Joel at PHC

Becky got Serenaded by Garrison Keillor

There was a moment during Saturday night’s meat loaf dinner and street dance where Becky wanted to head home. We’d been through two hours of Prairie Home Companion and another 45 minutes outside waiting in line for meat loaf. It had rained just an hour before, so the streets were wet and the trees were dripping with every breeze.

“You’ve been waiting for this moment for years, hon. We’re not going home until we’ve had a dance!”

I knew that the meatloaf street dance was a dream of hers – to be part of that community. I grabbed her reluctant hand and we plucked our way through the crowd toward the stage where Garrison Keillor, Sara Watkins, Lynn Peterson, Fred Newman, Sue Scott and Tim Russell were standing and entertaining the crowd.

PHC street dance

Becky and I danced through a couple songs. The sun had just set. The stage lights reflected in Becky’s eyes and glowed on her skin. The breeze sifted through her hair as we bobbed back and forth.

The band struck up the next song, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” Garrison asked everyone to sing along. I held Becky’s hand to my heart while belting “Take my hand…”

The music slid into “I Saw Her Standing There.” Over the heads of the crowd, I saw Garrison walk down the steps at the front of the stage. He slowly walked through the crowd in our direction, singing away. I told Becky what was happening.

Garrison in crowd

“Shut up,” she said.

“Seriously,” I said.

Becky got her fight or flight responses going full blast. I managed to keep her from just running away as she does near any celebrity (even though she asked me several times if she could sneak back stage to meet Sara Watkins).

Garrison looked at Becky, crooned a line right to her while looking into her eyes. Becky was glowing again. “Yes!” she yelled back at him.

Yes what, I don’t know.

Probably yes take me away, Garrison, into a land where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

Garrison continued to move into the distance before eventually heading back right past us again. I got a shot of him this time.

Garrison crooning

Jump back years.

As anyone growing up in Minnesota, I was aware of Garrison Keillor, but not a fan. It probably had something to do with living in Lake Woebegone for my whole life and having to deal with the same people Garrison spoke about every week. It took being away at college and starting a job after college, growing up really, to start to appreciate his sensibility and prowess with words. Becky was much the same –while at Boston College, Prairie Home Companion was like a letter from home every week.

And he’s just a nifty person in general from all the encounters I’ve heard people have with him.

Years stretched into a decade. When we went to his Summer of Love tour at Trollwood in Moorhead in 2010. Becky and I sat huddled under an umbrella in the rain and snow, watching Garrison, and Watkins, and Newman as they worked their enchantments on the crowd. Becky has a lovely summary of that moment.

The year we moved to the cities, we managed to scrape up the opportunity to attend our first PHC show, motivated by the fact we may not get another chance. There always seems to be wonderings about retirement. We were in the top row of the top balcony in the back of the theater. You could not get farther away, and not be more out of breath getting there.

The opera company sang. Garrison talked and sang. We saw the wonders of the radio show playing out before our eyes under a stage moon in front of a farmhouse porch.

This summer, we bought tickets to go to the season opener that also has a meat loaf dinner and street dance. Although the dinner was cheap ($5 a plate) and dance free, we were always otherwise occupied in previous years.

We didn’t know Sara Watkins would be part of the show when we bought the tickets. I squealed when I found out later. Seriously. Squealed.

This time, after many visits to Wits shows in that theater, we were armed with a bit of knowledge about which seats to grab. We were in the middle of the first balcony – a great location near the bathrooms, not too high, and no obstructions.

Garrison spoke about being a fiction writer, something I can identify with. He had his lucky mailbox for manuscripts to his agent. Now it’s an anti-climactic email attachment, the mailbox is no longer there, so he lamented he probably won’t be published again. I get it, since it used to take hours to print out, address, and ship the various requirements needed for particular agents only to be rejected weeks or months later. Now they accept emails – so the whole process of getting rejected takes much less time. It’s something beautiful to share with someone who is as successful as Keillor. One day though. One day, I’ll find my lucky mailbox too, even if it is electronic.

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races to prairie home companion 087

The show was a powerhouse of music between Watkins and the reuniting of bluegrass band Hot Rize after 24 years. We cuddled in our seats, absorbing the history of the theater and this show’s long time connection to it, hoping we’ll be lucky enough to keep going to such events for years to come. For a few hours, we were OK again, not worrying about job hunting, money, or how to get through the next week. In a world where creativity like this flourishes, we feel better.

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