So Long and Thanks for all the Lutefisk

This past weekend, while I was dealing with schoolkids and stormtroopers at Escape Velocity, Garrison Keillor hosted his last episode of A Prairie Home Companion, as described here and here (and countless other places on the web).

As mentioned in Chris Barton’s piece for the LA Times, the approach on one hand was that of simply another show. But so many of us would like that option for yet another show. After 40 years, you can be assured some people find you to be a “mainstay.”

“Nothing gold can stay,” notes Robert Frost… and Garrison Keillor will note him and many other poets on the Writer’s Almanac, the daily podcast which I believe he’ll voice for a while longer. He’ll also be working on some more writing… probably for the rest of his life frankly.

Between thoroughly Midwestern parents and a steady diet of folk music growing up, it’s hardly a surprise I enjoyed Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion (which, let’s just abbreviate to APHC for the rest of this). I came to appreciate APHC more as I got older, because by then I had traveled around and lived in a few more places than “home.” That’s when the small-town Americana and wry storytelling inherent within the Lake Wobegon tales came into greater focus. As Scott Simon notes in his remembrance/appreciation at NPR, having his final performance being on Independence Day weekend, a time of intense Americana, is entirely appropriate.

The fact that APHC was old-fashioned when it first debuted may explain some people’s ambivalence about it, which Robert Lloyd explores in the LA Times here (though this is the first I’ve ever heard the word “polarizing” applied to it). I’m curious how the new, younger host and the presumed new focus on music will affect APHC’s demographics. At the same time, I’m not sure how often I’ll tune in myself.

There’s one other element to APHC that theoretically could continue even with a music-centric version. For the past few years, my family has been able to see APHC when they come to Wolf Trap and be some of the “wolves on the lawn” that Keillor would always reference in the broadcast (which invariably elicited wolf howls from the lawn denizens). Keillor would warm up the audience before the broadcast started by walking around the audience –including up and through the lawn– leading everyone in song. Not a unique show tactic to be sure, but the particular 70-something in suit and red sneakers owned it. Lord only knows if my kids will remember any of this when they’re older, but I will.

And that’s one thing I’ll miss.

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Garrison Keillor at Wolf Trap, 2016

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