I am not ashamed to admit I love A Prairie Home Companion. LOVE IT. I’ve been listening since before I can remember because my parents love it too (we are an NPR family through and through). No shame at all about how I used to “schedule” time to go and listen to the radio like it was the 1930s, or now how I listen online every Monday morning as soon as I get to work.
Originally I loved the show because of the Americana-esque music, how it reminded me of old-timey radio serials, and because Ole and Lena jokes never get old. I also blame A Prairie Home Companion for my slightly odd obsession with Foley. But it wasn’t until I started using iTunes that I realized how important Prairie was when it came to music. If you use iTunes or other podcast servers and are a fan of NPR, you’ve probably noticed that the only thing downloadable for Prairie is the “News from Lake Wobegon” portion of the show. To listen to the full show, you’ve always had to head to the main Prairie site or listen to it live. It’s frustrating but it makes sense: A Prairie Home Companion has always featured an incredible amount of music from a variety of bands and artists. Not only do they have a house band with original compositions, they regularly perform covers specific to the show’s theme and location they’re recording in. Add that to the numerous local and regional artists featured on every show. It’s a music show, 100%. Obviously, with that many artists and that much music in that many conformations, the rights restrictions are complex when it comes to one-time radio play versus releasing a podcast.
It’s a bummer that Prairie will never be available as an easily digestible podcast, but it’s really worth it when you realize the voice and opportunity that has been given to an amazing number of artists over the past forty years. And it’s also sad to consider that Garrison Keillor — the host, writer, singer, joke-maker and overall driving force of the show — will be retiring in July. The amazing Chris Thile of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers will be succeeding him, but I, like most listeners, realize it will be a different show without Keillor.
Obviously I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see the show live when it came to Austin. It started exactly on time (bless that live radio “on air” sign), featured a lot of audience singalongs, cowboy tales, duets with the talented Heather Masse, and of course, I finally got to see Garrison Keillor broadcast in person. There were cowboy stories, Foley artists at work, plenty of country covers, and the latest news from Lake Wobegon. I loved every moment of it and felt like I was peeking behind the scenes of one of my favorite shows. Joe Ely, the Americana/Texas country legend (and 2016 Official Texas State Musician, which I didn’t even know was a thing) performed several songs and was excellent. The show also featured Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs, a conjunto tejano band with an accordion player who crushed it. Garrison Keillor uses a script minimally and he was sharp and funny and poignant in every moment.
If you love the show and have the opportunity to see it, it’s worth every penny. There are only a few shows with Garrison Keillor left, but check out the listings and tickets here.
Joe Ely is also on tour; also highly recommended. His current dates are available here.
And Los Texmaniacs are definite crowd-pleasers, if you can catch them on tour any of these places.
PS My favorite thing BY FAR about the Prairie Home Companion website is that they have a tab called “Jokes.“ And it’s a list of…jokes.
A Prairie Home Companion performed at Bass Concert Hall on April 24th, 2016.