Fred Penner: Bringing "Ed Heads" to Cicadafest
BY DAVID DeROCCO
When you look at the upcoming CICADAFEST line-up being staged in St. Catharines October 13th you’ll see a great mix of eclectic Canadian musical talent, including singer/songwriters like Dan Mangan and Terra Lightfoot, Spencer Burton, James Blonde and even Juno-Award winning west coast indie rockers Said the Whale. But you’ll also see FRED PENNER.
Now, you might wonder why the iconic and revered children’s music performer and long-time host of CBC’s Fred Penner’s Place is included on the bill of such a music festival clearly targeted to young adults and fans of Canadian indie music. That is, until you see the list of musical guests found on Penner’s latest Juno Award winning album, HEAR THE MUSIC. The 2018 Juno Award winner for “Best Children’s Album” features a roll call of marquee Canadian talent including Ron Sexsmith, guitarist Alex Cuba, Basia Bulat, The Good Lovelies, Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a.) and the aforementioned Lightfoot, all brought together under the high-gloss production of long-time Penner collaborator Ken Whiteley. It’s a triumphant collection of folk tunes disguised as an album aimed for family and child consumption – in other words, another typically wonderful album from Fred Penner, the man who has inspired legions of “Fred Heads” during a career spanning over 45 years.
“It is quite touching to know how deeply people feel my music has affected them along the way,” said Penner, now a four-time Juno winner and Order of Canada recipient. “I’ve always tried to be consistent, certainly in my presentation, knowing how deeply people could be affected, especially children, by music. So the mantra is, never underestimate your ability to make a difference in the life of a child.”
With 14 lyrically inspired songs and titles like “Humility,” “Hold Your Head Up,” “Courage” and “Celebrate Being,” Hear The Music is bound to make a difference in the lives of anyone who takes the time to soak in Penner’s positive messaging. For his part, Penner admits his most recent Juno win was special because of all the people who came together to make a difference in the recording of the CD.
“What I love about this Juno was that the album was produced by Ken Whiteley, who I worked with in the early part of the 80s when I was on Raffi’s label, Troubadour Records,” said Penner of his 13th album. “Ken produced several of my early CDs and years later came in to produce some more. But I hadn’t worked with him on that level for many years. It was really exciting to go in and just reconnect with this dear friend. And as the process unfolded, through Linus Entertainment my label, the idea came up of bringing in other Canadian artists to expand the project. So we had Good Lovelies, Alex Cuba, Ron Sexsmith, Terra Lightfoot and others. I was really quite overwhelmed by these talented people who had grown up with me as well, part of that generation, who were immediately excited about being part of this project.”
It was 1979 when Penner’s debut album The Cat Came Back arrived to critical acclaim, helping to ultimately shape the future direction of his career. Penner says that despite being labelled a “children’s performer," the goal has always been to produce music with a broader message and appeal.
“I do think of myself as a musician and a songwriter,” said Penner, who also serves as an ambassador for World Vision. “I like the creative process of going in and trying to take a concept – usually a universal concept – and building that into a song that children, parents and grandparents can all relate to in their own world. That’s always critical to me, bringing something to the table that has strength to it musically, lyrically, that the energy of the song, the selection of instruments, the way it works, that the whole creative process feels right and connects with the listener. That’s what this is all about after 45 years.”
If you’ve ever been a “Fred Head,” and had the pleasure of sharing Penner’s music growing up or with your own children, you’ll understand the ear-candy appeal of such staples like “Codfish Ball,” “Rapmop,” and “I Can Sing A Rainbow.” To his credit, Penner is confident his performance and songs fit perfectly on a bill like Cicadafest, the music and arts festival being staged on Henley Island in support of prostate cancer.
“This is my music, these are the songs that I’ve built over time. There are certainly songs I consider to be a little broader spectrum than for children necessarily. On the album, a song like “Humility,” a song like “Courage,” a song like “Hear The Music,” which has a really good driving feel to it. It’s just about being aware and paying attention to what’s around us. It’s really lovely that fans see me in that world, because the audience is 20 somethings and 30 somethings that connected to my music in their younger days. At festival across the country coast to coast, it’s that audience who are still excited and ready to come see my performances and get into the music I present. So what I do, and will do, is include songs like “Sandwiches” and “The Cat Came Back,” which are two of the top songs always requested. The audience is looking to hear that, that’s what they grew up with. And jokingly, although maybe not, it’s like a little bit of primal therapy for them.”
Below are the set times for Cicadafest.
13:00 Birds Of Ontario
14:00 Eleven North
15:30 The Strictly Hip
17:00 Donovan Woods
18:30 Said The Whale
20:00 Terra Lightfoot
21:45 Dan Mangan
ST CATHARINES STAGE:
13:30 The Bae Beach Club
15:00 Fred Penner
16:30 Joey Landreth
18:00 James Blonde
19:30 The Kerouacs
21:00 Spencer Burton