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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Concerts From Childhood - Plus The One I Wish I Had Gone To...

The passing of children's entertainer Lois Lilienstein a couple of days ago really got me thinking about a lot of things.

Mostly, how old I seem to be getting.

But, I suppose once a person reaches a certain age, it dawns on them that their childhood idols eventually leave this world.  And certainly Lois Lilienstein (one-third of Sharon, Lois, & Bram) was one of those childhood figures that made such a huge impression on my life.

I remember playing the "Sharon, Lois, & Bram in the Schoolyard" album until the grooves wore out on it (that's right boys and girls, I had that album on vinyl!).  I watched every single episode of "Sharon, Lois, & Bram's Elephant Show".  Had I still been in the target audience, I probably would have watched "Skinnamarink TV" as well.

Really, there was nothing that these three couldn't do to keep me entertained.  Their take on classic folk hits with a little bit of 1980s flavour and a lot of silly lyrics made them huge stars in not just Canada, but the United States as well.  Did you know that they performed at the White House Easter Egg hunt twenty-one years ago, and had breakfast with Bill and Hillary Clinton?  That's one definite sign that you've made it in the entertainment business when the President of the United States invites you to join them for one of their annual traditions!

Sadly, I do have one huge regret when it came to Sharon, Lois, & Bram.  And sadly with Lois' death, it's something that I will never be able to do.

My regret is that I never got a chance to see them perform live in concert.  And believe me, I always wanted to see them.  Alas, it just wasn't in the cards.  I don't ever recall them coming to my hometown (and if they did, they must have come at a time in which buying concert tickets was an excessive luxury).  Just watching the concert footage that was spliced into each episode of "The Elephant Show" and seeing all the kids having so much fun dancing in the audience...I always wanted to have that experience.

Now, I suppose that the closest that I will get to that experience is singing along to "Peanut Butter & Jelly" and "I Am Slowly Going Crazy" with some sort of hockey game playing in the background to simulate cheering.  And I'm sure if I did that, the second song I listed would make for an appropriate soundtrack.

But even though I never got to see Sharon, Lois, & Bram sing live in person...I still consider myself lucky.  The reason why I consider myself lucky is that I remember seeing a lot of other talented children's entertainers during the first ten years of my life, and some of these experiences were once-in-a-lifetime.

So, I thought I'd share some of my tales with you.

Now, I never did get to see Sharon, Lois, & Bram.  But I did get to see Eric Nagler once upon a time.  I remember being really young too - probably no older than seven.  I did like Eric Nagler on "The Elephant Show", I owned one of his albums, and the magic he performed with his "sewerphone" is absolutely indescribable.  I have to say that I absolutely loved the concert...but what I loved even more was the fact that Eric stuck around after the show and greeted every single one of his fans who came to see him perform.  He even called me by name, which I thought was so awesome!  I think I do remember telling him to say hello to Sharon, Lois, & Bram for me, and I wonder if he did give them the message.  Of course, that was back in '87/'88, so who knows?  Still, I'd like to think he did in some manner. 

I also had the pleasure of seeing Robert Munsch when he came to town for a promo tour.  Again, I couldn't have been much older than seven, but by that point I had fallen in love with his wacky, crazy stories.  When he came to town, I couldn't resist seeing him.

Now, back in those days, Robert still had his beard, and his hair wasn't quite as white as it is now.  But his talent and his passion in telling us about how Moira's birthday went terribly wrong, and how a princess found courage in a paper bag kept all of us glued to our seats.  And like Nagler, Munsch stuck around and greeted his fans.  I still remember being so excited to meet him.  He truly was one of the key people who got me so interested in writing and storytelling.  I don't know if I ever told anyone that before. 

I guess it's out in the open now.

How many of you remember the show "The Polka Dot Door"?  Well, it was a show that aired on TVO for a little over twenty years, and although the co-hosts were changed each week, one thing that never changed were the characters of Humpty, Dumpty, Bear, Marigold, and of course, Polkaroo.

(Note that I never mentioned the animals.  That show probably went through 139 different Friedas and Fennels.)

Anyway, back in the late 1980s, "Polka Dot Door" would go on live tours around Ontario, and a couple of times, they stopped over in my town.  They recreated the whole set, brought over the four stuffed animals, the Story Time Clock with Story Time Mouse, and of course, Polkaroo.

Usually the hosts were almost always the same.  I want to say that Cindy Cook and Johnnie Chase were the ones who always went on tour.  And don't ask me how I remember their names some 25 years later.  My memory is very strange.

Oh, and perhaps my most prized memory?  Getting the chance to see Mr. Dressup performing live at our local arts centre all the way back in 1986!

And, what made it even more special was the fact that back in those days, he still had Casey and Finnegan on the show.  So, I not only got to see Mr. Dressup performing live, but I was one of the rare kids to see Casey and Finnegan up close and personal.  When Ernie Coombs died in 2001, I admit that I took his death quite hard, as I grew up watching him from the moment I was born.

And I'm certainly taking Lois Lilienstein's death in that same bittersweet feeling.  It's sad that she is no longer here, but the memories that she brought with Sharon and Bram are irreplaceable.  And long after they're all gone, their music will continue to live on.

I still regret not seeing them perform in concert.  But I'll always have the Elephant Show.  And, I found a song that perhaps best illustrates how most of us fans of Sharon, Lois, & Bram all feel.  You'll have to scroll ahead to 2:08 for this one, but trust me, it's worth it.  It's from the show's series finale in 1988.

Rest well, Lois.  Thanks for the memories.

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