An Evening with Garrison Keillor

I’m a Garrison Keillor groupie.  So when my youngest son invited me to attend An Evening with Garrison Keillor last Wednesday at the State Theater, I didn’t scream “Yes! Yes! Yes!” with raised and shaking fists as an ordinary wild-eyed groupie might. Instead my soft “I’d love to, dear. How nice of you to ask.  But are you sure…?” was accompanied only by the rapid thumpety-thump of my heart.  As the Midwestern born and bred daughter of Minnesota Lutherans, it was the only response possible.  A Keilloresque response.

My husband first drew me into the magic of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio program when we lived in southern Indiana.  In those days we had only one car, a bronze Chevy Malibu wagon.  No air conditioning, but it had a decent radio.  One evening we came home with the Malibu’s rear filled with bags of groceries, a few pairs of new shoes, and some rambunctious little boys to wear them.  The late spring air hung warm and moist as the car radio broadcast NPR live from St. Paul, Minnesota.  We pulled into the driveway and stopped the car. No one moved to get out, not even our young sons. Instead we sat enchanted by Keillor’s hypnotic voice spinning a tale about the people in Lake Wobegon, “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”

Through the years, on long road trips we brought along audio tapes of missed programs, Old Sweet Songs, and even How to Talk Minnesotan.

We’ve seen several live Prairie Home Companion performances.  The first was in Philadelphia.  We still laugh about the bull’s horns and large purple cape Keillor donned, his Sons of Knute lodge attire.  We watched the Christmas progam in Bethlehem, enraptured with the sweet sounds of choir music.  Last summer, we traveled to Red Bank, NJ for his Summer Love Tour.  All were radio style variety shows packed with delightful blends of music and commercials for Powder Milk biscuits, with GK and guests performing skits as Guy Noir, Private Eye and cowboys, Dusty and Lefty.  All complete with radio sound effects, of course.

Wednesday evening was different. It was simply An Evening with Garrison Keillor.  Alone.  Just Keillor and the sold-out State Theater audience.  He took us with on a road trip he and his family made when he was 12. Parents and the six kids, Garrison in the middle, driving to Yellowstone.  Somewhere in North Dakota, he became stranded in a gas station. He waited three days for his parents to return, guests of the gas station owners who lived in a tiny trailer and chain-smoked Camels and drank smelly beer.  Thus began his writer’s journey.

From then on, he told us, he wanted to be a writer.  So he went to college and majored in English.  He planned to write the great American novel but, as an English major, he discovered it had already been written. 🙂

Throughout his nearly two-hour performance (no breaks) we listened as story followed story then found its way home. One love affair unveiled another. Audience laughter shook the ceiling.  Listening, laughing, loving the experience, I thought of Mark Twain and how he, too, once shared his gift of spinning yarns in packed theaters.  Brilliant storytellers, the pair.

An amazing evening crowned by a long rambling side-trip back to the much beloved Lake Wobegon where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Thank you, my son!