Big wishes came true at a New Orleans birthday party in June 2002. The celebration was in honor of the son of former teacher Scott Durbin. During the party, Durbin approached a few of his friends about the idea of a rock band for children.
By the next year, Durbin, Dave Poche, Rich Collins and Scott “Smitty” Smith were performing locally as The Imagination Movers, a group that mixed catchy melodies with family-friendly lyrics.
The band’s success led them to be picked up by Disney. The resulting children’s television series yielded 75 episodes over three seasons.
“It’s amazing how much the idea we scribbled on a napkin back in 2002 became the framework for what the show has ultimately been,” Collins says. “We said, ‘Wow, The Wiggles and people like that — what a cool idea to play music for kids.’”
With no future tapings in sight, the Movers have gone on tour in support of their latest album, “Rock-O-Matic.” The band will get local audiences moving when they return to the Weinberg Center for the Arts for two performances on Sunday.
Collins hopes the television series will be re-aired on Disney Junior for at least another 10 years. Featuring music, humor and an oddball cast including the four Movers and their puppet mascot, Warehouse Mouse, the program was immensely popular and featured several guest stars.
“We [had] some great gets on our show. Joey Fatone from ‘N Sync was probably our favorite. ... We took him all over New Orleans. Nicest guy in the world. Joey was great. We got Cheri Oteri from ‘Saturday Night Live.’ She spent a week with us doing the show. And that was awesome for me, doing scenes with her, because I grew up watching ‘Saturday Night Live.’ So it’s like somebody came out of your TV screen and into your workplace.”
While filming, the group never had to leave their home base of New Orleans. Development for the show began in 2007. Collins says the production benefited the city, which still was reeling from the devastation left in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.
“The people in New Orleans here are very appreciative of the fact that we were able to bring that film production to our city right after the flood, when it was a tough time and we needed all the work we could get down here,” Collins says.
As the Movers have made the jump from humble beginnings to the airwaves, so too has their music evolved. At the start, songs had much more of an educational focus. Inspiration came from the quartet’s own tribulations and lessons in fatherhood.
“Those songs were about learning to go to sleep, not being scared at night or getting along with your siblings. Everything that was going on in our lives was what we wrote about,” Collins says.
With the February release of “Rock-O-Matic,” which was recorded over the last year, Collins says the Movers have become focused on doing just that.
“A lot of our music now is rock ’n’ roll about rock ’n’ roll,” Collins says. “‘Put your hands in the air’ kind of stuff. We’re more in the frame of mind of writing songs to rile up a crowd.”
The Weinberg concerts will feature famous Movers tracks such as “My Favorite Snack,” as well as bits and pieces of popular music like Blink-182’s “All The Small Things” and Coldplay’s “Clocks.”
“The passion for us has always been getting in front of a crowd playing for people. Creating real emotion using our simple three-chord rock songs to try and make everybody in our audience have as good as a time as possible, whether you’re a little kid or a grownup,” Collins says.
Also featured in the show is the Movers’ latest prop, a giant robot.
“He’s like a 12-foot-tall steel version of SpongeBob,” Collins says. “We’ve got three crew people operating this thing. It’s like a huge, elaborate thing. He’s the comic relief for the show.”
For Collins, Sunday’s concerts will also give him a chance to visit family and friends.
“My mom always gets mad if I talk about how I’m from New Orleans,” Collins says. “But I spent my first 20 years in D.C. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and then I went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C.”
With the television program in the past, Collins is looking forward to new enterprises such as an Imagination Movers animated series. Given 10 years in the business, he leaves little to the imagination about whether he could do it for another decade.
“Absolutely,” Collins says. “I think I just need more Advil.”