Print Edition: July 17, 2013
Canadian icon Fred has entertained audiences with his witty music for the past 40 years. He is most well known for his television show, Fred Penner’s Place, which ran for 12 seasons. This year, Fred Penner performed at the Harrison Festival of the Arts. He did two musical performances: one on the beach and another for Children’s Day. I attended the Children’s Day performance at the Harrison Memorial Hall and sat down afterwards with Fred Penner for an interview. The hall was filled with generations of Fred Penner fans; young parents who grew up singing along to “The Cat Came Back” brought their children to introduce them to Penner’s music and talent. It was a fun, hour-long concert with Penner playing solo on his guitar, everyone in the hall singing and clapping along to his repertoire.
That was a wonderful show.
Thank you so much.
I enjoyed the whole thing because I grew up watching Fred Penner’s Place. So, what is your favourite part of doing all this, coming around and performing?
Well, getting onstage is the big part. The travel can be tiring ‘cause it’s multiple vehicles: flight, getting cars, driving through traffic, and all of those mundane parts of it, but once you get to the stage, that’s where I feel I can relax.
And then you hear the children in the crowd, do you start feeling …?
Not just with the children, but with the parents; parents and grandparents, ‘cause I think of what I do in that full encompassing thing. It’s about children, certainly, but it’s about the youthful excitement of just sharing the song and I want parents to be as involved as any children might be.
And is it your first time at the Harrison Festival of the Arts?
Welcome! Are you thinking of coming back?
Well, it’s a phone call away.
So, are you just here for the two days, yesterday and today?
I arrived on Monday, so I stayed Monday night, did the beach on Tuesday and here today, and I’m actually going to be driving in a couple of hours to visit friends in Point Roberts in the Tsawwassen area.
I can tell when watching your performance that you just love your job.
I’ve gotten pretty good at it, after 40 years of doing it – it’s completely organic. I don’t necessarily plan out my set; a few minutes before, I’ll get the opening in my mind and then once that gets rolling then it’s following the audience and, “Okay, well, I’m going to go here,” and I can just sort of flow through the set list, until that guy over there, Mr. Kevin, gives me the high five saying that it’s five minutes left and then I trim things up to complete the show.
When you started, did you ever get nervous?
Oh yeah, in the beginning when I was unsure of exactly how it worked, I mean, as anybody would. But once you develop confidence and realize that you have some ability, skill to that, to get onstage in front of any size audience and go into your creative pool and find your songs and the ability to make your music that goes with the songs. And whether it’s solo or with a band I’m comfortable in many genres now. But yeah, you work through any nervousness, that’s the idea: practice, practice, practice is the bottom line.
What is the largest audience you’ve ever performed for?
In Winnipeg, actually, when the Jets, our hockey team, were sacked, and the team went down, so they had a big rally at the Forks and there were about 10,000 people there, so that’s about the max I think.
Nice to meet you.
Until we meet again.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.