Goodbye from Lake Wobegon

I had my calendar all set, with our first mid-July Hollywood Bowl concert scheduled with more to follow, when my cousin called to say that she and her husband would enjoy visiting from the Bay Area and would we like to join them for an Independence Day holiday concert?


I had not added Chicago to our season lineup because we’ve seen the group perform before and I had to draw the line somewhere! With any amount of encouragement, however, I am easily persuaded that more is better.

The party atmosphere was high, and there is every reason I could share details that might prove interesting. But it turned out to be a very full weekend.

Our guests asked if we’d like to go to the Bowl for Garrison Keillor’s final performance, Friday, the 1st. Could we still get tickets?


Yes…if we weren’t too particular about the seats, but since Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show, who cares about how high the seats as long as we could hear?

For those unfamiliar with “News from Lake Wobegon,” the show usually originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and is heard on public radio stations in the United Sates, with a listening audience of over 3 million people.

The show is known for its primarily folk and traditional musical guests, Keillor’s inimitable storytelling and tongue-in-cheek radio drama, which has delighted and entertained radio audiences since 1974.

And here we were to say goodbye.

At the Bowl it’s typical to hear wine bottles tumble down the concrete steps while the party atmosphere from the seats can distract focus from the stage.

But everything about this evening was different and simply fascinating to me.

Old-time radio show. Simple jokes and clever commentary. A spontaneous hymn or two.

This is Los Angeles. The capital of the television and film industry, edgy humorists and comedians, and at least the veneer of sophistication–notice the Hollywood sign above the Bowl? And not a prairie in sight yet we were very much at home.


The most incredible moments came at the very end of the performance, by way of encore.

Garrison Keillor stood at the front of the stage, and in almost whispered tones, sang “goodbye song” after song…Happy Trails, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,  Can’t Help Falling in Love, Goodnight Irene…an eclectic musical stream of consciousness lasting for a full ten minutes, while the audience, in rapt attention, in turn sang along with voices barely above a whisper.

No one wanted the mood to shift or the final falling of the curtain.

In the middle of an overcrowded, often chaotic and challenging city, 18,000 people rested in the quiet simplicity of this very humble entertainer. Chris Thile, Keilor’s Prairie Home replacement, will take the stage in October. He has very big shoes to fill. I hope his footfall is equally gentle.









26 thoughts on “Goodbye from Lake Wobegon

    • I know what you mean about missing him, Gerlinde. I am certain that Chris Thile will be a very entertaining host as the show continues, but he’ll bring his own youthful talent and it couldn’t be the same. And I think it isn’t the “show” itself that keeps us coming back, it is Garrison Keillor. And I have a feeling I must have seen the movie you’re referring to, but it was so long ago I’d forgotten all about it! I must see it again. Thank you for reminding me! 🙂

  1. Thank you Debra for such a touching tribute to Garrison and a poignant passing of an era. I am a fervent follower and supporter of public radio, from the BBC in my birth country to CBC and PBS in North America. I know Garrison through our revered CBC radio. He is a national treasure in the States and in Canada. We have such national treasures also. I haven’t had TV for 20 years. Radio fills my days with its voices and personalities. Long may it reign…

    • It is the passing of an era, indeed, John, and I think the live audience was feeling that with a profound heaviness. You could feel it! Garrison was funny and wry, got off some really good political zingers and launched into hymns in a way that only he would dare, but he was holding back just a little bit, I think, slightly struggling with saying goodbye to his team of performers. I wasn’t sure how far his reach, so I’m really pleased to hear that he truly is loved internationally. I couldn’t agree with you more about the joys of radio! Thank you so much for sharing your appreciation for this wonderful show and entertainer. Now we’ll have to give Chris Thile a chance…it will be different, of course, but he’s such a talented musician I’m very curious! 🙂

    • Oh my goodness, Cristina! That was a bold move! But I’m sure the boys were incredibly proud of themselves and felt so grown up. What fun! But yes…I think hiding the matches is a good plan. LOL!

    • It was very special, Kate. I’ve been to this venue dozens of times over many years and never felt the same kind of love for a performer! The entire crowd was eating out of his hand. 🙂

  2. What a wonderful 4th! Chicago is a favorite of ours (and not just because of their name and origin) and Garrison Keillor. Oh my, Debra, you were a part of history. As another commenter said, Garrison Keillor is a national treasure who has touched upon our collective history, pulse, and nature. I have had several of his books and get audio from time-to-time, but, what will late Saturday afternoon/early evening be when he is no long our prairie companion.

    I need to go wipe my eyes, blow my nose, and start dinner. Thank you, Debra.

    • I was so glad we didn’t miss this opportunity, Penny. He was very clear that he will continue to write and has projects he’s excited about. I know he’ll find a way to stay close to his fans! I am going to enjoy seeing what Chris Thile contributes. He’s such an amazing musician. But as a young man from California, I am eager to see how this all translates! 🙂

  3. Oh wow … you were there! Awesome!!!!! I saw various news report about the last show, but knowing someone who attended and delivered a first-hand report is the cat’s meow. You’ve hit the essence of the one known as The Great American Storyteller … and I love the way you described the essence of his show in contrast to what is your city. Perfect.

  4. The only disappointment to the evening was that it was so full of musical entertainment (which was wonderful) but no time for Guy Noir! I was looking forward to just one more time! I think I’ll be podcasting the old shows for a while yet! It was a very special experience for us, and it was gratifying to me to see so many people congregated in one spot, enjoying the performance and savoring the significance of this talented man’s contribution to our lives. I can’t imagine a better storyteller! He’ll be missed by so many, won’t he!

  5. Oh, I envy you having been at Garrison Keillor’s final performance, Debra. I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since I heard a reading from Lake Woebegon Days on the BBC on my way to work one morning many years ago. I bought the cassettes and wore them out and have followed him as best I could from across the pond. The Prairie Home Companion has been broadcast sometimes on BBC radio and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The end of an era indeed.

    • I did wonder at how far his “radio reach” extended, Perpetua. I’m so glad to know that you’ve had the pleasure of hearing The Prairie Home Companion, and Garrison Keillor says that he is planning to spend his “retirement” writing, so I hope we can both continue our relationship with this unique man’s storytelling. If something becomes published I’ll let you know, my friend, just in case it isn’t highly publicized.

  6. Does it sometimes feel like a lot of “little eras” are ending, Jim? It sure does to me! And Prairie Home Companion with this unique storyteller is surely going to be missed by a great many people. i look forward to seeing what he writes, however, and I hope he’ll be prolific! 🙂

  7. I’m not very familiar with the program, Debra, but I know quite a few people who were saddened by his departure. If they knew, they would be so envious of your attending the farewell show. I’ll just have to send them this link. 🙂
    I bet you had a great holiday weekend. After all, It started visiting cousins and watching Lake Wobegon’s final show, That’s a pretty good start … 🙂

    • Garrison Keillor has a very devoted following, and to those of us who have followed him for a long, long time, he will leave a void. It really was particularly special to share the occasion with my cousins, you are so right, John! 🙂

  8. My father enjoyed Prairie Home Companion. I like the concept but the program wasn’t for me; however, I appreciated the folksiness of it and hated to hear Keillor was leaving. I agree that it won’t be easy for his replacement – I wouldn’t want to be the follow-up to him!

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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