Yet as much as I’d looked forward to this event, Friday was one of those ultra difficult days where nothing seemed to fall in place as it should have.
Arriving later than planned – because twenty minutes early is five minutes late in my world – I found myself standing with an usher, and not yet seated, when I heard those first few notes and the refrain that opens every Prairie Home Companion radio show;
“Oh hear that old piano, from down the avenue.”
Usually on my “NPR Saturdays” that line is trans-formative to my spirit.
But on this gruesome Friday, it was a question of who or what would win – the oppressive 90 degree heat (taken up a notch by the 90 percent humidity and not a breath of air), the $50.00 worth of margaritas from Starlight’s free flowing Jose Cuervo on tap, Keillor’s show, or my rotten attitude.
Happily, Keillor’s show prevailed.
In a house three quarters full of NPR devotees, adjacent to a parking lot that looked like a Toyota Prius dealership, the cast took the stage. It was Garrison Keillor, the host for nearly 40 years, his singer for this portion of the tour, Aoife O’Donovan and a cast of regulars. Including Tom Newman, the most incredible old school sound effects man there is, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue and Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band featuring mandolin virtuoso Richard Kriehn.
At each location on the road, Keillor does a yeoman’s job of getting the local history, touching on issues and mailing current topics throughout the evening. He comes across as quite relevant to whats going on in your hometown, as if he was your neighbor.
He made the comment after the opening song that they arrived in two buses and pulled up to the hotel to find themselves surrounded by young, teenage girls cheering and giddy with delight. He played it off as the norm, but said he was thrilled to see the greeting awaiting them as he prepared to get off the bus with the crew. And he was preparing to greet his awaiting fans and sign autographs until….
It seemed the girls were looking past him and waiting for someone else to appear. It was then he noticed he’d apparently let them down as they were waiting for some boy band called One Dimension – to which the crowd gave a rollicking and approving ovation – both for the set up as well as the intentional wrong usage of the band’s name.
Keillor continued using the name couple more times until Aoife politely corrected him, “that’s One DIRECTION.”
“Oh, One DIRECTION, I see,” Keillor said thoughtfully, dismissing it as a non event.
The set moved into a medley of local and topical songs including, Kansas City, Abilene, and Kansas City Star. He proceeded straight from that into a song he wrote for Friday night’s show, which is pretty common when he’s on the road. But this song was particularly funny and well done.
It began, “Its great to be in Kansas City…the one in MISSOURI!”
That got a huge crowd reaction. Then Keillor further admonished the crowd to, “Praise the Lord, every day…. even if your highways are all under construction.”
Next the show moved through the regular bits, but this time, The Life Of The Cowboys featured “Whitey” instead of Dusty, his regular cowpoke partner for the bit. Keillor told the crowd Dusty couldn’t be there as he had gone to rehab, again, for whiskey use; something he does from time to time, so he can enjoy it “fresh all over again” when he comes out.
Keillor has an affinity for former Kansas City singer Iris Dement who he frequently has on the show.
He made note that she briefly lived here – which I never knew – but also said she was born and raised in Southern Missouri when she was actually born in Arkansas. He did a duet of Dement’s song, “Our Town” with O’Donovan. And for those of you who haven’t heard Aoife O’Donnell, she has the voice of a Bluegrass/Country angel.
Then Keillor came off stage and waded into the crowd for his Lake Wobegon monologue. He walked through the crowd for 15-20 minutes, spinning yarns about his old home town, without a note in sight the entire night. It was all off the cuff and impromptu.
At the end of his story, Keillor informed the crowd it was time for his “standing intermission,” and took the opportunity to lead the audience in singing God Bless America, America the Beautiful, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Amazing Grace and Good Night Ladies.
Then it was back to the stage for Guy Noir, Private Eye and more music with Ride, Baby Ride by The Shoe Band. After two hours and forty five minutes of old time radio like it used to be, Keillor brought the evening to a close with an introduction of the band, a couple of bows and they left as unassumingly as they’d entered.
As the house lights came up and I was walking out, I noticed some of the guys in the troupe had come back out and were standing at the edge of the stage visiting with the crowd.
Diss it all you want, but there is something incredibly refreshing and renewing to leave the real world behind for just a moment and relive how things used to be in a slower, more laid back lifetime. In a world today where we spend all our time calculating possessions and shallow accomplishments, a dose of old time family values with some spiritual overtones was more than a little refreshing.
And to that end, a good time was had by one and all.