WITCHPOLICE RADIO: I'm here with a guest who is really well known, I think, to not only Manitobans, but people of all ages across Canada. And I'm very excited to talk to you. The Children's Festival is coming up. It's always a big event here in Winnipeg, and I remember going to it when I was a kid and my kids have been and it's kind of a multi generational thing at this point. And my interviewee here today is someone who is performing and has performed many times at that festival. So I think the best way to start this off is if you'd like to introduce yourself and just give a bit of background about who you are. I think that you're very well known, but I'd like to hear you explain it.
FRED PENNER: Sure. Got it. Thanks, Sam. Fred Penner's my name. I've been in this business of creating music and television and CDs and a whole raft of things for families, for children, for, boy, four or five decades now. It's been a long and incredible journey. And I think I've played all except one of the children's festivals in Winnipeg since they began. That's about 35 years ago. Yeah, but I'm excited to be here and doing this trip again and connecting with this wonderful Winnipeg audience.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Well, like I said, this has been like it's sort of a multigenerational thing at this point. I mean, I'm 40 years old. I have my own kids. My oldest is a teenager already. And we've all been to this festival and seen you perform there. So what is it about this festival that keeps you coming back? I mean, the local angle must help the fact that it's here in Winnipeg.
FRED PENNER: Yeah, absolutely. That's a huge point. I think the biggest part for me is the value of what live performance means, certainly in this technological age. And it's just getting sillier and sillier where the devices that the kids are learning to use at a very young age and for them not to necessarily be aware of what live performance is really all about.
It's the purest form of human contact. I think to have a guitar player or someone who has nurtured a talent to get up in front of an audience and to share that talent with the audience and that's such a beautiful, pure thing. So I think that's the value for me of the festivals right across the country is it gives these kids an opportunity, an alternative form of entertainment to the technology that they're tending to embrace right now.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: I definitely agree with you on that. And as someone who's been touring and playing shows and performing in front of kids for decades now, what was the last few years like for you?
That connection, that what you're talking about, that impact you can make through a live performance? It wasn't possible because everyone was kids were at home, they weren't able to go to school, they weren't able to go to events like this. How did you deal with it?
FRED PENNER: Yeah, it was a little weird. It was an opportunity to sort of focus on my home life, because previously, when I was on the road, I started touring in the early 70s or really 50 years going back. And I'd be constantly I'd be home for a couple of weeks, I'd be gone, home for a couple of weeks, gone. And then when the TV series happened, that did the same kind of thing, home for a bit, gone for three weeks doing the show. So my energy has always been home, relax, build my energy up and gone again. And all of a sudden I've got an opportunity where I don't have to pack my bag, where I don't have to get Merch ready to hit the road. So that was a very different perspective than I had ever had in my career. So then we refocused and did some of the virtual concerts along the way.
I did a lot of guitar playing almost every day. I do play the guitar every day, but just getting a little deeper into my own ability to create music. So I'm hoping that will turn into a new album in the not too distant future. But I like to look at it, as I said, as an opportunity to have changed my perspective a little bit.
The value again of being a performer, but not being able to be in front of an audience was a very strange turning point for me internally.
I'm sort of babbling here a bit. Sam no, the interesting part of it is, after a couple of three years of COVID when I finally got back on a stage, or was preparing to get back on a stage in Powell River, BC, it was in my brain. It was, Can I still do this? Am I able to get up on a stage and to create this music to share with an audience? So the self doubt started to come in and when I finally got up there and started singing and the audience was feeling the same kind of energy was, can I relate to the performer on stage? Or how do I feel about this? Because it hasn't been part of my life for so long and so there were tears. People were literally crying when I came out on stage in a positive way.
But it was that kind of feeling that I wasn't necessarily expecting that it would get that emotional because we had missed each other.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Well, that has to be a nice reaction to see that your work is that important to people, that having missed you for so long, that those emotions, they can't stop them. Right. That's what comes out when you're united with the audience.
