By Ron VandenBoom
Freddie Prez can dazzle the 5-year-old, make the teen-ager smile, and cause the adult to let loose with gales of laughter, when he enthralls all three age groups with his live well mostly live stage show of puppets, music, sound effects and humor.
Prez brought his wacky caravan of lovable puppets to the free stage of the fair for the first time this year, but he is no stranger to the Montana fair circuit, having done about 20 other fairs over the years in other parts of the state.
Its a kind of culture shock coming to Montana after being raised in southern California, but its an experience Prez said he enjoys.
Ive enjoyed Montana, Prez said. Ive always enjoyed being out here. Its a different kind of environment. People are more relaxed and honest.
Prez said he began his show-business career playing in rock-and-roll bands in what he called the Hollywood circuit after leaving UCLA. He was working on a masters degree in hospital administration when he decided to take up music full time.
That was a tough decision, he said, adding that he came from an educated family where everybody got a masters degree. I didnt make a lot of money for a lot of years, but I thought it would really go somewhere.
He also believed that if he went into his chosen profession he would never play music again. But he soon became disillusioned with the music business and what he said was a constant attempt to hit it big time and you never quite get there.
Prez took up entertaining with puppets after noticing the reaction people had to a puppet he kept on the stage for tips. The rest is history.
I really got excited when I got booked on a cruise ship, he said. What it did was really put an eye opener into what entertainment does as opposed to technical talent as a musician.
Prez explained that he will do four things in 30 seconds that make a kid laugh. As a musician, he could play a violin solo where at the end someone says, Hes a good fiddle player, too.
At that point he decided to leave the ego behind and concentrate his efforts on entertainment.
And entertain he does, with a fully-automated stage he had built after his first year as a solo performer. The stage is one thing that can help to guarantee the same quality show every time he performs with a minimum of worry. Its a lesson he learned from experiences on the road working with poor lighting, stages that were too small, and the hassle of loading and unloading trucks full of gear.
It also allows him the option of combining the high tech with the comedy.
Today kids love audio and visual sensory stuff, he said.
One thing he gives them is clean, family oriented entertainment.
You can do it, he said, citing Bill Cosby as an example of someone who has managed to become successful with clean material. Its just a question of whether or not you want to. Its very important, because you become a sort of role model for these kids.
Prez will travel from town to town throughout the summer, taking only a few months in the winter off with his wife and 8-year-old son. The rest of the time, except for short visits, is spent at fairs or traveling.
For all of the work, long hours, and effort that go into the shows, Prez said he has no plans of quitting.
I want to keep doing it, he said, noting that he had been offered chances to do TV shows before. Were just going to keep updating the act.