This month on Around the Clock, rdnewsNOW spoke with a man who for close to five decades has entertained countless Canadians with his award-winning music, Winnipeg's own Fred Penner.
Winner of the 2018 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the year, the 71-year-old is performing two nights in a row here in Red Deer (details below), including once as part of Alberta Culture Days.
In addition to his live performances over the years, Penner is known for his TV show, Fred Penner’s Place, which aired on CBC from 1985-1997, and south of the border for a number of years.
1. JH - How long has it been since you were last in Red Deer?
FP - “It’s been probably a couple of years. I did an outdoor event at the beautiful park downtown – there’s a beautiful fixed stage and amphitheatre with natural seating.”
2. JH - How excited are you to be a part of Alberta Culture Days here in Red Deer?
FP - “I’m delighted. The connection with Red Deer has grown over time. Every visit there has been fabulous. I love the community and the people, so I’m very excited to be coming back.”
3. JH - You’re doing two shows, one Friday, then another Saturday -- what can people expect out of both?
FP - “The one at Bo’s will be primarily an adult audience, but the material will touch on some of my early influences, maybe a Beatle tune or two. But many of the songs that I would normally do at a family concert will be there too because the audience is part of that Fred Head generation. On Saturday, it’ll be some of the same songs -- Sandwiches and The Cat Came Back.”
4. JH - Why are arts and culture important to celebrate?
FP - “It’s all about community. It’s about people coming together and it’s about putting down their technology for a while. It’s about packing up, getting dressed, getting in the car and going to an event.”
5. JH - Some people feel arts and culture gets the shaft in favour of sports events and other sexier thing. Why is that do you think?
FP - “It’s gladiatorial sports. It goes back to people liking that kind of energy, and that’s totally fine. I love a good Jets game, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other. A balance of the two is really important. Arts and culture touches a different part of your soul.”
6. JH - You’ve travelled all over. What’s your favourite part of Canada and why… and you can’t say your hometown of Winnipeg?
FP - “I have loved and delighted in being in every corner of Canada, from Inuvik to Nunavut, coast to coast to coast. There’s so much joy and excitement and delight and family in every part of it. I could not pick one place.”
7. JH - What’s one of the best parts about Canada?
FP - “Most recently my wife and I were in Newfoundland at Gros Morne National Park. The national parks in Canada are exceptional so I certainly encourage people to get out there and enjoy a good tree or waterfall.”
8. JH - What is the best part about entertaining children?
FP - “It’s the delight in their eyes, the squeal in their voice and the concentration they bring to a performance. I’m always looking through the audience and making eye contact, sharing a moment. Children are sponges, they observe and imitate what they see, and they take it in deeply when you are communicating with them. That’s the joy. I think we forget how wonderful it is to be a child and be excited about something.”
9. JH - Is there a story behind the song ‘The Cat Came Back?’
FP - “The Cat Came Back actually was written in 1893 by a fellow named Harry Miller. The fun part for me now is when you listen to it and realize that no matter what happened to this cat, it always managed to come back, maybe that gives the listener a bit of a sense of confidence that regardless of what they go through, they will survive somehow. Whether it has deeper meaning, that’s up to you, I just love to sing the song.”
10. JH - Who is your favourite Canadian entertainer, be it a musician, actor or children’s entertainer?
FP - “There are so many performers that I really get excited about as I play the festivals -- people like The Good Lovelies, Tara Lightfoot, Ron Sexsmith, Alex Cuba. They all performed on my latest CD in fact. There are so many really talented Canadian performers, it’s impossible to pick one, but I’m really rejuvenated and excited about the quality and level of talent that’s happening in our country.”
11. JH - Do you bring a particular message to Canadians wherever you go?
FP - “The bottom line is about family and communication and being together. It goes deeper into acceptance and tolerance and understanding about humanity. We are all in this crazy, wacky world together, so let’s celebrate who we are as people on this planet.”
12. JH - When you think about your career, what’s the first highlight or story that comes to mind?
FP - “Receiving the Order of Canada in the early 90s was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. It was a very powerful moment. I’ve also received accolades over the years from the Down Syndrome Society because my sister was born with Down Syndrome. So knowing I am being seen in this world as someone that people come to for some positivity and sharing of music, it’s a very broad and powerful experience to be able to do this.”
Tickets are still available for Friday Night with Fred Penner and Friends at Bo’s Bar and Grill, presented by 106.7 The Drive and the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery. The event is a fundraiser for the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra.
His Alberta Culture Days performance on Saturday at The Memorial Centre is free and begins at 3 p.m.
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