Evolution of children's entertainment 

Fred Penner one of 10 musicians at Whistler Music Fest

What: Whistler Music and Arts Festival

Who: Fred Penner

When: Thursday, Aug. 10 to Sunday, Aug. 13

Where: Whistler Village

Admission: Free

Fred Penner, a veteran family performer of almost three decades, talks about the evolution of children’s entertainment over the years. Penner is one of 10 performers joining the power-packed lineup at the free outdoor Whistler Music and Arts Festival Aug. 10 to 13 in Whistler Village.

In the mid-80s, children tuned into the lovable characters and singing hosts of Sesame Street. Raffi’s The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round was a coming-of-age anthem for youngsters. Who could forget the harmonies of Sharon, Lois and Bram and their dancing elephants? And every morning for years kids tuned into the CBC hit Fred Penner’s Place.

Music, joy and education were at the heart of everything these musicians/entertainers did, crisscrossing North America with their positive-message songs and interactive live shows and gracing both television and radio airwaves.

Penner says once big business started to realize the moneymaking potential of marketing to children in the late 1990s, the children’s entertainment industry took a drastic downturn.

"We were doing records that had philosophical value," Penner said. "We believe in the power of music to have a positive effect on the young and impressionable child. A lot of the industry looked at it as a moneymaker, and put together poor quality children’s records with bad production value and no positive energy in the music. They would back these albums with a big conglomerate that would advertise it to the hilt."

Human hosts were replaced with puppets and cartoons. Teenage Mutant Turtles, Power Rangers, Barney – a high tech world of puppetry and computer generation replaced the warm-blooded entertainment of earlier years.

"If you only give them a high tech world then children have a false image of what life is all about," Penner said. "Life is family and other human beings and communicating with each other, nurturing hopes and dreams. The complete opposite of the fast-paced way of life."

Penner views his energetic and lively performances not just as entertainment, but the opportunity for families to connect with one another, a time of bonding and growing.

"The value of communicating to kids by going out for a concert, a walk, a picnic is something of value," Penner said. "I think kids are getting lost in the economic shuffle of our time. They are not finding the quiet moments because they are left to their own devices or technology. They don’t have those moments where they can be quiet and relaxed. They have to be active all the time in order to be happy. We are in a very fast paced world where anything can happen in a nano second. This whole way of everything being immediate for children can be very confusing, so my hope is that live performance keeps a balance to the insanity."

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