Iconic Canadian entertainer Fred Penner is heading to the City for a fundraiser to benefit both the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery.
‘Friday Night With Fred Penner + Friends’ runs Sept. 28th at Bo’s Bar and Grill.
Most will know Penner from his kids’ show Fred Penner’s Place which ran on CBC from 1985 to 1997.
The Red Deer concert, an adults only show, will feature Penner doing a number of classics from his own repertoire and a few timeless covers followed by burlesque dancers from Cabaret Calgary and the Dirrty Show.
The City of Red Deer is also presenting Penner in a free concert on Sept. 29th at the Memorial Centre during Alberta Culture Days. That family-friendly show gets underway at 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, besides his hit show, Penner has also released a dozen albums with 10 Juno Award nominations and three wins. But at the end of the day, he loves making music and connecting with audiences of all ages. This sensibility is clearly reflected in his latest disc Hear The Music.
For Penner, a career in music surfaced rather unexpectedly.
“We didn’t have guitars, but we did have a piano,” he said, reflecting on his younger days. “My older sister taught me some basic piano, and my sister-in-law taught me some music as well. My parents were also listening to the swing music of the 40s – Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and lots of classical music, too. My father loved orchestral music and opera, so those sounds were around me in my formative years.”
All through those years, he was certainly soaking all of the influences in.
And a natural gifting was certainly flourishing.
“My ability to recognize musical pattern and harmony was there from the very beginning. There was some ability that was waiting to take hold.”
But he wasn’t encouraged to pursue performing specifically, even though he proved to be a strong singer and even sang in several choirs through those years.
“Nobody ever said it was an option, so that made it an interesting turn because I didn’t pursue music as a career,” he said. “It was all extra-curricular. I didn’t really pursue the musical path until the late 1960s and early 70s, after I graduated with a BA in Economics.”
Penner earned that degree largely for his dad, who hadn’t been able to attend university.
“So here I was in my early 20s, knowing that I did not want to be an economist deep in my soul,” he added with a laugh. It was also around this time that tragedy struck – he lost both his sister and his father within just one year.
The shock of it all also made him take stock of his own life.
And he realized that ultimately, exploring music was what would bring him the most fulfillment. “Since music was the only thing that had truly given mye any bliss, I said, well, maybe that’s what it is. So I started playing the lounges and bars, and discovering where my music could take me.”
Gigs started popping up across the country, as did an eventual record deal. And working specifically with kids during those years showed him he had a natural connection with entertaining the younger set. “Music was a logical part of my connection with them,” he said.
Then CBC came calling with the offer of a series in the mid-1980s.
“They didn’t have a concept for it, so they put it totally in my court,” he explained of the breathtaking opportunity. “That was the beginning of Fred Penner’s Place.” There was loads of room for originality, too, as there wasn’t much in the way of TV geared to kids at the time. “The timing was perfect because the demand was so high, so we could just go in and create good, positive energy and good music for families.
“The big thing for me was to create something on that scale – I was writing songs for many of the episodes,” he said, adding there were some 950 episodes produced.
These days, Penner is indeed counting his blessings.
“To be able to do this, it’s not something I would ever have dreamed of,” he said. “It’s filled me to the brim with contact with multiple generations at this point who are so complimentary and excited that I was able to be part of their lives,” he added. “I can’t imagine really what I would have done other than this. It’s been such an amazing journey, and it doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing!”
Tickets for the Red Deer fundraiser are available at bosbar.com.