Even though the weather was frightful at last night's Red Butte Garden show-Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion Summer Love Tour-the evening was in all ways wonderful. It was comfort-food calm, funny, enjoyable, mellow-there was even some jitterbugging going on. It was what I expected from Mr. Keillor and more.
I always enjoyed Keillor's NPR shows, but really got bitten by the Prairie Home Companion bug in a graduate writing workshop with Patricia Hampl, an essayist and lecturer at the University of Minnesota. Ms. Hampl was discussing her early days at the school's paper, when Garrison Keillor was the editor-in-chief. He taught her about Flaubert, the French novelist who coined the term, "Le Mot Juste," otherwise known as, "The Perfect Word."
Ms. Hampl then went on to describe how Keillor had edited her work, and swapped the word, "warm," for "moist," which gave her story about college curling a whole new twist.
Last night was filled with lots of mots juste, and though much of Keillor's delivery seemed spontaneous, everything fit together just right.
The night actually started with Keillor greeting the crowd outside the venue. The show was on hold due to the weather, and the audience lined up for an hour outside the gates. Just before people got cranky, Keillor stepped out and calmly made his way through-shaking hands, conversing, playing with a child's hair and posing for photos. He thanked everyone for coming.
The evening kind of went like that, and in fact, Keillor's band started playing before he even made it back into the venue and up onto the stage. It was as if we were "all friends."
The music moved from ragtime to bluegrass and Keillor sang with Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, his soft voice in perfect harmony with her raspy bass. Keillor then set the pace by discussing slow, old-time summer nights, poetry and love. He talked about the girls of his youth, how one could "turn (his) losses into profits," and everything else that's dreamy and fitting of a summer night-no matter how crappy the weather. "There's no storm that can really surprise the people of Salt Lake City," Keillor said.
Watkins played her fiddle some more, and Keillor launched into more mellow monologues, often poking humor at himself. "I was a geek," he began, "and it was no surprise since my initials were G.E.K."
The night moved seamlessly between Watkins' old-style country melodies, Keillor's comforting humor and lots of laughter and smiles. A Prairie Home Companion's "sound effects guy," Fred Newman took the stage and nearly stole it with his hilarious aural "illustrations" of Keillor's stories. There was the family barbecue, a hunted-down gazelle, dolphins, baby screams, lotions, aromatherapy steam and even the path of sperm. Fun entertainment, to say the least-all infused and interspersed with highly listenable music. There was 50's rockabilly, lots of bluegrass and Keillor's famous sing-along intermission, which concluded with Amazing Grace.
Keillor closed things off with his infamous Lake Wobegon Days monologue, complete with its simple yet complex stories of marital relationships, senility and teenage pregnancy. The cherry for the audience, though, came when Watkins and Keillor wrapped with their farewell duet of the Grateful Dead's Brokedown Palace. Talk about a well-rounded show!
On that note, Keillor's band deserves a shout-out: Pianist Richard Dworsky, bassist Gary Raynor, and guitarist Pat Donohue all shined. They literally could play it all-and in tight, perfect timing. Or perhaps we should call it, "Le Timing Juste."