Alternative country artist hopes for repaired tractor at Winters gig

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WINTERS — The sixth of nine children, Fred Eaglesmith grew up on a family farm in rural Ontario, Canada.

“It was hard work,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Not only dealing with dairy and beef animals but also the soil.

“It was hard, dirty clay,” he said. “It was really hard to get in the ground.”

He and his siblings were drafted into working on the farm when they were 5 or 6. By the time he was 10, Eaglesmith said he was up until 10 or 11 p.m. working on the farm and up at 5 a.m. the next day.

A few years later, Eaglesmith decided his future was in music. At the tender age of 15, he left school and home with a guitar, hit the road, hopping trains and hitchhiking.

“It was the 1960s and early 1970s and that looked a lot better (than farm life),” Eaglesmith said. “Everyone was on the road. You could see 20 to 40 kids on the corner playing music.”

Relentless touring helped him become an underground favorite in Canada. He released his first album in 1980. He delivered his 21st studio album, “Standard,” last year.

Eaglesmith said it’s not easy to describe his show because he’s looking inside out.

“Besides being a songwriter, Tif (Ginn, his wife who is in the band and plays a bevy of instruments) and I put in some references to the 1960s,” he said. “It can be funny.”

Along the lines of TV’s “Laugh-In?”

“We love that stuff,” he said. “There was no PC (political correctness) then.”

The couple’s love of the 1960s and early 1970s is also evidenced in their T-shirts, which feature a segment from the animated opening of “Bewitched.”

“People love that shirt,” he said.

Traveling in Europe, Eaglesmith became acquainted with Operation Smile, which helps children with cleft palates.

Finding out that it only took about $240 to fix the issue, Eaglesmith began holding pie auctions at his shows to raise the money. Those sweet pastries, many donated by audience members, have garnered more than $60,000 for the charity, he said.

“If it was a good-looking pie, it always sold,” he said.

Some buyers turned around and donated the pie to the band.

Eaglesmith fans who follow the band are known as Fredheads. The concept began as a joke when Eaglesmith began touring in America and there were empty seats. He would tell audience members the Fredheads almost made it to that gig. The stories got more wild, to the point where he would say the fans were heading to the show in Airstream trailers.

An interviewer took the gag seriously and it became a case of life imitating art, Eaglesmith said.

He expects to see some when he stops Thursday at The Palms Playhouse in Winters.

“I played the old Palms,” he said. “That was a great venue. I used to tease the hippies about fixing the tractor.”

The Palms was housed in a barn until 2002. Then it moved into the old Winters Opera House.

“I’m glad to come back to the Palms,” Eaglesmith said. “Maybe they will have worked on the tractor before I get there.”

Fred Eaglesmith

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