On Saturday nights for a couple hours, the good old days still exist on National Public Radio. For nearly 30 years, Garrison Keillor's old-fashioned variety show A Prairie Home Companion has transported its listeners to a simpler time with musical performances from American folk musicians, celebrity guests from the literary world, and now iconic segments, like "Guy Noir, Private Eye" and "The Lives of the Cowboys." At 4:45 p.m. Saturday you can listen to the cast record the show live from the Music Hall at Fair Park. Here are five reasons it will be better than listening to your grandpa's stories about "back in the day."
Keillor made up an entire town. All of the stories on A Prairie Home Companion take place in the true-to-life, but fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota -- "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve." He explained to a curious reader that the name was a fit of sudden inspiration at the keyboard. Keillor, who grew up in Minnesota, said that state had many Indian names. "They mask the ethnic heritage of the town, which I wanted to do, since it was half Norwegian, half German." Gifted storyteller that he is, he even made up the background of the fake town's residents.
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Keillor doesn't repeat the same stories over and over again. Every joke is new, every story fresh. It's amazing that for two hours every week, A Prairie Home Companion has brought new tales from Lake Wobegon. You don't have to hear how pretty your grandma looked the day your grandpa first set eyes on her, again.
Keillor's stories have commercial breaks. The show has a line-up of fictitious sponsors, each with a witty tagline. "Rent-a-Raptor: rid your home of mice, rabbits, squirrels and pesky boyfriends." Or "Fritz Electronics: Where everything you need is on the Fritz." If only grandpa would've broken up his stories about trudging to school in the snow with a commercial for "The Soggy Boots Boys: In a one-night only performance at the Furnace bar and grill."
Keillor has a house band, a sound effects guy and musical guests. Just imagine if every story you heard over grandma's fried chicken had someone like Fred Newman to chime in with ridiculous accents or blaring car horns. Or when your grandpa started singing one of those hokey songs he had back-up from some gospel vocals. Guy's All-Star Shoe band even has an occasional brass section called the Shoe Horns. In Saturday's performance the musical guests are Aoife O'Donovan, The Carper Family and Los Texmaniacs.
Keillor's not related to you, but it might feel like he knows you. No matter how tired of your grandpa's stories you might grow, there's nothing worse than the day when you can no longer hear about how much simpler life was when he was a kid. Keillor understands the role storytelling plays in life and A Prairie Home Companion keeps that tradition alive. The show's earnest, optimistic outlook on life is refreshing. When I saw the tour that came through the AT&T Performing Arts Center in 2010, Keillor and his companions felt like family. Sometimes that's exactly what you need on a Saturday night.