The sixteenth Tanglewood broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor, took place Saturday June 27, 2015; it was the penultimate show of their 2014-15 season, and probably the penultimate show in the series that began in 2000 when Keillor instituted an instant Tanglewood tradition at the place where he and his wife had their second date.
Chris Thile, mandolin player and member of Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers, will co-host two shows with Keillor next season before succeeding him as host. Thile has performed at Tanglewood as a guest on the 2011 Prairie Home show and in 2013 with Yo Yo Ma’s Goat Radio Show.
We’ve had the pleasure of attending all but one of these broadcasts from the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood, environs once occupied by Hawthorne, Melville, and Wharton. Besides an improbably diverse array of musical brilliance, such as the great Peter Rowan today along Sarah Jarosz, Sara Bareilles, and Nadia DiGiallonardo, the local shows almost always break new ground in the field of Berkshires literary archeology.
Garrison Keillor’s Berkshires literary archeology
An all-time favorite skit was Keillor’s account on the 2001 show of the most famous picnic in the history of American literature, the August 1850 picnic atop Monument Mountain, when Hawthorne and Melville met. Since nobody said Emily Dickinson wasn’t there, Keillor and the cast showed us how much fun the outing could’ve been if the Belle of nearby Amherst had made the trip. Erica Rhodes’ portrayal of a 19 year old Dickinson, eager for the affirmation of her literary elders, was a show-stopper.
The audience roared when she reached the closing lines of Dickinson’s beloved Time and Eternity, which begins, “Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me/…”
“The woods are lovely, dark with dew, Do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.”
Today, the lighter side of Herman Melville was revealed by way of a quick exchange with Hawthorne that made him sound like a Borscht Belt comedian.
During an interview on Aspen Public Radio last week, Keillor said that to have Limericks he’s written “..be beloved among 10 year old boys twenty years from now” would be his “best stab at immortality.” With that in mind, we determined to compose one in his honor during Saturday’s show:
Tanglewood Limerick, for Garrison Keillor
The Tanglewood Shed sits near the mansion where
Boston bankers picnicked, and took care
Of Hawthorne, who’d got fired;
Now, rapt attention is required
When A Prairie Home Companion’s there.
You can listen to this show (and others), and read scripts at PrairieHome.org.