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No, Fred Penner has never actually crawled through a hollow log in the woods

Millennials are flocking to see their favourite CBC kids' show star, and they're bringing their own children
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If you were a kid in Canada in the 80s or 90s, chances are the opening sequence to Fred Penner's Place would be familiar, even if you haven't seen it in decades.

Penner, the 70-year-old Juno award-winning Canadian children's musician who was the star of the show that ran on CBC from 1985 to 1997, bounds cheerily through a natural setting, viewing woodland creatures.

He finally crawls through a hollow log, pulling his guitar into a clearing in the woods where he spends the next half an hour entertaining.

Asked in a recent phone interview with Sudbury.com to promote his July 9 live show at Northern Lights Festival Boréal if he actually spends much time crawling through hollow logs, Penner had this to say.

“No, I've never crawled through a hollow log in the woods,” he said. “It was a piece of artificial stuff, but don't tell anybody.”

Penner does have an interesting story about what inspired that sequence, though. Growing up in Gatineau, Que., he had a pet chicken that was killed by a cat.

He crawled underneath a backyard bush to bury the chicken.

“That movement of crawling underneath, it was sort of like crawling into a special environment,” he said.

“There was this bower of leaves and branches that protecting me that felt so positive and protective. 

“That's a good feeling, and I want anybody who's coming to visit me in Fred Penner's place to have that feeling. Children want to find places that are secluded, quiet and gentle.”

Penner released his first album, “The Cat Came Back,” in 1979, and toured extensively at children's festivals. In 1985, he was approached by the CBC, who asked him if he'd like his own children's show. 

In developing the show, Penner thought about what was important to him when he was a kid, and at the top of the list was nature, hence the show's natural environment.

Two decades after Fred Penner's Place was cancelled, Penner still tours extensively from coast to coast.

And a funny thing has happened. The millennials who were the show's fans — Fred Heads, Penner has hilariously dubbed them — have grown up and now have their own kids, and bring them to see his live shows.

“This past weekend I played in Guelph and Kingston, and after both shows, I sat and signed autographs and sold CDs for over an hour,” Penner said.

“It's this constant stream of people who really wanted to come up and have a picture with their kids and for me to sign my name and tell me the story of how my music had an effect on their life. It was good.

“It's not something that I had anticipated at all when I had began, but now it's very, very strong, and I'm enjoying it. It's positive all the way.”

If you'd like to take in Penner's performance at Northern Lights festival, it takes place on the main stage starting at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 9.

He said the show is for anyone, not just for kids, and he's happy to sign autographs and take selfies after the show, if you'd like. His CDs and merchandise will also be for sale.

Northern Lights Festival Boréal runs in Bell Park July 6-9. Visit the festival's website for tickets and more information.




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Heidi Ulrichsen

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