As an early Father’s Day present, and really just because we’re such big fans, Angela treated me to A Prairie Home Companion for a second year in a row. Last year we attended the show for my birthday. Since I wrote last year about the show and what it means to me and to us, I’ll forego the background this time.
Angela had told me to save last Saturday for a date, just the two of us, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. I like surprise dates and don’t usually try deliberately to figure them out, but in this case I didn’t have to. Mara kept the secret, amazingly enough, but the day Angela went to “make the arrangements” for the date she also came home with some clothes for Mara and Millie from the Hanna Anderson outlet store, which I know to be in Woodinville. Knowing Angela’s bird-to-stone ratio, my first thought was that the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery is also in Woodinville and they host a lot of outdoor concerts and stage events on their big chateau-sized lawn, and Garrison Keillor has brought APHC to the Chateau Ste. Michelle stage before. But I didn’t really think she’d try to surprise me with APHC two years running, so I didn’t think that would be it. (Surprise!)
Saturday morning, after a month of biting her tongue, Mara forgot herself as I made french toast for her and said that if we wanted to see “the show” that day we’d have to take our own chairs. Well, that pretty much sealed the venue. I told Angela that I had a pretty good idea of where we were going (not in front of Mara though, she would have felt bad), and then Angela decided she wanted me to know, then wanted me to guess. I guessed right.
We arrived early, like everyone else, and fetched ourselves up on the big lawn. The lawn is not naturally amphitheatre-shaped, and being a fretful person I started to worry that my experience of the day would most prominently feature the fountain of red hair that sprung in a large and lively mass — even before she fluffed it — from the head of the woman a yard or so in front of me. But then I finally realized, hey…this is a radio show. No worries. In fact, for much of the show I ended up just closing my eyes and enjoyed being stretched out next to my sweetheart under the cumulus-dappled blue skies over Chateau Ste. Michelle, while the swingin’ a capella stylings of the Bodacious Ladyhood trio and — even more impressively — Sarah Jarosz’ dark-edged folk rock and bluegrass wafted out from the stage.
A highlight was the pre-ON AIR intro, when Mr. Keillor came off the stage with the microphone and strolled the big lawn in his signature red shoes singing old anthems and songs, hoping to entice the crowd into singing along. He didn’t tour our quadrant but he came close. Another is anything that Fred Newman, the sound effects wiz, does, and he did plenty for this show, including an entire bit at the end after all the impatient-to-get-out-of-the-parking-lot people had already folded up their Costco lawn chairs and were halfway across the big meadow so that they had to stop midfield and look like the impatient-to-get-out-of-the-parking-lot people that they were. I think I’m most fond of Tim Russell, who plays Armand, the maitre d’ of Cafe Boueff, as well as a host of other characters including Lefty (or Dusty, I can never keep them straight) in the “The Lives of the Cowboys” sketch, which they didn’t do this time (nor did they do it when we saw the show last year).
On the way back from Honeybucket Alley at the south end of the big lawn, Angela ran into a friend of hers who said that she’d heard that this was to be APHC’s last Seattle engagement because Garrison is leaving the show. If that’s true then we’re really bummed out, because we had just decided while driving over to Woodinville that we should make APHC an annual tradition. We didn’t bring Mara with us this time, even though she loves listening to “The Lives of the Cowboys” (we sometimes turn the knob down or start coughing real loud during the occasional risque parts of this segment and “Guy Noir: Private Eye”), and now it seems she might never get to see Mr. Keillor do the show live. We regretted not bringing her, especially since in this venue kids who got the wiggles could be escorted to the far end of the lawn to run around where the show could still be heard. I googled and found where he’d announced that he’ll retire in 2013. Rumors say Erica Rhoades, whom I believe I’ve heard guest-host the show a time or two, is in talks to become his heir, but these are merely rumors as far as I know. If Garrison brings the show back to the winery we’re taking Mara for sure, and maybe Millie too just so we can tell her she saw him live.
Most people find the idea of a Garrisonless Prairie Home Companion an oxymoron. I think I would be grateful that the show would continue on if it does, and I’d compartmentalize and think about these good ol’ Garrison days as the first incarnation of a great tradition. I’m sure there are fans of Jay Leno who don’t understand the loyalty of the fans of Johnny Carson, and fans of Carson who [ditto] Jack Paar. Then again, not even Johnny’s 30 years on “The Tonight Show” matches Garrison’s run.
It was a great day out. We’ll do it again…if we get the chance.