A trip down memory lane

(Photo by Nick Lachance)

Thursday evening was a treat for many 20-somethings as they awaited a nostalgic journey back to childhood with Fred Penner as their guide. The Canadian children’s folk entertainer serenaded a packed house at Chainsaw Saloon with some of the crowd’s favourite childhood songs.

A popular, and much-anticipated event, Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications (WLUSP) hosted Penner at Chainsaw for the second time, with the last show coming in March of 2011.

Waterloo’s own Richard Garvey opened the show with a half an hour set of songs from his recently released CD. His unique ukulele set was upbeat with folksy tones that set the stage for the much-anticipated appearance by Penner.

The concert began with the theme song to Penner’s show, Fred Penner’s Place “What a Day”. Paul O’Neill, a long-time cohort of Penner’s, played bass and backup guitar.

Penner had a special treat for WLUSP president Emily Frost, a fortunate birthday girl, who was serenaded with “ABC’s of You,”  “Puff the Magic Dragon” and of course, “Happy Birthday.” The concert, lasting well into the evening, concluded with a double encore and a rousing standing ovation.

According to Penner, one of the major challenges of performing to an older crowd is maintaining age-appropriate content, but as he maintains, “it gives me a chance to play some of the music that influenced me.”

While the people that watched his show have grown up, his music still resonates with them.

“I played a show a number of years ago in Montreal, and it was a bar show, and it was completely sold out,” Penner said. “And it rekindled my awareness that I want to maintain that contact with that generation.”

Over the past few years Penner has traveled coast-to-coast playing at university campuses across the country.

What draws the university demographic to shows featuring our childhood heroes? Perhaps it’s the nostalgic longing for a time past; the deep-seated desire to return to a simpler time free of the stresses of daily life.

“There’s something about the people or the things that you remember from when you were a child that people want to reconnect with,” said Penner. “It’s… maybe part of the life process, of wanting to know where you came from, and the reason you feel a certain way about things.”

While the atmosphere at Chainsaw was different than Penner’s usual performance venues, he said, “the energy between me and the audience never changes.

“The atmosphere around it can alter a bit, you know the alcohol has some affect on it certainly, but there was a very positive and warm, energized feeling there, and that’s what I cling to when I’m performing.”

The positive energy that coursed through Chainsaw was palpable, as the audience was an active participant in the show, singing along to childhood favourites such as “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches.”

After the show, Penner graciously stayed behind to great fans and to sign autographs. As audience members enthusiastically shared personal stories with Penner, some were moved to the point of tears, overwhelmed by the flood of memories that accompanied meeting a key figure from their childhood.

Realizing the impact that he still has on a generation, Penner said, “just getting the excitement and the level of response is really gratifying for me to know that there’s still is a place in their hearts for me.”

Currently, Penner has plans to work on a collaborative CD as well as a new version of the popular “Peter and the Wolf.”

Penner was in town for a week and participated in the TedxLaurier talks at WLU and the Respect Campaign at Conestoga College. He flew back to his hometown, Winnipeg, MB. on Friday morning.

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