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#982 – Dick Bernard: A Prairie Home Companion

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

(click to enlarge photos)

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

It had been a long time since I last actually attended a performance of Garrison Keillor‘s long-running “A Prairie Home Companion“. Tonight was the night, and a wonderful night it was, with a distinctly blue grass tilt, featuring the Gibson Brothers, Heather Masse, (one of the very popular Wailin’ Jennys), and last, but certainly not least, Joe Newberry.

Here is the program booklet for tonights show, the 1,414th in a series that began in 1974: A Prairie Home Companion001. (The program is rebroadcast nationally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Sunday following the show. Check here for details.)

I first saw PHC in 1977, the year before the show moved to its long-standing venue, now the Fitzgerald, but for most of its life going under the name World Theatre of St. Paul.

In 1978, the show moved into the ancient World Theatre, and Garrison mused about that move in a story. Among other fascinating facts, PHC music director Rich Dworsky’s father owned the World Theatre at the time PHC moved in, and the first rent was $80 per weekend. I attended some early shows there, and the theatre was down in its heels at the time. Of course, today it is an elegant venue.

My son-in-law, who came along and greatly enjoyed the program, observed that there were many of we gray-hairs in the audience, and of course that is true. Garrison, who would have been about 32 when the first show went on the air, is now 40 years older, as are great numbers of his early fans. Indeed, centerpiece of the stage set (see photos) is the facade of an old country farm house (on whose porch about a half dozen audience members sat to watch the program last night.

At some point Garrison (and all of us) will move on, and one can only hope that there will be a viable alternative to carry on the tradition of remembering the olden days before things like Facebook and other forms of instant communication and gratification.

My personal tastes in music have always been quite varied, and tonight was the night for some distinctive sounds, primarily of the bluegrass family. It was a very fun evening, added to by the fact that there was a post-show second concert featuring the above musicians and, of course, Garrison Keillor himself.

In the bonus post-show show, “January Jump Start”, I had the opportunity to take a few snapshots, just to give a little life to the performers for the evening. Otherwise, very often YouTube has video of the various performers in action.

They’re all worth a look and listen!

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

POSTSCRIPT

Between PHC and the bonus “January Jump Start” we walked the couple of blocks to St. Pauls iconic Mickey’s Diner for a quick bite.

Mickey’s never surprises. Donny had a piece of pie and coffee; for me, a side of O’Brian’s Potatoes and a coke.

Mickey’s is a direct kind of place: we had to stand and wait our turn for a seat at the counter, just across from the grill. The place was busy but well organized, and the cook and server were friendly and efficient.

Mickey’s is, as their sign says, “24/7”, and the reward for good behavior is being served.

It was a show in itself…and the food was very good!

Cookin' at Mickey's Diner, St. Paul

Cookin’ at Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

#909 – Dick Bernard: Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion at 40.

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

UPDATE July 5, here.

There are big doings at Macalester College in St. Paul this weekend, celebrating 40 years of Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion (PHC).

The St. Paul Pioneer Press (last Sunday) and Minneapolis Star Tribune (yesterday) had long articles about the anniversary. You can read them here and here.

Thanks to my friends, Laura and Don, I learned about and first attended Prairie Home Companion in the fall of 1977, probably at Macalester, though I’m not positive of that. That program and all others had a standard formula in those early years. Those were the years when you could walk in off the street and find plenty of good enough seating. Nothing fancy, but plenty good enough.

A year or two later our teacher’s association in Anoka-Hennepin School District hired the Powder Milk Biscuit Band, more or less the house band for PHC, to do a dance in Anoka. I wish I had photos.

It was a very fun evening.

In late April, 1979, I had gone to St. John’s University for the then-annual Swayed Pines Festival (ditto, thanks to Laura and Don). By then I knew what Garrison Keillor looked like, and a la Paparazzi, I got a candid photo of this long, lanky, bearded fellow walking quickly across the street.

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Garrison Keillor, late April, 1979, at St. John's University, Collegeville MN, Swayed Pines Festival.

Garrison Keillor, late April, 1979, at St. John’s University, Collegeville MN, Swayed Pines Festival.

There was nothing particularly impressive about this tall drink of water with too short pants. But Garrison Keillor was in the process of making his mark, and I’m proud I could witness some parts of it, going quite frequently to PHC until national exposure made it difficult to impossible to get tickets.

My Keillor file has lot of paper in it, including two wonderful articles he wrote about hockey when he edited the literary magazine at the University of Minnesota in 1965. Some of his books are in my shelves. For me, Garrison Keillor has been an easy guy to like. I’m glad I “met” him through his show.

In April, 1986, I was in the audience when country music legend Chet Atkins was guest at the then dowdy World Theatre. It was a thrilling evening. I saw two or three of the annual Joke shows, and on one memorable occasion the assigned seat was on the stage, behind the performing cast.

Yes, we knew the formula, but every appearance was a surprise. Sometime in 1982-83, I heard that Garrison would be at the University of Minnesota Law School. He had all of us mesmerized with his story about some otherwise mundane event in the lives of the people of Lake Wobegon. The memories go on and on….

