Fred Penner may have a few more wrinkles and prefer a different sandwich but he’s still as popular as ever.
“It doesn’t seem like retiring is in the cards right now. As the years go by I’m adding more vacation time, but I’m still on tour,” says Penner.
Penner has written hundreds of children’s songs and his television show Fred Penner’s Place aired on CBC from 1985 to 1997.
He is about to kick off a new tour in Alberta and B.C. and will play at Revelstoke’s Preforming Arts Centre on Oct. 20. The Centre says his concert sold out within the first couple days of sales.
Penner won his fourth JUNO earlier this year and this month he won the Children’s Artist of the Year award at the Western Canadian Music Awards for his new album called Hear the Music.
While Penner’s performances are simple, maybe just a song and a guitar on stage, he says that’s how he likes it.
“I am not a cartoon. I’m not about flashy lights or special effects. My communication is the most fundamental, human to human communication that I can think of.
Penner is best known for singing about sandwiches and a certain clingy cat, however he says the songs that he’s most fond of go deeper and prod the listener.
“There’s a song called Proud, that I’ll probably do in Revelstoke. And that’s about being proud of who you are, people around you, and what you’re doing in your life. So it’s not a bit of fluff that you can clap along to and it’s over.”
“The philosophy for many years, never underestimate your ability to make a difference in the life of a child,” says Penner.
Over the years, Penner says the children’s entertainment industry has changed. Today with television, iPhones, and wifi, people are less inclined to go to live performances because they can just watch at home. According to Statista, a statistics website, since the introduction of MP3s in the 1990s, downloads have overtaken the purchase of physical music.
Regardless, Penner says it’s thrilling that multiple generations are coming to his concerts. People that grew up listening to his music — known as Fred Heads — are bringing their children to the shows.
“It’s the parents, grandparents, and grandkids that are coming now. It’s a cyclical process. It’s very exciting for me to see how that’s working. I’m still an active part of this industry and still creating.”
Although the technology has changed since Penner first became popular in the 1980s, he says what attracts his audience hasn’t.
“What I try to appeal to and the constant is human values. The importance of love, encouragement, and positivity in raising kids in this crazy world. It’s about being connected with each other, tolerance, and acceptance.”
The songs, phrases, and style may vary. But Penner’s messages stay the same.
Penner hasn’t always been an entertainer. He almost got a government job in economics instead. In the end, he says he’s glad he chose music over calculations and interest rates.
“Ultimately, I feel this is the most value I could possibly imagine in a lifetime.”
As a singer, Penner has traveled the world and his name is known across the globe.
“It’s all about trying to make a difference in the lives of people I perform to, through participation and dialogue. We establish some form of deeper communication than just singing a couple of songs.”
As Penner ages, his culinary tastes have grown. The man has sung about sandwiches from coast to coast and although he used to prefer peanut butter and honey, he is now more enticed by a nice roasted vegetable and Havarti cheese.
Sadly, he now has trouble with bread.
“It happens. Your body tends to not digest things as well as it use to.”
While Penner says sandwiches are still beautiful and fine, “If I had a hundred sandwiches, I wouldn’t eat them all at once — that’s for sure.”