Local man takes time every week to make children smile

A group of kids sing-along with Mr. Steve at Bluestem Bistro on July 14, 2015. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

A sound of tiny feet stomping, along with mini tambourines and maracas shaking, is what precedes a performance by Steve Keck every Tuesday morning at Bluestem Bistro.

The 27-year-old, also known as Mr. Steve, has been holding these performances for approximately five years. Because of the regularity of his shows, Keck has learned the names of many of the children who come most weeks.

“At the end, we have the time where we play guitar and just hang out with the kids and parents and that’s were I get to meet (the kids) and learn their personalities so that during the show when I’m talking to them, I know more of what to expect,” Keck said.

Shasta Long, of Manhattan, went to her first “Sing Along with Mr. Steve” show on Tuesday, and said she was pleased by the personal connection Keck had with the kids.

“He did a great job interacting with all the kids,” Long said. “He knows their names, which is really impressive, and you can tell the ones that come a lot.”

According to Keck, knowing the kids leads to one of the better parts of his job there: helping kids open up.

“I think my favorite thing is when there’s a kid who’s shy for the first few months of them coming here, and then they really start coming out of their shell and interacting with me more and interacting with other kids,” Keck said. “To see them go through that process is really rewarding.”

Since Keck has been putting on these performances for about five years, he has seen some of the regular children grow older and pass on the “Sing-a-long with Mr. Steve” tradition to their younger siblings.

“A lot of the kids have gotten too old to come to the show; now they have younger siblings who they’ll come back (with) every once and a while to help (their siblings) do it,” Keck said. “So it’s a way different role, this leadership role, of showing them how to dance and showing them how to sing in a group, introduce them to me and all this stuff. It’s kind of a weird interaction of an older sibling with the younger one. So it’s been really cool to see families come through and grow up.”

Joel Coniglio, of Manhattan, has been one of those regular audience members since the winter and said that the event Keck puts on gives his son opportunities for social interactions.

“We try to come every week, but you know, things happen and come up and there’s a few random ones that we’ve missed, but he really enjoys coming,” Coniglio said. “I don’t know if he actually pays attention to the songs, but it’s all the other interaction going on. It’s really good for him.”

Keck sings and talks with the kids throughout the show, and also reads a story. While the shows are only 30 minutes, the planning and scheduling is meticulous, according to Keck.

“(The song list) is actually very scheduled,” Keck said. “The first two are very interactive to get kids going, get them excited to be here. (Then I) got to do a slow one before the story to get everyone calmed down, and then save all the dancing ones for the very end because if you do those early, they’re not going to pay attention for the rest of the show. So there’s a pretty rigorous schedule when it comes to the song set list.”

The event was thought up by the owner of Bluestem Bistro, Kevin Pierce, while Keck was employed there, after seeing a similar type of show with his own children. Currently, Keck does not still work at Bluestem Bistro, but has a different job managing the bar at the Bluemont Hotel.

Keck mused that the jobs have similarities.

“I manage the bar at Bluemont hotel and drunk people and kids are a lot alike, so it works out really well,” Keck said.

Despite having another job, Keck is still dedicated to his performances at Bluestem. In fact, he talked about how that has a lot to do with how he makes his career decisions.

“Actually, in every job interview I’ve had since (I started), I’ve brought up if Mr. Steve is something I’d still be able to do on Tuesday mornings and it’s actually been a huge part of if I interview somewhere or what job or career I will have going forward,” Keck said.

Keck’s passion for the job derives from the happiness he sees in the audience.

“I think just seeing that much joy in a group of people is always inspiring,” Keck said. “Just seeing all the families that come through is encouraging to think about the impact I’ve had on a lot of these kids, especially the ones that have been coming for years.”

Keck and his wife are currently trying to adopt a child of their own, but for now Keck will continue to double as Mr. Steve while working at the Bluemont Hotel and doing other Mr. Steve side jobs, like birthday parties and other community events.

Long said she will continue to come back for the weekly performances, and Coniglio praises his shows.

“He’s great with the kids,” Coniglio said. “He’s awesome with reading stories, capturing their attention and interacting with them. He’s really good with them.”

Photos from the Sing-A-Long:

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(Photos by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

My name is Emily Moore and I'm a senior majoring in English and mass communications with a minor in leadership. I love to read, write and edit. During my free time, I enjoy doing crossword puzzles, rock climbing and spending time with my friends.