I think the events at Macalester this weekend will be awesome and memorable. Hopefully I can witness some of the free ones; PHC itself, always Saturday night, has long been sold out. Listen in on your local National Public Radio station. Wander over yourself, if you happen to be in the area, but take the bus – there are free tickets (see link at beginning of this post.)

I note that I did another column about Garrison in 2011. Here it is.

Here’s my most recent photo of Garrison Keillor.

Garrison Keillor and friends, July 16, 2012, Lake Elmo MN

Garrison Keillor and friends, July 16, 2012, Lake Elmo MN

COMMENTS: (see also response to this post)
from Norm N:
Thanks for the Garrison piece. One of my favorites that I just had to search out and have the words was
his Class Warfare song.

from Mary M: I recently met a lawyer from New Zealand who was a real fan of Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home companion – always impressed with these small world scenarios.

from Laura S: Oh, thank you, Dick! Such fond memories…and I still listen to Garrison’s radio program!

Some photos after three hours at the Macalester Festival, Friday morning/early afternoon at Macalester. These were three of the nine available sessions I could have attended.

(click to enlarge photos)

from left: Fred Newman (sound effects man); Tim Russell. voice impersonator; Sue Scott, and Garrison Keillor did a full hour show featuring characters from Prairie Home Companion.

from left: Fred Newman (sound effects man); Tim Russell. voice impersonator; Sue Scott, and Garrison Keillor did a full hour show featuring characters from Prairie Home Companion.

in background, at right, Dan Chouinard expertly provided the stage music (or whatever the background music for performers is called!)

in background, at right, Dan Chouinard expertly provided the stage music (or whatever the background music for performers is called!)

Young girl was one of many youngsters entranced by Fred Newmans ability to make odd sounds, and make them sound real.

Young girl was one of many youngsters entranced by Fred Newmans ability to make odd sounds, and make them sound real.

Dan Chouinard and Prudence Johnson gave a great program.  Dan was also the background music for Keillor and the Royal Academy of Radio Actors (above).

Dan Chouinard and Prudence Johnson gave a great program. Dan was also the background music for Keillor and the Royal Academy of Radio Actors (above).

Maria Jette and Dan Chouinard, like the others, gave a fabulous program

Maria Jette and Dan Chouinard, like the others, gave a fabulous program

#348 – Dick Bernard: Part 17. Garrison Keillor “…and all the children are above average”

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Today’s newspaper brought news that Garrison Keillor might, just might, retire in 2013, leaving Prairie Home Companion (PHC) in the hands of someone else.

Precisely when Garrison will no longer be part of the picture is an unknown, probably including to himself. But as someone a couple of years senior to Keillor in age, I can attest that he is not getting any younger; he’s no longer a kid.

I was one of the lucky ones who first saw him in the olden days of PHC (which began in 1974). The first time was in the fall of 1977, probably at Macalester College in St. Paul, where you could walk in off the street to buy a ticket, and find a good seat as well.

I was never a regular at Prairie Home Companion, but I showed up a great plenty, and during my time as Director of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Association we once hired the show band, “The Powdermilk Biscuit” bunch, to do a dance gig for our teacher’s association in Keillor’s home town of Anoka MN. Those were the days….

Once, I saw him crossing the street at the Swayed Pines Festival at St. John’s University in Collegeville MN. It was in late April, 1979. Here’s the snapshot, for the first time in public! (Click on the photo to enlarge.) St. John’s is where Keillor first went on air late in the 1960s, and it is in the heart of his mythical Lake Wobegon.

Garrison Keillor late April, 1979

I signed my first Anoka-Hennepin teaching contract in the office of the Superintendent July 21, 1965. The office was in the same school Garrison Keillor had attended high school and graduated from a few short years earlier. A few years later I would begin to represent in teacher union work some of the same teachers who had Garrison as a student. Of course, at the time I had no idea there was such a person as Garrison Keillor, nor would I till he began to be noticed ten years or so later.

While Keillor’s Lake Wobegon is a collage of bits and pieces from many places, there has always been a very heavy foundation of Anoka in his sketches of Lake Wobegon. I know this, since I moved to Anoka in 1965, and except for three years absence 1966-68, I either lived or worked in or near the suburban community till the early 1980s. Too many of the characters and geographic images are far too “spitting image” to be successfully denied.

Keillor’s forever and ever signature is his description of the good people of Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

I have no idea how he came up with this phrase so many years ago, but it is clear to me, living in our contemporary society, he had us “nailed”. We seem, collectively, to think we are all exceptional. Maybe we all have exceptional qualities, but basically we are just people, as Garrison Keillor is.

As is true with most of us, the now-famed Mr. Keillor probably came across as very much an average and ordinary kid in those school years. One or more of them did their part in helping him develop his own latent but immense talents; as they and legions of other teachers in other places and times have helped others develop their own talents. Having taught myself, I know we basically try to do our best with everyone. We don’t always succeed. But often we do, and more often than not we touch someone in some ways we will never realize.

Teachers and indeed all the supporting staff in public schools do an immense service.

Thank school employees.

(As I’ve been writing this I’ve had as background music the work of another commoner who took her talents to the next level. Take a listen.)