‘A Prairie Home Companion’ with Garrison Keillor and Special Guests: Heather Masse & Vince Giordano

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“I hear that old piano…”. These famous words open Garrison Keillor’s weekly program every Saturday night throughout the year. Wolf Trap has returned to tradition once again as it premiers its 2014 blockbuster season at the Filene Center with two nights of Prairie Home Companion (PHC) with Garrison Keillor, (from ‘the frozen tundra,’ as he so aptly referred to his home town of St. Paul Minnesota throughout the evening), in Association with Minnesota Public Radio. Tonight’s show was a warm-up for tomorrow evening’s performance which will be broadcast live locally on 88.5 FM, WAMU, and National Public Radio Stations throughout the country.

'A Prairie Home Companion' with Garrison Keillor. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

‘A Prairie Home Companion’ with Garrison Keillor. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

Garrison initially thanked those in attendance as he recognizes their faces from being around Lake Wobegon: “You know Lake Wobegon, the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.” Garrison paid his special respects to DC’s favorite Socialist from Kenya. Well, this is Washington, and it doesn’t take the wordsmith long to get too political, but the bulk of the show is dedicated to big band music, blues, folk, and vintage music from World War II in commemoration of the Memorial Holiday this weekend. Richard Dworsky, who wears multiple hats as PHC’s music director, keyboardist, composer and arranger did a superb job deserving special recognition.

One of Garrison’s special guests, Heather Masse, sang a heartfelt rendition of “As Time Goes By,” a song make famous by Herman Hupfield and first included in the movie Casablanca (in 1942).  Garrison and Heather performed some great harmonies in “Argonne Forest.” Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, longtime favorites of the New York jazz scene, followed with Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave,” featuring a trumpet solo by Jon-Erik Kellso. It was evident in tonight’s show how successfully Keillor seamlessly weaves together the humor and the music.

Garrison’s portrayal of a struggling detective, who can do no wrong, in the Guy Noir script was one of my favorites. Noir is hired to fly to our fair city on Republic Airlines, and investigate how someone has accomplished the impossible task of making revisions to the first amendment of the Constitution at the National Archives. The first question that Noir ponders is, “Where was Justice Scalia when this obfuscation happened?” Noir also discovers that there were changes in the Declaration of Independence, which under its new interpretation states that the USA reverts back to the “crown” in 2026. As more craziness ensued, I was laughing hysterically.

Massey switched the political to music with a Bob Dylan favorite, “Tomorrow is a Long Time” delivering it to the audience with a sentimental punch. Hilary Thavis had the audience in her hip pocket with a Blues performance before intermission.

The most interesting aspect of seeing this live performance is to re-evaluate your standard operating procedure for PHC listening. You are seeing things that you usually only visualize when you hear the show on radio. The sound effects, which are so artfully provided, are displayed before your eyes. Even as you observe, you realize how skillful these performers are and I would be remiss without naming them -Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Fred Newman. Utilizing their tools of the trade, they can make you believe anything they want —animal, vegetable or mineral.

Garrison and Heather performed  the duet “Cheapest Kind,” which was a home run in my opinion. Vince Giordano followed that with “Bashful Baby.” The Nighthawks’ Trumpeter Mike Ponella performed  “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Chatter among the performers appears extemporaneous. Garrison asked Mr. Giordano what’s the latest news about his bass saxophone. Vince replies it costs $8-10,000 so I sleep with it every night. Garrison quickly replies, “I’m not going there!” And the audience exploded in laughter. Timing is so important to PHC’s success.

The cast of "A Prairie Home Companion": (l-r): Fred Newman, Tim Russell, Sue Scott and Garrison Keillor.

The cast of “A Prairie Home Companion”: (l-r): Fred Newman, Tim Russell, Sue Scott and Garrison Keillor.

The entire cast, with Garrison in the lead, sings Woody Guthrie’s ”So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust), as the wonderful two hour and 45 minute show came to an end.

A short personal story: In 2009, I was in St. Paul Minnesota on business and was walking around the heart of downtown. In the distance, I observed a PHC marquee. I quickly approached the building and opened the door to find myself face-to-face with PHC staff. I explained that I was a big fan of the show and inquired as to the possibility of checking out the theater. What followed was a 20-minute guided tour of the studio including standing on the stage and pretending I was a guest on the show. After that experience, this weekly radio program has always been special for me.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45 minutes.

Prairie Home Companion performed last night, May 23, 2014 and will  perform a live radio show TONIGHT, May 24th at 5:45 PM at Wolf Trap Filene Center-1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, Virginia. For tickets, call the box office at 1-877-wolftrap or purchase them online.

If you missed last night’s radio show at Wolf Trap, you can actually listen to the show HERE. If the evening’s performance excites you, don’t hesitate to make a plane reservation and help Garrison celebrate in St. Paul, Minnesota.  While the rest of the country is commemorating our 238th Independence Day birthday party on July 4, 2014, you can help Garrison celebrate Prairie Home Companion‘s 40th anniversary party on the same day.


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