A Final Performance

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1)   by Travis Richardson

I had a fairly busy Fourth of July weekend. On Friday, my wife was fortunate to score tickets to A Prairie Home Companion at the Hollywood Bowl. This was the final show with host Garrison Keillor. After 42 years the broadcaster from Minnesota is retiring.

We took my 14-month-old daughter with us and she did great for almost 2 hours. She loved the musical numbers, bobbing her head and clapping while she watched the video screens. Around 9:45pm when Garrison did his Lake Wobegone monologue, she became a little restless and my wife took her the exit.

Early duet at the Hollywood Bowl (notice the Hollywood sign in the background)

It was interesting seeing a show that I had listened to most of my life. I had a few revelations there and more afterwards. One is that while I listened to the show since I was in middle school, it has almost always been in a moving automobile. I first heard Garrison Keillor with my dad in his old Ford van going somewhere or most likely coming home on a Saturday evening, often after fishing, hunting or Boy Scout camping. My parents are devout Church of Christ Christians who never miss a Sunday morning service. (The only exception was my Dad’s monthly National Guard service and he would worship later that night.) So while I might camp out on a Friday night, I’d leave on Saturday evening so I could be clean for church in the morning. While my grandparents had a cabin on a lake, we’d leave on Saturday after a full day of fishing, cleaning the property, etc. I considered the weekend to only be a Saturday.

Later when I was driving, I would catch Prairie Home Companion on the car radio. While it might have happened on the home radio, would have happen more by accident. Regardless of how I caught the broadcast it was always a happy surprise since I don’t believe I’ve ever scheduled the show in a calendar anywhere or had it memorized. (I scheduled the program This American Life in my calendar a long time ago.)

Garisson K at Hollywood Bowl
Later in the program that evening

Another thing I realized is that I never listened to an entire broadcast of Prairie Home Companion. This could do with the driving, but also I often switched the channel for a few minutes during a sentimental song or two I wasn’t in the mood for and would comeback later hoping to catch witty banter or a radio play like Guy Noir or an absurd fake commercial. It’s like I’ve heard 30 – 60% of a few hundred shows, but until last Friday it was the first straight 2 hours I encountered and it was the last show.

I was excited to see how the sound effects guy operated. I wasn’t sure how many there were, but only one and he was impressive. It was also interesting that Garrison read his lines from papers with most of the sketch comedy program, but on a tale about a poet becoming a mischievous limerick writer and his Lake Wobegon update, he used no paper. Like he had either rehearsed his monologue very well or more probably (and impressively) he improvised those segments. And if he did that there, I suppose he has probably been doing that for a while. Which, if you listen to all the details he adds is quite impressive.

garrison k and sfx
Keillor with the SFX guy and voice impersonator

There has been something refreshingly different about Garrison’s twisted view of the world. He created small town personalities with strong wills covered with artificial politeness and often narrated a first person account of a downtrodden protagonist suffering multiple humiliations until he finally earned a tiny win (or a valuable life lesson) in the end. He brought intelligent, insightful, and often absurd humor that did not rely on taglines, meanness, or exhausting self-centeredness that seems to be standard American comedy. It was something that I recognized young and I’ve always treasured it, expecting it to be there indefinitely. (42 years is a long run.) I’m grateful I got to see the final performance of somebody who made a strong impression on me.

You can watch or listen to the show in segment here. http://prairiehome.org/shows/july-2-2016/

Anything you’ve seen that was memorable?


Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Jewish Noir, and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at  http://www.chekhovshorts.com, and sometimes shoots a short movie. His novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record.  www.tsrichardson.com 

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12 thoughts on “A Final Performance

  1. Like you, I loved listening to Prairie Home Companion, mostly on the car radio. I can think of times in the 1980s listening to a fan as we drove somewhere in the Orlando area on the weekend, sometimes even over to the coast to see a shuttle launch. Later, when I lived in N.C., I’d listen to the radio show on the way up to Ohio to visit relatives.


  2. What a great thing for you! Keillor is definitely a great talent and the favorite of many, appealing to a large span of ages. I caught him only sporadically but was surprised to learn some years ago my cousin’s son also loved Keillor’s show. Glad you had a special fourth.


  3. My father and I once caught a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion in Billings, Montana. Being visually impaired, I asked Dad what was happening on stage. Were Dusty and Lefty riding imaginary horses during Lives of the Cowboys while the sound effects man uttered the clip-clop of hooves? No, they were just standing there, reading from scripts, he told me. It was disconcerting for him, with good eyes, but not for me.

    I’m glad you had a chance to see Garrison Keillor’s last performance. I’ve been to the Hollywood Bowl, so I imagine it was a wonderful performance. It’ll be interesting to see what the new host has to offer in the fall.


  4. What a gift. I remember seeing Danny Kaye in “Two by Two”. He was older then, and didn’t perform much after that.

    The memories, and to see them this way, how wonderful. A treasure. Doris


  5. Thoroughly enjoyed the post, Travis. I often caught “A Prairie Home Compaion” on Sunday mornings early on a public radio station. It’s sad that such an icon as Keillor will no longer be entertaining those who come behind us. Everyone knows his name even if they haven’t heard the show!


  6. Travis,
    What a treat for you – seeing the last performance of something you long admired. I’ve only listened to bits and pieces of the show – but from what I’ve heard I’d like the Guy Noir segments. Thanks for the post and pictures.
    – Stephen


  7. I’m probably outing myself as someone who is sheltered but I’ve only vaguely heard of Prairie Home Companion. I’m glad you got to catch the show. Sounds like a fun time and any show at the Bowl is fantastic. I’ve only heard of Guy Noir from my dad. I had no idea what he was talking about. I guess he’s more hip than I give him credit for.


  8. The end of an era can be joyful as well as sad, Travis, since there are often many great memories to redo. I’m sorry that I hadn’t heard of Prairie Home Companion but when a radio programme meant enough to people that they scheduled it into their lives, then it lives on. To keep a production going for 42 years is a major achievement!


  9. Travis, this was a GREAT post! I’ve loved A Prairie Home Companion for decades, too, but not the entire 40+ years (I started listening during the late 1980s). I, too, enjoyed the fresh, not caustic, humor, and the folksy, fun music, stories and sound effects. A musician formerly of Casper, now of New Orleans, has appeared on the program a few times, and that always makes my husband and I smile, knowing we know that person (Spencer Borhen, jazz musician). I wonder how the show will go on without G.K.


  10. Sounds like you had a wonderful evening. It is great that your daughter enjoyed most of the show. She may not remember it when she is older, but I am sure there will be many more live performances in her future.


  11. My experience of the show is almost a duplicate of yours. Never listened to it on purpose, but was always delighted when I came across it. I received a book of his for a Christmas gift and really looked forward to reading it, but found that, without his voice telling the story, it wasn’t quite as grand. It’s that deep voice and inimitable rhythm of his that I loved so much.


  12. I’m sorry to say I never heard of it. Perhaps it’s more of a Western thing, well probably not, since Joe has heard it. 45 years is a long running of anything. I was more of a TV person and all the TV shows I’ve watched on a regular basis influenced me. Cher’ley


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