Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The wonder of Fred Penner

Almost every Canadian between the ages of 20 and 35 have fond memories of Fred Penner.
He had an early morning children's television show on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) where he played songs and did skits and played with puppets.  He was on just before Mr. Dressup and never failed to get us all singing and dancing and smiling.

fred penner and mr dressup

My two childhood idols: Fred Penner and Mr. Dressup

His songs alternated between great fun and jaunty tunes as well as epic and winding tales.  He was most famous for The Cat Came Back, Ghost Rider's in the Sky, and Sandwiches.

This is the short for The Cat Came Back. People of my generation will remember this fondly.

Fred Penner held a special place in our family. We had his album and played it over and over again. I am sure my parents tried to hide it from us, but like the cat in his songs, it always came back the next day. I never tired of it and still, as an adult, I find myself humming Sandwiches.
This summer, I got the chance to attend our city's folk festival. A friend had an extra entrance wristband and I was going with her to see a performer I knew (not well, but liked well enough) and I knew it would be a good time. When we got there, an older gentleman was on stage introducing acts. He seemed vaguely familiar. Like a grandpa or a favourite uncle I hadn't seen in years. I stared, but couldn't place him.
When we moved closer to the stage, it dawned on me that this dapper old man in a vest, old fedora, and bow tie was Fred Penner. Fred Penner, the musician of my childhood. I had heard he would be in town for the festival, but I hadn't given it much thought. After all, I've given up childhood things by now. Yet, standing there in front of him, I was surprised by the level of emotions welling up in me. Awe, excitement, anticipation.
Then, Fred Penner put is hand out in front of him -- palm up -- and used his other hand to simulate spreading something onto bread. He stopped. Then, he did it again. The crowd went wild. Someone in the back screamed "SANDWICHES!!!!"
When he started into his song, the entire place sang along. We all knew the words. I am sure none of us have thought of that song with more than a passing memory drifting through our cortex. But, at that moment, we were all 10 years old and in awe. I imagine it was a lot like watching a crowd of 13 year old girls at a Justin Beiber concert.
I stood in front of Fred (about 6 people deep in the crowd)and grinned. My face felt like it was going to crack open with happiness. My chest was tight and bursting all at the same time. I was so damned happy at that moment, I had no idea what to do with myself. I had no idea I would react that way.
Long after the performance was over, I kept grinning at my friend saying: I saw Fred Penner tonight. Did I mention I saw Fred Penner?
I've met quite a few "famous" people in my life. I have autographs from my favourite bands. I've been on tour buses and in dressing rooms. I've hung out with musicians I've admired and only been slightly star struck. Who would have thought the one who would make my heart race, my tongue feel too big for my mouth, and my hand sweat would be the man who brought us If I had a Rooster.
Did I mention I was this close to Fred Penner?

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