Big Sound for Small Towns

Fred Eaglesmith Plays the Finlandia

Story and photos by Marlene Wandel

unnamed-2It’s Tuesday night at the Finlandia, and Fred Eaglesmith has filled the house to capacity.  It’s no surprise; half of the crowd are regulars, having a Fredhead reunion in the aisles before the show starts. Fred likes to get things rolling early, before his beloved audience of old guys falls asleep in their chairs. The old guy schtick is an old standby for Fred, and he’s not worried that his audience is self-limiting. “There’s always a new old guy on the horizon,” he says.

Fred and his former opening act-turned bandmate and spouse, Tif Ginn, have been rolling across the continent in their bus. Like their tour, this show has momentum. Part stand-up comedy, part rock’n’roll meets country, Fred peppers the evening with irreverent prattle that seems impossibly spontaneous.  Seasoned Fredheads recognize old favourites, like the one about the Finlander who loves his wife so much he almost told her, but somehow, it still as funny as the first time we heard it. There are new gems too, particularly the Finnish take on a trailer park: the sauna park.

unnamed-1At the end of the day, it is the music that draws everybody back. Fred is still singing about guns and tractors, but this time, a couple of happy songs have made the list. While Fred insists nobody likes the new stuff, this show is liberally sprinkled with selections from the last 15 years of the Fred Eaglesmith canon, including a few songs from his not-yet-released new album. Old standards and new songs alike are adorned by Tif Ginn’s backing vocals and prowess with no less than 8 instruments, including an accordion. Longtime Fredheads likely noticed her haunting vocals are reminiscent of Willie P. Bennett. By the second half of the night, we are treated to the full power of Tif Ginn’s voice unleashed, before she steps back into the role of the sidekick, chuckling indulgently at Fred’s antics.

Thunnamedere’s a moment, when the night is over, to shake a hand or take a selfie with the musician some have been following their whole adult lives. He’s left steampunk style behind and looks more like the farmer roots that colour his rants, dressed in denim and workboots. There are no late nights on the Fred Eaglesmith tour; tomorrow night they hit Schreiber, and after that, Bruce Mines. Because after all, “rock’n’roll ain’t only for the big towns.”