Canadian alt-country legend Fred Eaglesmith came to rock like many others — through the Holy Church of Elvis — but he's always interested in something new.
Eaglesmith, who will perform Friday at the The Highdive in Champaign, has told the Chicago Tribune, "I want to have this five-tent sideshow: a magician, a clown, maybe a tarot-card reader. We'd like to get an elephant, but it's just not practical."
In an interview with The News-Gazette, he didn't share that anecdote. But he has traditionally done comedy bits between numbers.
Eaglesmith said his show here will still come from his decades of singing about rural folk, tractors, dogs and drinking.
Album titles include "The Boy That Just Went Wrong" and "Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline."
As a songwriter, he has been covered by Toby Keith and Alan Jackson, as well as rock bands. He cites John Prine as a major influence.
The 55-year-old also paints.
Raised on a farm in Ontario, Eaglesmith hopped a train to western Canada in his youth, and his songs cover that vast expanse of North America.
Loss is an endearing topic, including on his new recording "6 Volts." That includes a mordantly bitter song called "Johnny Cash" that calls out poseurs.
Eaglesmith says he once walked up to a woman and asked her, "Girl, do you love me?" They've been married nine years.
His wife is also his manager, and they're "still best friends" with three children.
He said he's influenced by old rock, folk and country — mostly country. He keeps playing and "folks just keep coming in."
He plays solo as Fred J. Smith, and has performed with multiple bands, including The Flying Squirrels (bluegrass) and The Flathead Noodlers (folky and rockier).
"Our budgets fit the venue we're playing at," he says.
There's a downside to being Fred Eaglesmith, though: "People develop a persona of themselves, and they get trapped in it," he says.
So he changes it up, like considering a circus.
"I lose a lot of fans when I do new things, but I gain a lot of new ones," Eaglesmith says.
If you go
What: Fred Eaglesmith and guests
When: 7 to 10 p.m. Friday; doors open at 6 (Tif Ginn & Bill Passalacqua play from 7 to 8; Eaglesmith from 8:15 to 10; DJ follows at 11)
Where: The Highdive, 51 E. Main St., C
Tickets: $12 in advance; $15 at the door