WWFPD: What Would Fred Penner Do?
Technology and acronyms may have changed but the message that cherished Canadian performer Fred Penner delivers to audiences of all ages remains steadfast.
“It is a very interesting life I have here and a good life,” agrees Penner, who will be performing in Penticton next weekend at the Okanagan International Children’s Festival.
From strumming in bars and lounges in the 70s to a long-running TV show in Fred Penner’s Place and becoming a leading international family performer, Penner continues to engage audiences with his songs of overcoming fears, teaching never to give up or underestimate your ability to do anything. No matter the age.
“I did a show and a person had WWFPD on their T-shirt. What Would Fred Penner Do?” he said with a chuckle. “Knowing that there is still a cool factor and good connection with the Fred Penner guy and it is not just a nostalgic trip is what keeps me going. There is something of longer-term value and as I move into elder status here people are looking to me for some kind of guidance or opinions. I feel very honoured to be asked these questions and put into a state of wisdom in a way.”
Penner said it was his family that brought him to the special place he has found as a performer. His deceased sister, who had down syndrome, taught him many things about music and its value. Now as a father of four adult children, and a grandfather, he is seeing a circle forming not just within his own family, but in the families in his audiences.
“Those children are now growing up and becoming the parents and it is a cycle. I have lucked out and locked into a true cycle of life and on a dimension where people really appreciate what I have expressed,” he said. “The circle of this world continues and I am gratified to be part of it and I am doing what I do to keep strong, positive, energized and I love what I do.”
He is a gentle giant, with kind eyes and an undeniable ability to make anyone feel good about themselves. It is why he packs rooms, festivals and has sold millions of albums across North America.
“My material is often very complex and engaging so it connects with the child but also has a subtext and variation that works very deeply with the adult,” said Penner. “It is establishing an essence of the song and here is the part I would love for you to sing with me. They feel a sense of confidence in their ability to share the music and we get closer through the music I think.”
For Penner, who studied psychology and economics at the University of Winnipeg, there is nothing better than getting a letter or meeting someone who he touched along his 35-plus year career. Whether it is the woman from Ottawa who has gone on to be a child psychologist and about to release her own album of children’s songs to help them through challenging times or the person who bought his Cat Came Back record and played it for her four-year-old son, which became a way of bonding while he was in the hospital with a brain tumour.
“I cherish the feedback I have received from audience members and now young people who are adults and are coming up to me with a real positive encouragement that what I have done in my life have made a positive difference in their lives. If people approach me and feel I have done something, made a difference in their world, then that is good as it gets.”
The Okanagan International Children’s Festival offers over 30 performances in three venues located around Okanagan Lake Park. New this year is Illumination. The event on May 23 is a fundraising gala for adults featuring an hour-long performance from headliners Penner, circus comedian Kaput and dance and music group Aché Brazil.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.okchildrensfest.com or at their office located at Suite 202, 69 Nanaimo Ave. East. Volunteers are still needed for the festival. For more information call 250-493-8800.