The Filene Center launched the summer season at Wolf Trap with another visit by Garrison Keillor and the news from . The United States Navy Band joined Keillor and the usual suspects onstage along Lake Wobegone with guest stars Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan to kick off the Memorial Day weekend with spirit. Though I can also see why he named the show “A Spring That Love Remembers,” the music of the evening was a mix of Sousa marches, Civil War tales, and poignant love songs and old time jazz and bluegrass.
The usual suspects include sound effects man Fred Newman who slams doors, crinkles paper, dances across metal, and walks with a pair of shoes around his neck. At moments, Keillor was just making up what happened – a rockslide, then an explosion – just to hear him create them.
Another performer is Sue Scott, playing the resident bombshell and every other female character in the variety sketches and hilarious commercials for invented products like Powder Milk Biscuits and Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. Joining them is impersonator extraordinaire Time Russell and music director Richard Dworsky. In addition to wrangling the musicians onstage, he’s also composed most of the themes that make up the iconic sound of the show.
The band, named this night “The Wolves of Rhythm” includes Bernie Dresel on drums, bassist Larry Kohut, Richard Kriehn on mandolin and fiddle, and guitarist Chris Siebold. There were a lot of wolf jokes and trapping wolf jokes throughout the night and soon the audience was howling whenever we heard the word.
A Prairie Home Companion launched in 1974 and has been the air ever since (not counting a brief pause in the eighties). Today over 4 million listeners hear each broadcast and Keillor has done well over 500 live shows from all around the world. It’s a variety show, a concert, a comedy routine, and more every week.
Part of Keillor’s genius is a perfect read of his audience, and he strolled out in a white suit and his signature red shoes and perfectly skewered Washington. The evening’s sketches focused on Capitol Hill and politicians left and right with their competing “Liberty Café” and “Gluten-free, hormone-free safe zone Café,” and also touched a cowboy turning in his boots for “shoes with tassels.” One of the best songs of the night was “The Long Weekend Blues” about an executive who doesn’t know what to do with his time off and can’t wait until Tuesday.
A close second would be Keillor’s rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” He had the United States Navy Band on the stage with him, but decided it would be better to sing that popular Souza march to them – literally standing with his back to the audience and serenading them with unforgettable, hilarious lyrics. The band did get their turn for some other songs like “The Washington Post March” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”
Then the guest stars Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan took the stage to perform songs from their new tour. The three solo artists were asked to perform a set at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival last year and they realized they had something special together. They’ve named the group ‘I’m With Her.’ They covered some classic bluegrass, trading lead vocals between them on songs like John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters” and Jim Croce’s poignant “Walkin’ Back to Georgia.” They ended the evening with the blazing fast “Fire on the Mountain,” showing off Watkins on fiddle. She’s one of those musicians that has played with everyone from the Chieftains to Hanks Williams, Jr. She’s also a founding member of Nickel Creek and is now doing her own marvelous thing. O’Donovan plays a mean guitar and Jarosz plays just about everything else including mandolin and banjo on the album. I think these three have captured lightning n a bottle.
All three also sang duets with Keillor throughout the evening on songs like “Gulf Coast Highway” by Nanci Griffith and “Cheapest Kind” by Greg Brown. Watkins also sang with Keillor through intermission and through the audience as everyone sang along on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – all five verses – and everything else from the Beatles to “America the Beautiful.”
As always, the evening ended with the “News From Lake Wobegone,” a lighthearted standup routine featuring the little Northern town and this night spanned colonoscopies, tent revivals, and life after death.
Keillor is an American treasure and at 72, seems to just be hitting his stride. This annual show has become one of the highlights of the Wolf Trap calendar. As always, Keillor delivers some great tunes and a hilarious, fun, patriotic show.
A recording of this and other shows is available at the Prairie Home website.
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with no intermission
A Prairie Home Companion performed last night, May 22, 2015 and will perform a live radio show TONIGHT, May 23th at 5:45 PM at at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap – 1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 1-877-wolftrap or purchase them online.