The 2008 installment of “A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood, with Garrison Keillor” could be emended to read “…with Garrison Keillor and Inga Swearingen,” as the lovely Californian played a variety of roles in every segment of the show, except for the news, which only can be delivered by the lanky Minnesotan. When you consider that Keillor has been at this since the Nixon administration, it doesn’t take a genius to conjecture that he may be contemplating passing the torch to a new generation. Ms. Swearingen, for whom we’ve been carrying a torch since first seeing her on the 2004 show here, displayed the versatility and endurance that it would take to host a two hour show, partiucularly the facility to flow effortlessly between a comic and a serious persona. (Photo:copyright Denise Ofelia Mangen)
(You can listen to segments of the show and/or read scripts at prairiehome.org.)
Of course there could be no Prairie Home Companion without the sui generis Garrison Keillor, but if there ever were to be a Regis and Kathy Lee for the smart set, we saw the model for it today.
Ms. Swearingen, with a Master’s in music to compliment Keillor’s mastery of English, radiates joy, beauty, and artistry from the stage unlike any performer we’ve ever seen. She, too, is one of a kind, and until we find a weekly show for her, you’ll have to be content with her recordings and gigs, or you could enroll in her course at Cuesta College in her hometown of San Luis Obispo.
Besides those two, this show featured the Del McCoury Band and former Poet Laureate Donald Hall, as well as the usual funny business, with Tanglewood angles, and musical augmentation from the ad hoc Tanglewood/B.S.O. rhythm section, “Old Wood and Heavy Metal.”
McCoury and band were brilliant, crisp picking and strumming along with rich harmonizing; it was Bluegrass at its best – taut and restrained, rather than showy. Their choice of material was marked by lyrics so simple and direct that even an English major could get them.
Simple and direct characterizes also the poetry of Donald Hall, whose genius it is to embue plain language with the pathos of a life not only lived well, but with ardent attention to one’s place on earth and to one’s place in relation to another.