I had the privilege of seeing Keillor “in concert” close to decades ago at Wolf Trap in Virginia. He was there for an evening with he and guitarist Chet Atkins.* And while it was a great evening in which I got several of my favorite books by Keillor autographed (and even got to shake his hand after the show and have a pleasant conversation with him), the evening wasn’t a live performance of his radio show A Prairie Home Companion.
* The show was before I became so enamored with bluegrass music and really understood how awesome it was to hear Chet Atkins perform live. In fact, you could almost say the crowd that evening was split in half, with half of us wondering how the guy on the guitar was and when we’d get more Keillor and the other half wondering who the guy telling the stories and singing baritone was and when we’d get more Atkins.
I’d seen filmed broadcasts of a Prairie Home Companion on television and I’d watched the movie a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the show live and in person.
Last night, I got to cross “See a live performance of a PHC” off my bucket list…and in one of my favorite venues to take in a show, the historic Ryman auditorium.
My sister entered for and won a pair of tickets to the first of two live broadcasts of the show from Nashville and she generously gave them to me and my lovely wife so we could attend the show. I looked forward to the show all week and was eager all day to get to the Ryman and take it in.
I wasn’t disappointed in the least. In fact, the live broadcast exceeded my expectations in every way. Keillor came out about fifteen minutes before the show began to get ready and to perform a couple of pre-show numbers. Then, at five o’clock the familiar opening played through the Ryman and for the next two hours I was entranced by the show. It was one of those evenings where everything went by far too quickly. I felt like I’d just settled into my seat and started enjoying the music, skits and the weekly installment of the news from Lake Wobegon when it was time to wrap things up.
In many ways, I credit a PHC as my entry point into the love of bluegrass. The show planted the seed and helped me appreciate the genre as well as some gospel music and the older country sound. Last night’s show was a wonderful mix of all types of music and featured the musical talents of Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan and I became a fan of two singers that are new to me, Aoife O’Donovan and Heather Masse.
As great as the music was, I have to admit I loved seeing how the skits were performed. Watching the sound effects guys create the sounds using a variety of props and their bodies was a highlight of the evening. I found myself thinking back to my younger days, listening to the show and enjoying The Adventures of Buster the Show Dog.
The highlight of the evening was the Lake Wobegon monologue. As I’ve said, I’ve seen taped recordings of Keillor’s monologues on broadcasts and on-line and he’d told several stories during the evening I attended years ago. But this was my first time hearing an original monologue in person. I’ll admit for years I’ve been fascinated by not only the stories but the process by which Keillor tells them. I watched the documentary on Keillor a few years ago that detailed how he crafts the story each week, but I was still blown away by the way in which he told the story–walking the stage, rarely glancing at notes, maintaining a connection with the audience. Keillor is a master storyteller and he made it all look so effortless. I’m sure it’s not as effortless as it appears and it’s the result of a lot of hard word and dedication by he and his staff before the show goes live.
All in all, a magical evening and one I won’t soon forget. If you’re a fan of Keillor and the PHC rolls into your area, I highly recommend getting tickets and attending.
If you want to hear the performance, you can stream it at the PHC’s website here.