“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…”™
The first live program of A Prairie Home Companion® was broadcast on July 6, 1974 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Garrison Keillor developed the idea of having a radio show with musical guests, drama sketches, and advertisements for fake products, and it ran for 13 years before going off the air.
A few years later, Keillor re-started the program in New York City as The American Radio Company™ where it gained national attention. In 1992 it returned to Saint Paul, and went back to being called A Prairie Home Companion® in 1993.
I grew up listening to this program with my parents. We would be in the car going to or from somewhere on a Saturday evening, and they would tune in whatever public radio station they could find and we would listen. Sometimes I would lie on the living room floor with the stereo on, listening to the program. As a kid, I was more interested in the funny old-timey commercials than in the music or the rest of the program. I would wait through all that other stuff to hear the Powdermilk Biscuits® song or Bertha’s Kitty Boutique™ or Guy’s Shoes® and then laugh at the silliness of it. I don’t remember listening to the show much when I was in high school and college, but after college I lived without at television for many years and re-discovered public radio. A Prairie Home Companion® again became part my regular Saturday evening schedule. (Note: The program is broadcast live at 5pm Central, so some readers may be used to hearing the program in the afternoon. That’s one aspect of the time change from Eastern to Pacific that I haven’t quite gotten used to yet.)
The 30th Broadcast Season Celebration show is available on CD and DVD. I first listened to the CD, and that was when I realized the difficulties in trying to condense a two-hour program into 70 minutes. The CD, although a fine recording of a fine show, lacks the usual transitions and pace of the regular performance. In the process of making the edits they made, the theme of celebrating a long-running show became sidelined to the sub-theme that Keillor brought to the performance. He places much emphasis on his and the show’s age, and implies that both may be worn out and past their prime. This concerns me and I hope it is not his way of warning the listeners that retirement is not far off.
The DVD has an entirely different feel than the CD and is more like the celebratory performance you would expect on the 30th anniversary of a program. It’s also a treat for fans living far away from Saint Paul, as we get to see what happens at the live show. The quality of the film is cinematic and not at all a low-budget PBS film. It still has elements of the getting old and bitter theme, like in the credits where Keillor is described as the “Tall Older Guy,” but for the most part that theme isn’t as strong as it is in the CD cut.
One of my favorite parts of the DVD is getting to see the sound effects guys in action. Tom Keith and Fred Newman are two experts in a field that has almost died out: live radio special effects. Using almost no pre-recorded sound, they manipulate their bodies and a few mechanical tools to add to the ambiance of Keillor’s stories, as well as a great deal of humor. The DVD not only shows some of the tools of their trade, but it also conveys the close relationship between the sound effects guys and Keillor.
The show is packed full of music, or at least it seemed so. BR549, Jearlyn Steele, and Inga Swearingen are the musical guests, and the DVD extras include a few songs that aren’t in with the full program. However, my favorite performance out of the entire program comes from The Guys All-Star Shoe Band during a transition point. Their performance of “Heart of the Heartland” is breathtaking perfection.
This show isn’t the best performance of A Prairie Home Companion® that I have heard, but it is pretty good and the DVD will certainly please the fans.