The Biscuit Brothers reflect on a decade of bringing families together through music
by Sherida Mock
Depending on when you start counting, the Biscuit Brothers—popular live musicians and stars of the PBS children’s show—are either on the cusp of celebrating their 10-year anniversary or look forward to the day next spring when they can commemorate the occasion. The test pilot aired in December 2004, but the first season officially premiered in April 2005 on KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. In any case, the show was a hit and gave this dynamic and gregarious group of friends a decade of melodious memories. On a quiet fall day, the Biscuit Brothers–Jerome Schoolar (Dusty Biscuit), Jill Leberknight (Buttermilk Biscuit) and Damon Brown (Tiny Scarecrow) sat down with us at their new Fine Arts Farm in Oak Hill to look back on 10 years of making music together.
AF: Tell us about your families.
Jerome: I have three boys: twins who are now in college and a 15-year-old.
Damon: Jill and I are married. We were actually married the year that the show premiered, and our son Sullivan came along about a year after the show went on the air. We like to say that the show is our family album, because it features our kids and all of our friends who volunteered to be on the show and their kids. From 2004 all the way through 2013, you can watch them grow up.
Damon: It’s definitely a family affair. Allen Robertson (Buford Biscuit)—who wasn’t able to be here—is the music director for the show. He has two kids. My parents are in the show at least once. We wouldn’t have been able to make the show if it hadn’t been for our families and extended families and friends who are family to us.
Jerome: Not just our friends and family, but very important people to the show…Willie Nelson, Kirk Whalum, Ray Benson, and Peter Bay. They just did it out of the goodness of their hearts. We’ve said it a million times, but I don’t think we could have done this show anywhere but Austin. We needed assistance, and the town showed up.
AF: How did you grow the show into what it is today?
Jerome: Allen got a phone call from Zach Scott Theatre saying, “We have a show next week and our performer is sick. Can you do 35 minutes for these kids? By the way, the show’s called E-I-E-I-O.” If they’d have said, “By the way, it’s called NASA,” I’d be Dusty the Astronaut right now. It went great; we did it for a couple of years. We thought, “Let’s record these songs.” I took our CD to L.A. to see if we could get a children’s label to pick us up. They said, “This is nice, but there are characters and a story. This should be a TV show.” Damon and Allen had been friends for a long time. Allen said, “Damon can run a camera.” And we just dove in and put together a little five-minute demo.
Damon: We heard that KLRU was looking for local programming, so we took them this concept and they said, “Make us a pilot.” Now at the same time, Pioneer Farms—where we shot our exterior scenes—had just lost a big chunk of their city funding. That ended up being a great long-term partnership that still exists—and the same with Scottish Rite Theater, which we used for our interior shots.
Jerome: KLRU, Pioneer Farm and Scottish Rite all happened from just knock-knock-knock cold calling. They didn’t know us from Adam, but they were all very welcoming and took a chance on us.
Damon: So KLRU said they wanted to put us on the air as a test to see how audiences responded. In the interim, they called us for the ACL Fest children’s stage…
Jill: …Austin Kiddie Limits.
Damon: So we’re getting ready to play at ACL, and a KLRU employee got up and said, “I’d like to introduce to you the Biscuit Brothers, our newest program premiering in the spring of 2005.”
Jerome: And we all looked at each other and said, “I guess we got it!”
Jill: I remember us all backstage, ready to go on. We didn’t even have a moment to celebrate and high-five each other.
Damon: And we had made no plans for shooting, we didn’t even have equipment yet.
Jill: It was truly guerrilla. It’s just a beautiful story of how you don’t need a massive budget; you can still create meaningful content. I have learned over the years that these three guys are very humble, and they will never say this out loud, but I will. There’s an extreme amount of talent amongst these three gentlemen. Very rarely can you have three guys producing every single aspect of a TV show.
Damon: That’s the secret of the Biscuit Brothers: if you want to know who’s running the camera, it’s me. Or if Tiny Scarecrow is in the scene, it’s sitting on a tripod with no one running it.
Jill: We didn’t limit ourselves.
AF: Where did you get the ideas for your content?
Jill: These three individuals have never lost their sense of youth. They were writing content and stories that were exciting to them. They never viewed children as lower or lesser beings.
Damon: Ideas would come from anywhere and everywhere, because we were making a show to entertain ourselves. We were always mindful of the fact that we needed accessibility for the seven-year-old or the five-year-old, but it was all stuff to entertain ourselves and our families.
Jill: The project has always been a focus on family: a show that a mom or dad or grandparents would really enjoy watching with their kids. In our live shows, you see that. The adults are dancing and having just as much fun as the kids are.
AF: What goes on here at the Fine Arts Farm?
Jerome: The main focus is on arts education—from visual arts to theatre to music to dance—for young ones. Years ago, I worked at the Dougherty Arts Center, and my model is to try and recreate that here. It’s affordable, with a wide variety of art activities happening.
Damon: The Fine Arts Farm has really been a passion project for Jerome, so it’s been exciting for us to see him being able to do this. It’s not just something he came up with in the last few years….
Jerome: I’ve been talking about it for years and years…. “One of these days!”
Jill: What’s meaningful to me is that there are a lot of ways that you can serve your community. We have a TV show and a live show, but we are deeply committed to serving our community, and having an educational meeting place is important. Who knows where the Biscuit Brothers are going to be 10, 20 years from now, but I suspect that that tradition is always going to be, “How can we be serving our community? What can we be doing that’s fun and entertaining to bring families together?”