Fred Penner comes back

REGINA (CUP) — Fred Penner is many things. He’s a children’s entertainer, a Canadian icon, a CBC television star and a part-time bar act.

Wait, part-time bar act? Since when?

It started a couple years back when Penner played a show at Gert’s Bar, a student pub at McGill University in Montreal.

“I ended up going to Gert’s Lounge on a Friday afternoon at four and selling out this bar. I was there for about two to two-and-a-half (hours) just interacting with students and talking about the history of my career and Fred Penner’s Place and people that I’ve met along the way, and songs that they wanted to hear and songs that I wanted to share,” says Penner.

Since then, he has sprinkled in shows at university bars along with his children’s shows. Currently, he is in the midst of a West Coast tour and, after a quick regrouping in his hometown of Winnipeg, he’ll travel to the East Coast for a mix of public and university shows.

“It’s like I have this range of variables to play with now and try to put them all together on a tour. It’s interesting playing the different levels.”

The content of the university shows is largely dictated by the audience, he says. He’ll assuredly play The Cat Came Back and Sandwiches, his two biggest hits, and many other songs students remember from childhood.

The show isn’t just a children’s concert performed for young adults, though. Rather, this is the next evolution in Penner’s career, which has always been about creating a positive connection with the audience.

“It has never been just about getting up and singing a couple of songs and trying to be funny. It’s always been about trying to make a positive connection with the vulnerable spirit of the child. That may sound intense, but that’s the way it’s always been,” Penner says.

“The thing I really enjoy about doing the university (shows) is there’s such an interesting rush of coming to see this guy they grew up with, and it’s still a really cool thing to connect with me.”

With a 30-year history of making music and entertaining people, Penner is aware of the impact he has had on many people’s lives. At times, he still feels overwhelmed by the love and thanks people show him.

“It was always about doing this because it felt right, because I had something inside of me that I needed to express through music and story and whatever direction it would go,” he says. “I felt that inside me, but you never know if that’s going to be received or reciprocated by the audience.

“So, you start with the core of your talent, your ability. You do things to the best of your ability and see where it goes. Fortunately, it has been and continues to be a most incredible and powerfully positive journey for me.”

At this point, Penner is in a position where he can pick and choose projects. He’s interested in getting back into television, possibly doing some film and of course is committed to live performing. Although he’s just a few years away from being able to accept Canada Pension Plan payments, Penner has no plans for retirement.

“All these aspects of my creativity and my life are essentially in place at this point. It’s the kind of thing that is going to continue to carry me until I drop.”