In the Church of Garrison Keillor

Last night we headed up the hill to Mountain Winery to see Garrison Keillor.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, what his show would be, how big or small the crowd.  This wasn’t helped when the security woman checking my bag sighed and said, “It’s a good thing you brought a book.”  Mr. Keillor is an icon, a celebrity, a living (controversial) legend back in Minnesota — I’d even argue “an American treasure” — but how would he go over out here?  Would he sing a song, read a poem, tell some jokes, regale us with stories of Lake Woebegone?  Is that enough for a live show … in California?


Seven years ago, I’d just graduated from the University of Minnesota when I heard that Mr. Keillor, who had just finished filming A Prairie Home Companion for the screen, would be guest faculty, teaching Comedy Writing.  I could not pass up that class.  I signed up as an auditor.  For 3 hours every week Mr. Keillor tweaked our work and showed us how comic timing works and falls dead flat; he tried out his new material on us — the funniest being a sketch on Dick Cheney, who had just shot his friend in a hunting accident (what could be funnier?!); he opined on his new crush on Meryl Streep, the star of his movie.  Alas, I learned how hard comedy really is, that I have zero comic timing, but I’ve never, never laughed so much in a class, never been so utterly charmed.

Upon opening his own bookstore that same year, my Mr. Keillor wrote this sonnet:

A bookstore is for people who love books and need
To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
And find some common good — that’s why we read.
Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
You write and I read and in that moment I find
A union more perfect than any club I could join:
The simple intimacy of being one mind.
Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e5fee897d970c-800wiI needn’t have worried about last night’s show.

I didn’t need my book; I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Mr. Keillor had plenty for the stage, and then some.

In the round of that outdoor theatre, surrounded by steep hills of California grapevines, we listened to a master storyteller and laughed and sang right along.  If you have a chance to see him this summer, do it.


7 thoughts on “In the Church of Garrison Keillor

  1. jpon

    My wife and I have been big fans of Mr. Keillor’s for many years, and have seen him perform in a variety of places, from LA to Detroit. We also got to see him at a private function at the Henry Ford Museum (thanks to my wife’s connections). He was selling his latest book, which we bought, but I also snuck in a copy of one of his early books, Leaving Home, under my jacket, and after the show got him to sign it. The inscription is classic Keillor: To Joe and Dona, Good for you!

  2. anna

    He’s great, I agree. I can’t believe he was here and I missed him. I should check my itinerary with you in future. You always got it goin’ on. (HIs voice is something else, isn’t it? if I had his voice, I’d talk ALL the time.)

  3. Paul Lamble

    We saw him here in KC many years ago. He certainly delivers a good show. I can understand how some might not appreciate his style or delivery, but he does have a gift.

  4. independentclause

    I don’t love Prairie Home Companion, but he once came and gave a talk at [college redacted] and told a sweet story about traveling down to see a girl he was in love with at [college redacted]. It wasn’t the perfect speech, but it was compelling and totally appropriate. We all loved it.

  5. Josey

    here’s coming here this month so now i must go. when my daughter was younger, around 5yo, she loved the robert altman prairie home companion movie and would always ask to watch, “the movie about the dead guy.” it’s too bad she’s already grown bored with PHC now that she’s nine. i’m waiting for her love of all things NPR to kick back into full gear by the time she’s driving.

  6. Lyra

    I LOVE Garrison Keillor. Adore him. I love everything about his shows, from the old-timey variety type acts, to the lovely baritone of his voice. I got my dad who knew nothing of GK, a box set of his audio tapes for Christmas for he and my mom to listen to when they were driving, and it was so neat to have something that we both got such a kick out of.

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