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After 30 years, Happy Crowd will hang up their socks

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Kids, it’s been said, are the most brutally honest audience one can have.

They’ll let you know immediately whether they’re entertained. It’s a cold-blooded, near instant review, and the pint-sized critics do not suffer fools.

Hai Muradian knows a lot about this volatile dynamic. As the admittedly silly front man for the beloved children’s band The Happy Crowd, he’s spent 30 years getting enthusiastic thumbs up from untold thousands of kids and their parents.

Now, after three decades and dozens of Claremont concerts, the band is hanging up their happy socks and calling it quits, going out with what promises to be an emotional final concert Thursday, August 11 at Memorial Park.

The Happy Crowd is saying goodbye for a simple reason: at 72, Muradian is no longer physically capable of the highly animated, surprisingly athletic style of exaggerated live performance he’s always brought to the band. Plus, its members are also now scattered throughout the West Coast, making gigs not nearly as convenient as they once were.

“I can still do it, and I will do it on August 11,” Muradian told the COURIER. “But it’s not nearly as easy as it used to be. At 72, sometimes I have a hard time waking up!”

Muradian has lived in Pomona for decades, but Claremont was where The Happy Crowd found its audience. Years ago, former mayor Sam Pedroza even proclaimed him an honorary Claremont citizen, complete with a key to the city, during a Fourth of July Happy Crowd performance at Memorial Park.

The band began in the early 1990s as “Rock-a-Daisical,” with Muradian, Steve Sturgis, Reggie Chavez, and David “Pope” Firman. Muradian was in his early 40s.

The first iteration of The Happy Crowd (L-R) Collie Coburn, Hai Muradian. Photo/courtesy Hai Muradian

“The idea was we’d play old rock and roll, and kids would dance, and it would be really fun,” Muradian said. “The trouble was, trying to home in on their attention span — which is about 45 minutes — it wasn’t working. They were like, exhausted. They were laying on the floor panting after about 30 minutes of dancing nonstop.”

Then Firman moved to Kansas City and bassist Collie Coburn joined the band. He suggested the group write its own material. Soon after Muradian and Coburn began performing as a duo with a new name: The Happy Crowd.

The band spent its early gigs trying to figure out how to keep kids engaged. They were a quick study, and soon had a clutch of original songs.

“What I did, and what Collie did, was we looked to when we were kids,” Muradian recalled. “Even though we weren’t sure if it was going to relate, we thought, ‘What did we learn when we were children?’ Being nice to people, respecting people. My mom used to tell me, ‘Don’t dilly-dally. Come straight home.’ I wrote a song called ‘Don’t Dilly Dally.’ I wanted to use some of what I had as a kid.”

Others followed, including “Dreamland,” a lullaby; “Stretcheroo,” a song for kids to play when they’re waking up; “Mm-Hmm,” about parents glazing over as their toddlers talk incessantly in the car, as they tend to do; and what was perhaps their signature tune, “Happy Socks,” about wearing two different socks.

At their peak, from about 1995 to 2005, The Happy Crowd would draw 1,000 at their regular Memorial Park shows in Claremont and were playing weekly all around Southern California.

“And almost everybody had two different socks on. It was amazing for us,” Muradian said.

Most children’s entertainment of the day was “banal,” Muradian recalled.

“We wanted to reach kids on a higher level and write songs that played up to them, not down to them,” he said. “I didn’t want to sing the ABCs.”

The idea was to write tunes that appealed to both parents and kids. It worked.

“I’ve had parents tell me they would listen to our CD when their children weren’t around,” Muradian said. “That was mind blowing.”

The band recorded three CDs of original material, two of which — “Gettin’ Happy,” from 1996, and 2000’s “Happy Socks” — are available on streaming platforms. In 1997, “Gettin’ Happy” won a National Parenting Publications Gold Award. The group also released one DVD, “The Happy Crowd at Adventure City,” in 1998.

(L-R) “Professor Smartie” Marty Echito, Hai Muradian, and Collie Coburn in an early updated photo of The Happy Crowd. Photo/courtesy Hai Muradian

Back in the days of terrestrial radio dominance, Radio Ahhs, a kid-centric station from 1990 to 1998, began playing the band, and “URU,” off of “Gettin’ Happy,” hit number seven on the station’s national charts.

In their early years they worked anywhere and everywhere for little pay. The idea was to establish The Happy Crowd as a premier Southern California children’s group. That work paid off.

The group has done several hundred gigs over 30 years, Muradian said.

“We really had it down to a science where we knew we could go into any place and do a 30- to 45-minute show and walk away, and the parents would go, ‘Oh my God. You guys were great.’”

Muradian’s stage persona — overtly silly by his own admission — was balanced by Kenny McSpadden’s straight man, and Professor Smartie Martie Echito, who dressed in a graduate’s cap and gown. The schtick had Muradian playing the daffy comic the other two must rein in.

Muradian was clearly enjoying talking about the band, its music, and antics. It seemed like it might be tough to walk away from such a joyous gig.

“It’s going to be very bittersweet. I mean, we’ve done this for 30 years, and the amount of memories …,” he said, trailing off as the emotions swelled.

Ironically, Muradian does not have kids of his own.

“My wife, who passed away a couple years ago, she was a schoolteacher,” he said. “She said [her students] were her kids. And I say The Happy Crowd is my kids. There’s a lot of reasons why we never had children, but I’ve entertained a lot of kids over the years, so maybe that’s where it all comes down.”

He’s seen two generations of kids come up with the band.

“A friend of mine brought her son, got him a T-shirt,” Muradian recalled. “When he was 23, she told him, ‘You’ve got to get rid of that shirt.’ He said, ‘I’m not getting rid of my Happy Crowd T-shirt.’ It didn’t even fit him anymore. He did not want to let that go. So, that’s kind of cool.

“We realized we’ve transcended generations, religion, race, it meant nothing.”

Two weeks before the Happy Crowd’s final bow, Muradian was feeling nostalgic.

“We’re hoping that the generations of Happy Crowd fans, like kids who grew up with us and now have their own kids, will show up. I don’t care if they’re 30; it’s going to bring them back to kind of a bygone era of what we wanted to do.”

The Happy Crowd’s free farewell performance takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, August 11 at Memorial Park, 840 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont. More information is available at  https://www.ci.claremont.ca.us, or by calling (909) 399-5490.

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