Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels play the Rosendale Cafe on February 1. Image provided.
A YouTube search for “Eaglesmith” brings up a baker’s dozen of low-budget videos of the Canadian singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith and his band, the Flying Squirrels, performing his rough-hewn folk rock in locales ranging from Ontario to Texas to the Netherlands. Shot mostly by an ardent fan—a “Fredhead” who goes by the handle “Earwaxhunter”—it’s compelling, raw, unexpected stuff. In one of the longer clips, Eaglesmith, a skilled raconteur with the timing of a professional comedian, simply talks effortlessly to the crowd, relating a funny tale in which his 19-year-old son requests permission to have his teenage girlfriend sleep over. In one of the more interesting selections, the troubadour is present only in spirit; a 40-something Fredhead in khakis pounds gleefully on a parked car with a sledgehammer as he sings the Eaglesmith song “Sharecroppin’.”
Consider it a taste of what Eaglesmith, a veteran of festivals, clubs, and concert halls, has wrought on the world. A scion of the Guthrie-Seeger-Springsteen family of populist songwriters and rabble-rousers, he has created a canon of song that features a vividly drawn cast of lovable losers and simple strivers pitted against a stark backdrop of the rough life, and his combination of yeoman output and tireless touring has captured a devoted following—particularly in his native country, where his popularity is on par with The Boss himself, but also in the US and Europe. Fans frequently travel thousands of miles and happily brave all manner of harsh weather to be part of a Fred Eaglesmith event, and no doubt quite a few will darken the door of the Rosendale Café when he performs there on February 1 as part of his tour to support his most recent CD, Milly’s Café, his 16th since 1980.
Eaglesmith comes by his hardscrabble perspective honestly. He was born “in the springtime of the ’57 Chevy” into a Dutch-immigrant farming family and grew up with rural Ontario soil under his fingernails, earning the money for his first guitar ($12) by doing chores, and actually hopping a freight train out of town at 16 (he soon returned home). In addition to pouring his fervor for social justice and his ken for the blue-collar outlook into his music, Eaglesmith has found outlets close to home for his energy; after three bicycling migrant workers were killed due to nighttime collisions, he launched a successful campaign to provide reflectors for bicycles in Ontario; an accomplished painter, he recently auctioned one of his works on eBay to benefit the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
When he says “I think the bottom of the barrel is where the answers are,” you know he’s been there and back. Whether or not his answers are the ones you want to hear is debatable, but in the tent revival/medicine show tradition, a Fred Eaglesmith concert is designed to touch, to provoke, and to leave an audience smiling.
Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels play the Rosendale Café on February 1 at 8pm. (845) 658-9048; www.rosendalecafe.com.
With its open-air format, where attendees picnic in the parks and watch the stars emerge during performances, and its $5 youth tickets, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice is the perfect place to share with children a love of music and theater, in a variety of styles.