On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Garrison Keillor, an American author and radio actor, performed at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, NH. According to the American Public Media, Keillor reached roughly 3 million fans weekly with his radio variety show, “Prairie Home Companion”, which aired from July 1974 to July 2016. During his performance at the Colonial, Keillor blended stories from his present and past and shared thoughts on the election, aging and the generational gap.
Keillor walked on stage to the crowd’s applause (with a few whistles and hoots thrown in) to accompany only two other objects, a microphone stand and a wooden stool. The 74-year-old writer and retired radio show actor sat down, nodded to the applause and simply held his hand in the air and hummed. The audience quickly copied, finding the same pitch. Keillor began singing, “Let Freedom Ring”, which the audience picked up and was later followed by, “America the Beautiful,” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
Academic and Career Advisor Gloria Lodge was a member in the audience and said the songs drew her in “and engaged [the audience for] the whole performance…we became a part of it.”
While waiting in line outside the Colonial Theatre, Abby Mather, a resident of Keene said, “I’m hoping he’ll tell a story, maybe he’ll even talk about current events, like maybe last night’s debate.”
Mather didn’t have long to wait because after the songs, Keillor addressed the current political debate, comparing Donald Trump to a boy he knew in grade school who was convinced the Chinese had carried out Pearl Harbor under the disguise of Japanese airplanes.
Marther said she’s “been listening since [her] sophomore year of college, so 1980. He was like radio comfort food…. Whatever upheavals in our lives, we could turn on the radio at 6 o’clock on a Saturday night and there was Garrison and his amazing ensemble of on-air talent.”
Hidi Tuttle, a resident of Farmington, Conn., said she and Marther “became addicted at the same time.” They “…felt included. He’s been a member of the family all this time.”
Lodge said Keillor seamlessly shifted topics, “weaving” a variety of stories together, “everything from a high school date to the differences between his children’s ages.”
Keillor spoke to changes he’s seen over the years, like the creation of spreadable butter infused with olive oil and the younger generation with all their piercings who seem to have “fallen into a [fishing] tackle box.”
Schuyler Gould from Brattleboro, Vt., said, “Even when he doesn’t identify with someone or something, he always speaks of it with the greatest love and compassion and acceptance.”
David Sutherlend, a resident of Spofford, N.H., said, “He can paint the picture and you can see the characters. You don’t have to have a 32 inch or 50 inch screen to show you what the characters look like – they’re your characters, even though he describes them.”
At one point Keillor stated his ’50s and ’60s “flew by,” but as he gets older, the memories of his childhood become easily accessible, and because of this, he finds himself reminiscing.
Tina Olsen from Brattleboro, Vt. said his performance was “beyond words. He talks to you like he’s talking to your soul – like he knows exactly what you go through as an old person,” she said with a laugh. She expressed that Keillor helps her see “the best of America. He makes you love your country when it’s hard sometimes.”
Marsha Hewitt has volunteered as an usher at the Colonial Theatre for the past three years and said, “It was one of the best show’s” she’s seen. She continued, “I thought he was inspiring. It was a beautiful show from start to finish. He started with songs and then he just talked for an hour and a half…he’s quite an artist.”
Valerie Carpentier can be contacted at email@example.com