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.