growingup6.jpgShhhh, come close, I have a secret to tell. It pains me to say this, but this past Sunday Saturday, we went to Surrey.

Actually, Surrey gets a bad rap. It’s just a typical suburb to a big city, with everything that goes along with that. Although I really don’t know any “Surrey girls”, they seem to have the same reputation as “Passage girls” did when I went to high school. That’s Eastern Passage, a small community outside of Halifax, that bears absolutely no resemblance to Surrey whatsoever.

So “Why,” you may ask, “why did you go to Surrey?” Well, we went to Surrey to take in the Surrey Children’s Festival. Now, Vancouver has a perfectly good, well renowned children’s festival of its own. Close too, located down in Vanier Park. However, the Vancouver festival is (a) expensive, and (b) not very toddler oriented. Surrey’s Children’s Festival had many things to do for toddlers, including several toddler-specific tents with things like tunnels, and ride-on cars, and a big sand pit, and so on. Also, live music. Also, free. Well, mostly free.

So on Sunday Saturday, after Aidan’s nap, we rushed into the car and headed down the East-West Connector to Bear Creek Park. We’ve never been to Bear Creek Park, but have driven by it a few times. This is a park located just south of the Whalley neighbourhood, which is notorious as much for its drug and homelessness problems as for its Little League teams. It was a bright, sunny day, with the thermometer pushing 30°. It was a very popular event, and the parking lots were packed beyond capacity.

The reason we rushed was because, if our timing was right, we intended to take Aidan to his first concert (well, I guess his second if you count seeing Charlotte Diamond in the City Square Mall). At 4pm on Sunday Saturday, Fred Penner was playing the last of 4 shows he performed at the festival. Fred Penner missed my generation — he hit his stride more with people my sister’s age. I certainly remember the show “Fred Penner’s Place“, but I was somewhat beyond the age that it targeted. Regardless, we both know who he his, and several of his songs. Maybe not as many as Raffi or even Sharon, Lois, and Bram (who were also a little later than us, but not quite as much).

Things worked out well, and we had a chance to explore the festival’s venue, take in some of the sights and sounds, and let Aidan blow off some steam in one of the toddler play areas. Maybe 10 minutes before the performance we brought him into the theatre, since the “main stage” was actually indoors at the Surrey Arts Centre. Aidan had never been in a theatre before, and was quite impressed by the blue-mini-light lit stairs and spring-loaded chairs. By the time the show started, the theatre was perhaps a little over half full, and a good portion of the crowd was running up and down the stairs, or in front of the stage, or through the rows of seats. Not in an awful way, but in the way you would expect several dozen toddlers and preschoolers to behave. This made controlling the boy a little on the difficult side, but we managed.



The house lights went down and the show started. Aidan sat on his seat, transfixed. Although I don’t think he recognized many of the songs, he was pretty good in absorbing them, and the whole atmosphere of the show. He didn’t sit on his seat the whole time: some times he was standing up, clapping and banging his hands on the (empty) seats ahead of us, sometimes he was dancing, and sometimes his attention wandered and he wanted to run up and down the stairs. In which case, I might add, he would have simply been joining a few other toddlers.

I must say that I was incredibly impressed with how well Fred managed the show, and the crowd. It certainly showed why he’s so popular and successful. The show was peppered with bits oriented to the parents, with his guitarist breaking into the riff from Stairway to Heaven, and at another time Fred slipped a little bit of the Juno-winning “Crabbuckit” into the end of “The Cat Came Back“. He talked to and interacted with the gaggle of kids that had broken through security and rushed the stage. After several people had taken photos and had been chastised by the theatre staff, he told the crowd (and the staff) that since it was the last show of the festival that they should relax the rules and let people take as many photos as they’d like. And so they did.


At one point when Aidan was getting restless, he was crawling on the floor, under the seats through the toddler-proclaimed “tunnel!”. Unfortunately Gwen had a slight incident involving the chair seat and the crouching toddler. There was some loud crying and it was clearly heard on stage. Fred turned to us, and asked the name of the crying child. We told him, and then he proceeded to talk to Aidan, using his name several times. Well, you can imagine that this got the boy’s attention pretty quickly and the tears evaporated within moments. Again, it showed how good he is with the crowd.



So, we had quite a bit of fun!

After the concert, we went back out to the festival grounds and listened to some more music — an odd mix that can be best called South Asian (almost bhangra) fusion. It was definitely sub-continent flavoured but it had a fiddle player. And an electric sitar. Anyway, it was incredibly dance-able, and both Gwen and Aidan did just that. Sorry about the photo — I wanted to capture the stage as well as Gwen and the boy, but unfortunately that put some “Surrey girls” in the centre of the photo, and you don’t really want a close-up.