He’s not just playing for the kids.
When Fred Penner takes the stage at this summer’s Kaslo Jazz Etc Festival, he knows there will be full grown audience members yearning to hear favourites from their childhood like “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches.”
“It’s a little surreal for a lot of people, those Fred Heads that are now adults and listening to me in a different way. Part of it certainly is nostalgia, because I was a part of their world when they were just developing,” Penner told the Star.
“What I hope people will feel is that link with that younger, more vulnerable and youthful exuberance that we all have and tend to lose while we go through life and get caught up in the business of existing, of having a family and mortgages and all the rest of it.”
And he wants you to sing along.
“I take no prisoners when I’m on stage. I say, ‘Here’s your part of the song, go!’ and I think audiences want to participate, they want to feel like they are a part of it rather than just listening and bouncing along.”
Penner’s been doing his thing for 45 years now — he turned 70 last November — but he hasn’t been slowing down. Besides touring extensively, playing shows at unlikely locales such as universities, he’s also released a new album called Hear the Music that features Ron Sexsmith, Basia Bulat, Alex Cuba and the Bahamas.
“My producers were hoping for an album that would bring the generation that grew up with me, but have now moved into their own musical world. It ended up evolving into a duets album. The themes have matured, but it still has the same fundamental values,” he said.
“I have a song about humility, a song about courage, a song about holding your head up and being proud of who you are. Then there’s fun songs, with good energy, and they’re about observing what’s going on around you — the music is all around you all the time if you’re paying attention.”
At Kaslo Jazz he will be showcasing his new work, as well as plenty of favourites. And even though he’s performed some of his older songs thousands and thousands of times, he said each audience makes the experience new.
“No matter where I am or what I’m performing, I’m facing the range of humanity from children to seniors who have all come together, left their home and travelled a distance, to be in this venue. And that’s a new energy, it’s like ground zero, because it’s just the beginning of our journey together,” he said.
“These songs that I know really well, I can present them with good energy and it doesn’t feel contrived or stale at all.”
Penner feels his music, and his themes, are more relevant than ever during the era of Donald Trump. And though he tries to stay out of politics, he believes his message has power.
“I haven’t been tweeting about how devastated I feel about this whole thing, but I’m still bringing that message of ‘I respect you, I believe in you, and I believe you’re going to be a positive force in this world.’”
At times, Penner struggles with how to define himself.
“Children’s entertainer doesn’t quite cut it for me because it’s much bigger than that. The bottom line is this isn’t just for kids, this is for the family and it’s for humanity.”