Page 14 - The Noise August 2017
P. 14

interview with the baritone in the room
by joey bono
Garrison Keillor has been bringing the Prairie Home Companion radio show into the cozy confines of listeners’living rooms for 42 years. A stage master, he keeps his chops finely tuned through theatre tours of the iconic show. Later this month, he and the current touring lineup of PHC will bring the Love and Comedy Tour to the cool pines of Flagstaff. Before packing the binos and blanket, this public radio aficionado had the opportunity to ask the cool baritone some burning questions via electronic mail ...
What are your thoughts on the transition of PHC under the leadership of Chris Thile? Chris has expanded the range of musical acts — perhaps drawing in a younger demographic with an interest in alternative bluegrass but with less of your iconic and idiosyncratic humor. What feedback have you and the producers received from older listeners?
When I did the show, I was given all the freedom I wanted, and now that I’m retired, I keep my distance and don’t offer advice unless asked. I think old men are supposed to go away and not teach their mistakes to the young. Chris is a genius and of course, that’s a problem, but he has a good heart and vast curiosity and he loves the show. So he’ll do well. I had no talent whatsoever and it took me several years just to be mediocre. I’m not one to offer advice.
Historically have you always written your stories before you tell them or do you ad-lib or stream of consciousness, improv. (Guy Noir withstanding)?
I’m a writer and love to write and once there is a script, then let the improv begin.
What was your impression of the PHC movie?
It was a wonderful mess, which had its moments. My favorite was Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin reminiscing about their old days in show business while Lindsay Lohan lies on a couch and reads her suicidal poem.
What’s your take on the rise of podcasting and how do you see its role in giving voice to the next generation of broadcasters?
I’m a reader. I love newspapers and magazines. You look at an article about the sex life of the caribou and if it’s not that great, you can skim. You can’t skim audio. You’re stuck as some pretentious fool who loves his own voice drones on about his trip to Canada. Podcasting is a refuge for lousy writers.
When you’re on the road do ever go out in disguise to bookstores and demand that they carry more copies of your books?
Never crossed my mind.
What’s the most rockstar moment you’ve experienced in all the years touring?
Walking out into the crowd during intermission as they sing “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” I do it as often as possible.
The Love and Comedy Tour has some new faces, Aoife O’Donovan and The Roadhounds mu- sicians; Larry Kohut, Richard Kriehn and Chris Siebold. Give our readers some insight on the selection process of the musicians you choose to take on tour.
We’re doing 28 shows so we’re going with great intuitive musicians who can work with simple material and remain loyal to it over a long run. For example, we do a song every night with the names of rivers in that area, using the tune “Shenandoah,” and I want it to feel beautiful every night. Same with “Where Have All The Myrtles Gone?” It takes a different kind of virtuosity to do this, a Zen-like focus, and it’s a palpable thing to the listener.
If you go back to Brooklyn or St. Paul 1974 and reimagine PHC from the perspective of 2017, how might you change the format or choice of guests?
We were proud amateurs and had a bias against booking big names, which was a mis- take. It took us a long time to come around to the Everlys, Roger Miller, Yo-Yo Ma, Chet Atkins, Odetta, Dave Van Ronk, Bonnie Raitt. We were contrarians and we were wrong.
If you haven’t scored tickets to the show on Saturday August 26th at the Pine Mountain Pepsi Amphitheater, get to it — this is a unique opportunity to experience a timeless and wholesome dose of American stagecraft.
14 • AUGUST 2017 | the NOISE arts & news |
above: Garrison Keillor and the Prarie Home Companion players make a whistlestop in Flagstaff this month. photos by eric haGeness

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