Fred Penner, one of Canada’s most celebrated children’s entertainers, committed his life to the world of entertainment when he was just a young man in the early ‘70s after tragedy struck his family.
“I had a younger sister, who was a Down syndrome child, she passed away, and a year later my dad died. So in my early 20s I had this intense mortality check and made the decision there and then to attempt to follow my bliss and pursue music as a career,” Penner told the News last week, on the phone from Toronto.
Though he had a formal education in economics – a career he says he never would’ve enjoyed – his first serious foray into the industry was with a comedic folk band that played in bars and universities.
Penner, who scored a CBC TV show, Fred Penner’s Place in 1985 after half a decade of success writing children’s music, says the core elements of performing with the comedic band – communication, interaction, participation – continue to help him today.
“We’re in an absolutely messed up world. The insanity is complete. The battles that are raging in every corner of this planet are constant,” Penner began, “and the only way, I think, to find a balance in this is through human contact.”
That’s why, he said, events like this weekend’s Island Children’s Festival, are important.
“What we need to do is really focus on the kids. Because if we make a strong child, if they really understand who they are and how they fit in the global perspective, in the environmental world, how they interact with each other, then we’ll actually have a chance at affecting the next generation,” he said.
Penner will headline this Saturday’s Island Children’s Festival at the Island Montessori House School at 5575 W. Saanich Rd. In addition to music, there will also be kids crafts, face painting, children’s yoga, storytelling and a bouncy castle.
Penner, who asked that his age not be shared, says he feels like he’s 30 years old, based on the life, emotional energy and youthful exuberance he continues to exude.
Having been a pioneer in the industry for 40 years, he said children’s entertainment has been watered down by businesses looking to make money, rather than working on a philosophy of putting kids first.
“There needs to be a new level of commitment of work for children and families. It’s not just a matter of getting up and singing songs – it’s essential to your understanding of life and how you communicate with people,” Penner said. “Never underestimate your ability to make a difference in the life of a child.”
Island Children’s Festival
When: Saturday, May 12, 1 to 5 p.m.
Tickets: $5 in advance, $7 at the door. Kids under 6 are free. Available at any Megson FitzPatrick Insurance location.
For more info: islandchildrensfestival.com