and other crazy noises and bring them to the show.
Good Songs for Good Kids
By Kathy O’Connell
Summer is a great time of the year to look for C. Shells. No, not SEAshells. I’m talking about the singing duo of gals from Norfolk, VA, Cindy Kays and Shelly Craig, who perform as C. Shells. I love their albums! I’ve raved about their mix of rock and fun before, but they’re worth discovering anytime. Their “Just for Fun!” CD includes covers of kid classics like “The Unicorn Song” and “Waltzing with Bears” as well as originals like “Bee Bop” and “Salad Swing.” In the tradition of great duos like Trout Fishing in America (whose “We are the Dinosaurs” they cover), these two performers make a lot of sound. This CD has great sounds for kids in the transitional phase between Barney and Britney. Find C. Shells at www.cshellsmusic.com.
Kathy O’Connell is a contributing writer to
MetroKids and host of the Peabody-award-winning “Kid’s Corner” on