They’ve got quite the following and no wonder. They’re young, they’re energetic, they’re enthusiastic. They’re idealistic and charismatic and have a flair for the dramatic.
They are instantly your friends, all four of them: Isabella, Abby, Gabby and Riley Keen. And that’s just off-stage.
On stage, they’re the Runaway Hamsters, a youthful rock ’n’ roll ’n’ country pop band, which is nothing if not captivating.
They are siblings — Isabella, 11, is the eldest, and the rest are the 10-year-old triplets. They can’t quite remember how the band name came about, although the truth is that they actually have owned a number of hamsters with a flair for escape.
Growing up in a household full of both animals and musical instruments, all the kids took piano lessons; at home, the family would play music together. When their mother, seeking to harness the youthful energy, took them to Boise Rock School, the band was birthed.
The Hamsters coalesced a couple of years ago, though, when one of Isabella’s fourth-grade classmates was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Their friends were doing things such as bake sales and selling lemonade as fundraisers. “The kids came to me,” says Barb Keen (aka Momma Hamster), “and said, ‘Hey, we want to do something to help. … What could we do?’”
They decided to use their music. “They’re fun to work with,” says Jared Goodpaster, their teacher and founder of Boise Rock School, who helped them write a song called “Runaway.” Their parents fronted the money and they recorded a one-song CD, sold it and raised a few thousand dollars, which they donated to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital for indigent families with sick kids.
Their motto: “We help friends.”
Abby: “We like helping friends and doing lots of things to help.”
They make cameo appearances at radio stations and hospitals, and help nonprofits such as Camp Rainbow Gold and The Idaho Foodbank. They pick and choose their performances to maximize goodwill — like an upcoming appearance at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles in a couple of months.
Gabby: “We’re going to sing for (kids) and make them happy.”
Social media being what it is, two years ago the Keens started getting calls from producers in Nashville. After talking about it as a family, the pros and cons, they decided to take the plunge. The kids spend intensive weeks in Nashville working with producer Kent Wells (who also produces Dolly Parton) — writing songs, performing, doing school with a private teacher and online, and then returning to Boise.
Riley: “We get to sing and record songs. It’s really fun. When you’re done for the day, you are really tired — but you had fun doing it.”
That’s show biz. Their first full-length CD, “Hamsters in the House,” was released in May 2015, and their second one, title still tentative, will be released later this spring.
Steve Keen, their father: “They’re just having fun and they’re just being kids. We want them to learn something from it and have fun. … The people they’ve been around have been good mentors. If they idolize them, I’m OK with that.”
The kids are far from jaded yet, and they are learning to be quite the performers. The Hamsters were submitted for consideration for a Grammy and they dream of someday winning it.
Gabby, the fashionista (whose “super power,” the family says, is talking) also effusively wants to be a Hollywood starlet when she grows up. Abby, a bit shyer, is going to take care of animals. Isabella, the leader and technical guru of the foursome, plans to train dolphins. Or orcas. And Riley, outnumbered by his sisters, just grins and says he just loves “Star Wars” and playing music.
Barb: “It seems to be their calling in life. … to help others. … Fame and fortune are fleeting but helping people and being able to be philanthropists and being able to give away is really, really what it’s all about.”
As the kids say: “Hamstacular.”