Oh, baby!: Lawrence moms combine parenting, music skills on stage

Virginia Musser, left, and Tricia Spencer, members of the Lawrence-based band The Prairie Acre, practice at Mike West Recording Studio, 618 W. Fourth St. Musser’s daughter, Kellar, 5 months, sleeps while Spencer’s daughter, Ruby Yother, 1, takes in the music. At right is banjo player Noah Musser. Below, Spencer straps in her daughter before practice.

Tricia Spencer, a member of The Prairie Acre, tunes her instrument with her 1-year-old daughter Ruby Yother strapped to her back.

Tricia Spencer straps in her daughter before practice.

When people spot the baby on Tricia Spencer’s back, they often point and smile.

Spencer, fiddle in hand, just continues playing. And when they notice her bandmate Virginia Musser is carting a baby on her back, too, she just laughs and carries on.

“People love to see babies back there,” Spencer says. “I think babies love to be carried. When you throw music into it, it’s the best-case scenario.”

The duo play in the Lawrence-based band The Prairie Acre, which specializes in combining bluegrass and old-time music. Spencer sings and plays the fiddle, while Musser serves as the band’s bassist. Spencer’s and Musser’s husbands make up the remaining half of the four-person band.

“Playing music is now such a part of our lives,” Spencer says.

Neither of the women are shy about hauling their children onto the stage — in fact, it’s become almost natural to them.

“A lot of people say they just love seeing them,” Musser says. “Originally, I thought I could only do it in practice. We’re so much more comfortable with it now.”

Audience members don’t mind seeing a baby or two strapped to either of the women’s backs. In fact, it makes for a pretty entertaining experience, says Ron Meier, a family friend of Spencer’s and a frequent member of the crowd.

“I think the thing people like about them as much as anything is that they seem to be really family-oriented,” says Meier, who has known Spencer since she was a child. “Sometimes the kids sleep, and sometimes they look around. They seem to really enjoy it.”

Before Musser started toting her 5-month-old daughter, Kellar, on stage, she tucked her son, Owen, into a backpack carrier — an idea she stole from gal pal Katie Euliss of the band Truckstop Honeymoon.

“When I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t figure out what to do,” Musser says. “I was pregnant so I thought if (Euliss) could do it, I could do it too.”

The idea worked out perfectly for Musser — and later for Spencer, who admits playing an instrument with a baby on your back can be tricky.

“I notice the weight makes it difficult for me to bow,” she says.

Spencer grew up around music, traveling to various venues with her parents. So naturally, the mother of three is eager to share that same experience with her family and friends.

“It’s the best feeling when kids show an interest in what you’re doing,” she says.

Even though Musser’s son Owen has outgrown the backpack, he now serves as the band’s CD salesman — a job he loves.

“He’s not shy at all about it,” Musser says. “He’s increased CD sales.”

It’s the combination of family and music that makes the band such a hit, Meier says.

“They’re doing it the right way,” he says. “You can get so caught up in playing in a band that you neglect your family. They certainly are not doing that.”

As for the backpack babies, the duo plans to lug their children around on their backs for as long as possible.

“I think the thing that makes me feel good inside is that I can do something I love so much and not have to make a sacrifice,” Spencer says. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll find a different way to make it work. It’s definitely one of those moments where you think you can have it all.”