Years ago when Fred Eaglesmith toured Canada, the Ontario-based folk singer used to tell tall tales about the places he had visited, including a fib about Nanaimo and its eponymous pastry.
“I would tell reporters in other provinces and stuff that outside of Nanaimo … you guys have got a 30-foot Nanaimo bar and they all believed me” he said, adding that it would sometimes get printed in newspapers and one night went over the CBC’s national airwaves.
Despite the lack of a giant Nanaimo bar, Eaglesmith has found reason to return to the Harbour City. On Jan. 18 he and wife Tif Ginn are performing at St. Andrew’s United Church. He said they’ve been playing together for about a decade.
“I was in bands for 30 years and when the last band left I just said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to look for another band and do the whole thing again. I’m just going to go out and travel around with my wife and my kid, when he comes, and we’re going to have a great life and tour,'” he said. “It’s been fantastic.”
This past fall Eaglesmith’s touring took him to country music’s most famous stage when he was offered a chance to perform at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He said getting that call was “like getting a diploma.”
“Especially to be from Canada and especially to be as old as I am, for the Grand Ole Opry to call, it’s like they said, ‘You know what? You’re good enough and you’re as good as the best in the world so come on down and play your stuff,'” he said.
Easglesmith said playing that venue was an ambition of his since he was 15 years old. Back then he had just started out and was performing a country music number at a neighbour’s wedding when one of his listeners made an unforgettable remark.
“My neighbour’s dad came up to me and said, ‘You need to go down to this place called Nashville, you need to find Johnny Cash and play at the Grand Ole Opry’ and I never forget that he told me that,” he said, “I never forgot that and, you know, 45 years later, there I was.”
Eaglesmith has a busy 2020 ahead of him. Besides performing around North America, he and Ginn have a live album spontaneously recorded in Virginia that he hopes to release “if I can get my lazy butt in gear,” and in the spring Eaglesmith will begin whittling down songs for his next studio album.
“I still have dozens and dozens of songs I haven’t recorded and we’re touring,” he said. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook and we can’t say ‘no.'”
WHAT’S ON … Fred Eaglesmith and Tif Ginn perform at St. Andrew’s United Church, 311 Fitzwilliam St., on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $31.50, available at Fascinating Rhythm, Arbutus Music and online.