Ed Morgan stands before a group of 20 toddlers and young children, strumming on a guitar and belting out the lyrics to kids classics like "The More We Get Together," "Five Little Monkeys," and "Frosty the Snowman." The kids, in turn, jump, dance, and sign along while their parents sit at the tables at Panera Bread, sipping coffee and enjoying the family atmosphere.
It is fitting, Morgan said, that one of his original songs is titled "I Hope I Never Get Too Big."
"The whole idea of the song is that I hope I never get too big or too old to take myself too seriously to not be able to sing and dance and goof around," he said.
Each Thursday morning, from 10:30 to 11:30, Morgan hosts his one hour show - The Children's Garden - at Panera. He also has a weekly show at Kids' Fun Stop on the VFW Parkway, Wednesday evenings from 4 to 5 p.m. Outside of West Roxbury, he plays at least six additional gigs across Greater Boston, and plays private functions on weekends. A life-long musician, Morgan - who once played Neil Young covers in bars - now makes a living entertaining the area's children with song and dance.
"In this economy, I'm pretty fortunate to be able to make a living playing music," he said.
Morgan has long made his show available to the neighborhood, previously hosting shows at the now-closed Finagle-A-Bagel on Spring Street. His success in the area, he said, is driven by a very simple principle.
"There's a lot of families with young children," he said.
Of course, there is more to it than that.
Watching Morgan play, one can easily see how easily he interacts with his young audience. Morgan, who lives in Stow, does not have any children of his own, and said he sees his nieces and nephews infrequently. He said, when he started working children's shows 10 years ago, it came fairly natural to him.
"I can relate to them," he said. "I get to be goofy, be silly, and they appreciate it...You really couldn't ask for a more appreciative audience (than children)."
Morgan said that because children's music is fairly easy to play for a seasoned musician - "I'm sort of just on auto-pilot with the music," he said - he is able to focus his attention on the interactions between himself, the performer, and the kids, his audience. Part of his success, made evident by the heavy growth his Panera show has generated in just three months, is his willingness to act as a peer to the children dancing around him.
"I don't like when people talk down to kids," he said. "I try and be on the same level as them."
The Children's Garden has been a success in West Roxbury, Morgan's hosts say. Kay Benson, the owner of Kids' Fun Stop, had only positive things to say.
"Kids just love [Morgan]," she said. "They gravitate towards him...He has a regular crowd here. It's a really fun environment, so the kids really look forward to the Wednesday nights when he's here."
New Panera manager Jessica Aquino recently transferred from a Brookline Panera and said she could not imagine the show generating such an avid audience in that neck of the woods.
"It was a really fast-paced Panera there," she said. "It just wouldn't have worked there. It depends on the atmosphere."
Nikki Miele, the Panera manager who originally offered Morgan the gig, said that Aquino's insight makes sense. A Parkway Panera would be a better venue for something like The Children's Garden because the Parkway itself is well suited for it, said Miele. Other Paneras may be better suited for college students or businessmen, depending on the community they are found in.
"Each Panera is great at how it gears to its location and the needs of the location," she said.
As for the West Roxbury location, that means a family friendly music session every Thursday morning.