Fred Penner, rock star? Kids performer headlines Bore Music Festival

Summer music festivals like to have big-name artists as headliners, someone that will draw the largest crowd, build up the excitement, and then rush on at the end of the event, with the biggest sound, lights and cheers. This year, the Bore Music Festival in Hillsborough is doing it differently. Its headliner comes on mid-afternoon, with little hoopla and spectacle, and more grins and giggles than fist-pumps and crowd surfing. Sure, lots of people will be singing along, but they'll have to wait for another act to do Wagon Wheel or Freebird. The big hit for this set is The Cat Came Back.

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In case you thought he was a goner, Fred Penner is coming back into your life. He's being asked to play for more than just kids. It turns out he's just as popular with the adults who grew up with his TV show, Fred Penner's Place, back in the 80's and 90's on CBC. In addition to the many kids' performances he does every year, he's been appearing at colleges, and yes, even rock and folk festivals.

Penner's phoning from his place, home in Winnipeg, ready to go to Iqaluit for shows before heading to New Brunswick for July 12. As calm and warm as you would expect on the phone, he's completely enthusiastic about his upcoming tour, even though he seemingly never takes a break. "I don't know how many shows I'll play this year," he admits. "I quite deliberately have never tried to figure that out, because it might freak me out a little bit. Certainly in the hundreds." Penner has seen his first audience grow up, and start bringing their kids to his concerts. Now he's working with a third generation. His brand of positive, inclusive entertainment has never gone out of style. "I've spent a lot of time thinking this through, philosophically," he explains. "I do wonder why it's continuing and why it all fits. In a way, it's none of my business. I do what I do, and if the audience gets into it, I'll keep doing it. It's my 42nd year of performing now."

He does know that it works, and what he gets back from the audiences: "Beautiful, smiling faces. That's the way it's been pretty much the whole trip, knowing that the music does connect, not just the child, but the parent. It's the power of the music, the therapy of it. You can make a connection that lasts for more than just a couple of minutes. It's a dialogue."

But for the Bore Music Festival, it won't just be kids and parents. There were be the crowd that is there for the "adult" music too, artists such as Don Brownrigg, Lindy and Tomato Tomato. So, how much does he change his set for them? "In truth, little. The music, I've always considered that it is connecting for a broader audience. It's for the parents and the grandparents. I want everybody to feel connected, so they don't feel excluded in the process. If I do a hand game, like Itsy-Bitsy Spider, I'll ask, 'I wonder who taught this to you?', trying to get them to remember that earlier time in the their life. The child may hear it for the first time, the adults will remember their grandpa teaching it to them for the first time. The songs become catalysts to those memories. I don't condescent in any way. I ask serious questions and I expect answers from them."

Penner says the typical festival audience is one that responds well each time. "I've played campuses across the country, and the songs the students ask for are some of the earliest, like Knick Knack Paddy Whack. I think people want to rekindle that youthful exuberance they had, it's kind of a primal therapy where you are taking back. I think everybody needs that to balance off the horrific things that happen on this planet, the social media that primes the pump of that. The minute something happens in this world, we hear about it, and we forget about the beautiful things that happen."

Fred Penner will make some beautiful things happen at the Bore Music Festival, coming up July 11 - 12 in Hillsborough, NB. You can check out the ticket info and schedule at https://www.facebook.com/theboremusicfestival

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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