A Dream Come True: Prairie Home Companion Live

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A Prairie Home Companion Live, “Summer Love” tour, created by Garrison Keillor; produced by Starlight Theatre: seen August 31, 2011

This isn’t a review: this is me, just gushing about how wonderful my night last night was.

“I knew come hell or high water, I was going to attend this performance – it was most likely the closest I’d ever get to seeing this show live.” – I wrote that in my “love letter to Prairie Home Companion” blog post last October, after being able to go see the live cinecast of that week’s recording in a local movie theatre.

Last night, I got to cross something off my bucket list as I got to actually attend the live production at Starlight. And I loved every moment of it.

The odd thing? I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of PHC. I stopped listening to it weekly when I kept having problems with their website versions not playing correctly (and I can never remember to tune in when it’s actually being broadcast). I don’t have any PHC merchandise (outside of the soundtrack to the Altman movie). I even have to admit I tried reading Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and gave up on it (although I think if there was an audio version of it with Keillor reading it, I might think different). I can even understand how so many people outside of PHC fans can make fun of the show.

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Courtesy KC Starlight

So, I’ve been trying to figure out why I was so excited about this production beforehand, and why the event overwhelmed me so much (to the point where I had tears in my eyes – once from laughing so hard, and once from just the sheer emotion of the event: and I lost count of how many times I didn’t want to clap, as I didn’t want to ‘ruin’ it). Maybe because, as I wrote in the above blog post, it takes me back to a time when I was young and this is something I remember watching the PBS broadcast versions with my mom (although part of me is afraid to mention seeing this to her, as I’m petrified she won’t remember watching with the same reverence I’ve given it). Maybe because it does tap into that nostalgia: even though anyone who knows me knows I’m all about Web 2.0 and the interwebs, part of me did twinge when during one of Keillor’s ‘long ago’ stories, he mentioned how you used to be able to sit on your father’s lap while he drove, most likely with a beer in his hand, as I do remember my dad letting me sit on his lap and drive (whether he had a beer in his hand, though, is lost to my bad memory).

And maybe it’s just a guilty pleasure that needs no other explanation. (How else would you explain that on the same blog, I’m gushing about both Prairie Home Companion and the new horror film Attack the Block?)

Whatever the reason, last night filled me with joy from start to finish (although I started getting a little nervous when halfway through the first act, sound effects guru Fred Newman – who apparently was running late – still hadn’t shown up: that’s my favorite part of the show, after all). Sara Watkins (who had been on the cinecast back in October, as well as being the only other person so far to host PHC – and one of the people that’s been talked about as a contender for when Keillor retires) was back, and singing as beautifully as ever. Newman, like a white Bobby McFerrin, not only did the various sound effects (and visual effect when it came to a whale) but also did some performance as well. And of course, the band did an awesome job not just with their regular music but in keeping up with Keillor’s various moments in the various stories that make me continually wonder how much is improv.

And Keillor? He is, as always, the consummate performer: from doing the necessary research for his opening number to include Gates, the Royals losing, and the fact that while there is a KCK most people know it for the Missouri side; to incorporating the local freight train (twice!) in his stories; to walking through the audience no less than three times during the performance (once technically at intermission, leading us all in a sing-along, so I can now get away with saying I’ve sung with Garrison Keillor!), making eye contact that seemed to see into my very soul.

While yes, a couple of the ‘bad jokes’ were repeats of the ones used in the Altman movie, he had admitted at the top of the show that this was more a collection of his favorite bits. And this was definitely overshadowed by the song about he and his lady love in bed, and then followed up with a description that made me realize, “Holy hell, Garrison Keillor just sang a song about going down on a woman!”

And the bit with Newman that talked about how you came to be born, complete with description of sperm and how it goes into the vagina, made me blush: to paraphrase a quote from when Dick Van Dyke played “Not My Job” on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me and asked if the host was meaning the person in question was a pimp: “I’m sorry, but in the universe in which I live, you, Garrison Keillor, do not know that word.” I love Keillor, and know he is a much smarter person than I and has a much wider range of experiences, but the man is almost the same age as my mother, and hearing him talk about it is that same kind of disturbing when you suddenly realize your parents had to have had sex to produce you. Which, of course, made the sequences that much better.

I made the continued joke of ‘squeeing‘ any time I talked about attending this show to friends and family. But I wasn’t kidding when I wrote earlier by stating this allowed me to cross something off of my bucket list. Being able to see a live production of A Prairie Home Companion was a dream come true, especially in light of all the discussion of Keillor’s retiring in 2013. The stars truly were aligned last night, and I am so glad I was able to attend. Thank you, Starlight. It was wonderful.

You can listen to archives of Prairie Home Companion on their website, prairiehome.publicradio.org.