A Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor, a delight to radio audiences since the first live broadcast July 6, 1974, has been a favorite on the Berkshire summer calendar since being added to the pre-opening week schedule at Tanglewood in 2000. The fifth local show, July 3, 2004, was an especially memorable one because it included an encore.
The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band, for this show joined by Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle) and Howard Levy (harmonica), was doing such a great job entertaining the departing audience of 10,570 that many simply stayed put. The prolonged ovation that followed their impromptu jam session brought Garrison Keillor back onstage, where he remarked on the rarity of encores in the world of radio and also mentioned that he would be having dinner in a few days with people who were with him on that first broadcast 30 years ago.
Then he took hold of the mic and led the audience in singing a beautiful Bahamian folk song, “I Bid You Goodnight,” which, rather than closing the session, only gave rise to another sing-along, “Amazing Grace.” The loquacious and oh-so-seasoned pro Keillor was so moved by his audience that he stood mute for the final chorus before offering an inaudible “thank you” and finally walking slowly off stage.
Highlights of the show included:
- Inga Swearingen – It was the Californian’s 3rd appearance on APHC since May, and she simply stole the show with her beautiful, charming presence, radiant smile, and improbably varied vocal gifts that allow her to juxtapose husky textures with silky lightness;
- humorist Calvin Trillin, whose “deadline poems,” rhythmic polemics on the Bush administration, were so apt they inspired us to take a subscription to The Nation, where they are published (and archived);
- and, of course, the “News From Lake Wobegon,” wherein Keillor set off in praise of fresh strawberries and rhubarb and wandered into a meditation on the vagaries of true love and the stories that our mothers may or may not have to tell us!
Keillor also showed himself to be as fierce a patriot as he is a partisan and closed a riff on the primacy of individuals over groups with the image of Ray Charles and Ronald Reagan rafting the Mississippi in place of Jim and Huck Finn. Continuing the practice of including a Tanglewood-afilliated guest, we were introduced to the Existential Bass Quartet, comprising 30 year TMC faculty member Larry Wolfe and TMC students, who did a fun rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
GASB guitarist Pat Donaghue played a beautiful re-worked version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins” in honor of Hurt’s 111th birthday, and also led the band in a beautiful composition of his own, the “Tanglewood Waltz.”