POSTNOTE Oct. 25, 6 a.m.: Here’s last nights program at the Anoka High School Fieldhouse: Prairie Home Anoka001. You can listen to the program here. It was a phenomenal evening. More comments later today.
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Anoka High School Seventh Avenue Singers with Garrison Keillor October 24, 2015
Tomorrow, tickets in hand, we’re off to see the Prairie Home Companion (PHC) – I’ve had tickets for weeks. This time the show is at Garrison Keillors Alma Mater, Anoka Senior High School, in a town and school community in which I lived and/or worked from 1965-81.
If you can read this, you can listen to the show on Saturday, here, regardless of where you are in the world.
I first happened by PHC in 1977, thanks to my friends Don and Laura. You could walk in off the street then, and find plenty of good seats. Things changed when they went national.
Keillor, of course, plays off the old and familiar of rural America, and Anoka was the big town of his youth, where he went to Junior and Senior High School. That then-small County Seat town, along with the rural precincts between St. John’s University and Freeport along I-94 west of St. Cloud (Lake Woebegone Country) gave Garrison the base for his always rich stories.
Saturday will probably be a particularly rich show.
Though I rarely see or listen to his show these days, I’ve seen it in person at all phases of its evolution, most recently back in January 17, 2015 at the Fitzgerald Theatre, and at the day long celebration of its 40th anniversary at Macalester College in St. Paul in July, 2014. On that particular day I watched the “yarn spinners” do their magic in person, unfortunately without master sound effects man “Jim Ed Poole” (Tom Keith) who died a few years ago. (His replacement, Fred Newman, is right fine, as you’ll hear!)
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Garrison and yarn-spinning gang at Macalester College St. Paul July 4, 2014
Fred Newman, July 4, 2014
I was lucky to live and work in Anoka when it was germinating the ideas for part of Garrisons “little town that time forgot but the decades cannot improve”.
When I go out to Anoka on Saturday I’ll be thinking of Ralph’s Grocery along the east bank of the Rum River, which I got to know in the 1960s. Garrison would deny Ralph’s begat Ralph’s Pretty Good…, doubtless, but how else would his “Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery” get its name? There Ralphs sat, just a block or so north of Main Street.
Then there’s Pastor Inkqvist, and Father Emil. They have to be Pastor Hyllengren of Zion Lutheran and Father Murphy of St. Stephen’s; the latter my elderly Parish Priest in the old Church and rectory downtown; both powerhouses in their respective competing religious communities a few blocks apart.
And Anoka was the home of the Pumpkin Bowl, the school football field, and the big Halloween Parade, and the “Tornadoes”. It is most appropriate – planned, doubtless – to have the show in Anoka right at the edge of Halloween.
Back between 1965 and 1981 I either taught, or represented the teachers, in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, already a sprawling school district encompassing thirteen then-largely rural townships. By 1971, Anoka High School had come to be Fred Moore Junior High, when the massive new high school was built north of the tracks. We’ll see the show in the fieldhouse of the now old “new” high school….
Garrison was gone by the time I came to Anoka, but there were a fair number of school teachers who survived and live on in one or another of his phenomenal stories. They were names familiar to me.
I can live those days vicariously now.
But anyone who tunes in can tune in on their own growing up, wherever that happened to be.
Some of the laughter you’ll hear tomorrow night will be my own, and I plan to go decked out in my 40th anniversary Prairie Home Companion T-shirt, and my Powdermilk Biscuits baseball cap (“Has your family tried ’em? Heavens! They’re tasty!”
Is William Keillor Garrison’s root? From the History of Anoka County by Albert Goodrich, 1905
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History of Anoka County by Albert Goodrich, 1905
A FEW WORDS AFTER THE SHOW:
Monday, October 26: Since the entire show is accessible on-line (at beginning of this post), the sounds are all there for anyone who’s listening.
I taught in Anoka-Hennepin district from 1965-72, then represented the teachers there, including Anoka Senior High School, from 1972-81, and my son did his Sophomore year there about 1979-80 or so. So I experienced the evening quite intensely. Lyle Bradley and Coach Nelson were very familiar to me. I did get one photo of Lyle Bradley, 90, and still vibrant.
Garrison listens to Lyle Bradley, about this and that….October 24, 2015
This was a very personal program for Garrison. That was obvious from the beginning when he came down into the audience and led the few thousand of us in several songs before the show began, including the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, as I recall.
There was reverence shown to public schools and teachers, particularly Anoka, his alma mater. I’ve followed Garrison for years, and there were some serious speed bumps a few years ago between himself and public education, but it appeared that was in the past.
His family, his schools, and his community were the relationships that made him what he is today.
I was particularly struck by his reference to growing up autistic. It was an affirmation to any who struggle in any way with autism or its effects.
It was amusing to hear the skit about the Homecoming game between Anoka and Visitation (a Catholic girls high school in St. Paul). Anoka won 6-0, of course, but he softened the edge between zealots for no holds barred competition, and those who emphasize team play and empathy for the underdog. (In the skit, Visitation was the hard-edged competitor, and Anoka the softer feelings oriented team.) It came across especially well, knowing that Anoka-Hennepin has gone through some rough years lately over LGBT issues. There was a “you factions can get along” sense that I was left with.
School people were heavily involved in the program, from kids, to teachers, to the librarian, to the Principal. A school is a social system which, in our society, everyone can enter and have an opportunity to find their muse.
I left renewed and buoyed in lots of ways. When you’re aging, you lose essential touch with the systems of youth. And this show was important for me – though I hasten to acknowledge that we have nine grandkids, and the day after PHC, we went to a wonderful vocal concert in Bloomington which involved two of them, grades eight and ten.
Still, it was great to see the greater community of kids as well.
Thanks, Garrison. You done REALLY good!