FRED PENNER: Yeah. It was a beautiful and powerful moment, and it's certainly continued since then. So I've done lots of concerts across the country. It's starting to slowly build back in. But I'm a septuagenarian now. I'm 76.
And the kind of touring that I even did five years ago, I'm not able to do that level of entertaining anymore. So I'm now being much more selective, doing one, maybe two shows a month, giving myself lots of time to rejuvenate, get back in focus, and head out again. So it's changing now. So I feel like I'm moving into a semi retirement phase. But, boy, I sure enjoy getting up on stage and doing what I've learned to do over this time.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Yeah. Do you think that you'll ever fully retire, or do you think that you'll always be performing in some way?
FRED PENNER: That's my thought now, until I'm physically not able to do that, I'm dealing with some pretty common knee issues, so I may have a knee replacement at some point.
But I am committed to this industry, obviously, after this amount of time, and I will keep doing whatever it takes to maintain myself in this journey and do it as long as I possibly can, obviously.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: I'm sure you've been asked this before, but what do you think resonates about your music across all these generations? Because, like I said, I listened to you when I was a kid, and my kids grew up listening to the same records and on and on. I'm sure they'll probably pass them on to their kids if they have any.
What works about your music? Because not all children's focused music has that staying power.
FRED PENNER: Well, I think certainly the longevity that I've had in the industry is people remember, I'm sure, the longevity, what I've been doing for this amount of time. I started the career with a really clear philosophy and perspective that what I was doing was potentially making a difference in the life of a child.
I had a sister who was born with down syndrome and she was a huge inspiration to me because of the way that music got inside of her soul, her being. So I learned about the power of music at a very early point, and I've always tried to bring that forward so that the audience sees that I'm not just getting up there and singing a bunch of silly songs. I'm trying to nurture something deeper and more important songs about home and family and being proud of who you are and take good care of each other.
It is that level of commitment that I think people perhaps see come through in my music and know that I'm not just a fun loving guy who just throws these tunes around. It's that deeper commitment to who I am and what I do well.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: And I guess those deeper messages never really go away. You never don't need those messages. The idea of the way you treat people and the way you interact with your family and troubles growing up and things like that, those are permanent issues for everyone.
FRED PENNER: Yeah, they're universal concepts. We all need each other to function and to survive in this world. I mean, that's why I'm just so very frustrated and well, that's an understatement with where the world is going now, where people are not really paying attention to each other. They're not being compassionate, they're not being respectful.
And that's the biggest breakdown of our society right now, is do unto others as you'd have them do unto you is the bottom line, really. And that's not happening. So I'm fearful of where this world is going, but at the same time, I'm going to keep pushing this message, this basic, again, universal message, as long as I possibly can.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: That's good to hear, because I think it's needed that message. And even years down the road, hopefully there'll be other people taking up that message as well. I know there are. There are other artists and musicians and writers and people developing film and TV who have that same kind of values and want to push that kind of message across. But you're right, it's hard nowadays with everything being bombarded at everyone, especially kids, just 24/7.
FRED PENNER: Yeah, truly, I agree.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: What does a Fred Penner show look like in 2023? Because I think that a lot of people that I know that love your music are my age. I mean, kids, of course, too, but we all have these memories of seeing you on TV as kids or seeing you perform in the what does it look like now?
FRED PENNER: I hate to say, but it hasn't changed a whole lot. I like the material that I select. It's all about engaging the audience in participation. We're in this journey together.
Just because I'm the one on stage doesn't mean that you don't have a part in this trip. So it's, Hi, great to see you. Come on along with me. Here's a part that you can sing if you'd like. And we participate in trying to create these moments that do make a difference in our spirit. So after a show, you will leave feeling, oh, that was a moment that we had together, a positive moment that I will remember in the future. I remember the concerts that I go to. I remember comments that people make. I remember the eyes of the parents and the children watching me sharing in the songs. So that's always been the path. Again, we are in this together. I want you to come along with me as much as you're able.
