Fred Penner’s power to elicit nostalgia among adults and excitement among children was on full display at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair yesterday.
Penner, the famed children’s songwriter, performed in the Keystone Amphitheatre twice — both times in front of a packed room — to play old favourites for the ’80s kids and new sing-a-longs for today’s youngsters.
It has been 17 years since the CBC show "Fred Penner’s Place," but the Winnipeg-based singer hasn’t stopped producing music and touring since then, drawing crowds into his easy-to-sing setlist all over the country.
He’s even taken that power to conjure up childhood memories to universities and colleges, where he feels he’s "reconnecting" with the kids that grew up with him on television.
"I love what I do, I enjoy communicating through my music," he said. "It’s trying to do something that has a bit of value."
It’s clear, based on the enthusiasm from parents and their kids at the fair, Penner’s songs have withstood the passing of time.
"The first generation are having their own children and want to come back and reconnect with what was important to them in their childhood," he said.
"I don’t think about it in terms of making an impact on another generation, that is happening organically," he said shortly before taking the stage for his second show. Since he has been performing for so long, there’s nearly no preparation before he goes on.
"When you do something for an extended period of time, it becomes second nature to you," he said.
Aside from tugging the nostalgic heartstrings of adults, the key, he said, is the audience participation he commands during his performances.
"They’re more than happy to sing, I think that’s a part of it. Audiences are quite excited to be included in the process," he said.
Wandering the fair this week, Penner said he was stopped many times by young adults looking to snap a photo or get an autograph for their children — and maybe a few for themselves.
"That seems to keep happening," said Penner, who hasn’t slowed down during his 35 years of fame.
"There’s huge humility and huge pride at the same time, I am very proud to the point where I’m overwhelmed sometimes."
Penner rattled off a number of places he’ll be performing across the country in the coming months with his back-up guitarist Paul O’Neill, who has been at Penner’s side for 21 years.
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