Kansas City singer Jim Cosgrove has spent the past two decades performing songs about dancing dinosaurs and other kid-friendly topics all over Kansas City. His youngest fans know him as “Mr. Stinky Feet.”
Which makes him a perfect act for the family stage at this weekend's Kansas City Folk Festival.
"I come from a big, loud Irish-Catholic family," says Cosgrove, the youngest of eight children. "My dad loved to sing. He never performed but he always sang around the house and he sang loudly. He sang a lot of songs from the 1920 and '30s, which were a lot of goofy tunes."
Older brothers and sisters shared the music they loved at home.
"I grew up with Peter, Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan," says Cosgrove. "And so I feel like all of that music has really influenced me.”
Cosgrove says his playful style also springs from that big family.
“When I first started, I just started writing goofy songs for my nieces and nephews," he says. "They often prompted me with ideas, so I said, ‘All right, let’s write a song about that.’”
After spending 20 years performing for kids, Cosgrove says adults can learn a lot from children, if they only listen.
“A few years ago, after one of my shows, a little boy came up to me and he says, ‘Mr. Stinky Feet, you are the greatest guitar player in the world,’" he remembers.
He thanked the kid, telling him he was very kind and observant.
"What that little boy did not know is that I am, in fact, not the greatest guitar player in the world," he says. "But something touched him in some way that influenced him, motivated him so that he saw in me the greatest guitar player in the world. And I thought wow, that’s a great gift that he just gave me."
It's a reminder that kids often see adults as superheroes, he says.
"You're the greatest teacher in the world. You’re the greatest Mommy in the world. You’re the greatest guitar player in the world. And in that kid's eyes, he’s right.”
One song he'll be playing this weekend is a new one called "Plenty of Love." In the classic folk tradition, it's based on current events. His lyrics speak to a common American theme:
Give us your tired, lonely and poor,
the wretched refuge of your teeming shore.
Send us your homeless, tempest-tossed,
'cause we got plenty of love, love, love.
“You know, folk music is about what’s going on now," says Cosgrove. "And it’s about people. Folk music can be almost any kind of music, because it’s music of the people.”
With four stages, Sunday's daylong Folk Festival at the Westin Crown Center is the main public event associated with the Kansas City-based Folk Alliance International's annual conference. Now in its fifth and final year in Kansas City before moving to Montreal next year, the conference has brought thousands of musicians and music-industry representatives to Kansas City for several days each February.
“Anytime you you get a group of people together who are deeply steeped into whatever it is they’re doing — I mean if it’s Comic-Con or a tattoo convention or whatever — it’s fascinating because people are so into it and they just ooze this enthusiasm about it. If you’ve got a pulse, you can’t help but kind of get sucked into it," he says.
People often ask Cosgrove if he has a philosophy, or if he's trying to teach lessons, in his songs.
“If there is a theme in my music, it’s: Be a kid. It’s have fun. Love your environment. Love life. Be connected to each other. Be good to each other and that’s that.”
There's something elemental about music, after all, that brings people together.
"We all have rhythm beating in our hearts, and that’s what connects us all."
Jim Cosgrove and The Hiccups perform at 3 p.m. on the Family Stage at the Kansas City Folk Festival, Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Westin Crown Center, 1 E Pershing Rd, Kansas City, Mo., 64108.
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.