And that has never changed from the beginning. So I'll alter some of the songs. Some of the setups are different.
There's some variations along the way, but it's a new audience and they deserve to hear the music that they've come to share. So the Cat Came Back and Sandwiches will be there. Fear not.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Well, and those are 40 years old now. More than 40 years old. That record, I guess.
FRED PENNER: Exactly.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: And it still works. I mean, my youngest, whenever she's making sandwiches, she sings that song in the kitchen. I hear her singing it all the time. So something about it definitely, it clicks, I think, with people of all ages.
FRED PENNER: That's the hope. I know. There's music galore that I grew up with in my generation from the swing and classical music that my parents loved and the early boy bands and rock and roll in the 50s from my older brother and sister, and then the folk scene and all of those things had an influence on my appreciation of the variety of music that's available out there. So I'm influenced by the music that I heard, and in the same way that people feel that they are influenced by the music that I make. And it's that continual circle that is the power and the joy of music. This is what it's all about, for sure.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Yeah. And sharing, that helps too, right? You're passing it on to a younger sibling or your child or a friend, and that's all part of the continuum.
FRED PENNER: Exactly. Part of the continuum. You got it, Sam.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: So for people, I mean, I've done hundreds of these interviews and I usually end them by saying if people don't know the guest and want to find out more, I think that in your case, most listeners will be familiar, whether it's from TV, whether it's from your records, whether it's from seeing you live. What's the best way to sort of find out what you're up to these days? I mean, hear your music, find out about shows, things like that.
FRED PENNER: I'm not great with maintaining blogs or Instagram contact, the rest of that. But Fredpenner.com, I usually list all of my touring dates there. People want to reach out to me. There is an email that comes directly to me that I do respond to. There's merch online if people are interested.
But that's the main thing. Hopefully when I do gigs, the venue will be putting out their contacts. I've got lots of shows spread out over the summer in Alberta and Saskatchewan, of course, in Winnipeg. I've got some stuff in Toronto in the fall.
So I'm keeping at it and I'm accessible. And I hope people do try and search out where I'm going to be and they will come and visit.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Do you get a lot of people contacting you just to let you know about how your music affected them and things like that?
FRED PENNER: It's regular every week or so and I'll get half a dozen or more messages from all over North America. People who grew up with me, who saw Fred Penner's Place on Nickelodeon, in the States or across Canada on CBC. Yeah.
Particularity from your generation who have grown up listening to my music. And as you start to have your own kids, inevitably there's a flashback to what you listened to when you were a child and the things that had influence on you, and you want to pass that on. And again, the circle picks up and continues. So it is a constant reaffirming for me of the impact that people feel I've had on them. And I don't take that for granted.
When people send me these messages and attribute their musical appreciation and them going into music to me, I back away from that. I appreciate you're saying that, but you took it where you took it. I maybe had a small part in it, but I don't want people to think that I'm their main inspiration. Humans figure out things themselves and if I can be a small part of that, great.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Yeah, for sure. And just one last thing here. Obviously a lot of us still have your records. I mean, I still have stuff on LP and tape and CD from back then that I've passed on to my kids. But are you available? I mean, most people these days listen to music via streaming. Are your records available on there? Can people find them the usual ways to get music these days?
FRED PENNER: Yeah, they're available through to buy music, you can come directly to my website at this point the CDs are starting to slow down in sales, but music can be downloaded through iTunes or the Spotify. You can listen to it from there.
It's accessible. I'm not sure where the generation is going to go how to get music to purchase in the future other than CD or I'm hoping that maybe at some point I can put it on a digital format onto a stick, and then people can purchase that.
But that's another path that we'll cross when it comes.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Right. And for now, it's out there in the various places. And your website, where people get music?
FRED PENNER: Yeah.
WITCHPOLICE RADIO: Awesome.