By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
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"My fans are people who have had a fair amount of adversity in their lives," says Canadian roots singer Fred Eaglesmith. "You need to have been through at least two divorces and a death before you are ready for my show."
Eaglesmith's fans are affectionately referred to as Fredheads, but they have little in common with the hordes of groupies and hangers-on who follow the trail of some better-known acts. "You can't be at my show unless you've gone through some stuff," says Eaglesmith. And by "stuff" Eaglesmith is not talking about tabs of acid or bottles of patchouli oil.
Since the demise of the Grateful Dead, their legions of fans have either retired, gone back to school to obtain their junior high diplomas or thrown in with the likeminded throngs who follow Widespread Panic, Phish or Dave Matthews around the country, smoking unimaginable amounts of pot, as happy to be a part of a scene as they are to hear the meandering music.
A little more affluent and a hell of a lot more drunk, the parrotheads of Jimmy Buffett unconsciously follow their leader from city to city, washing away brain cells in blissful abandon, pushing away the reality of their quickly evaporating middle years. Fans of both the aforementioned jam bands and Buffet have become zombie-like caricatures of the true faithful, sleepwalking across the land almost as a form of punishment for their questionable taste.
Fredheads are drifters of a different sort. Attracted to Eaglesmith's heartland narratives and plainspoken declarations, the typical Fredhead is a member of a middle class family, most likely from a rural community, a person who actually sacrifices vacation days to hear music of meaning and experience.
"Adversity and trouble is where many people find the truth," says Eaglesmith.
Eaglesmith has been making tough country music for more than 20 years, before the term "alt-country" existed, releasing more than a dozen critically praised efforts, including 2004's Dusty and the recently issued Milly's Cafe. His songs are honest explorations of small-town life that recall the classic work of Terry Allen. Featuring a toughness that rivals David Allan Coe and a soft side that is equal to Lyle Lovett, Eaglesmith taps into a uniquely American consciousness, a sturdy yet romantic muse that speaks straight to a listener's heart.
"Someone has to present the sad side of this life," he says.