Monday, May 23, 2016

(Photo credits with many thanks: Jim Oliver)
Garrison Keillor, creator and host of
A Prairie Home Companion for 40+ years
     SAY IT ISN'T SO, MR. KEILLOR! Tell us you're not really retiring from the show! Not yet! Noooooo! This is only your 1,462nd show! You must surely have another 40 years' worth of stories about the Lake Wobegon Whippets always losing to the Uppsala Uff-das, the Chatterbox Café where Dorothy presides, rhubarb pie, tuna hotdish, the Ketchup Advisory Board, Norwegian bachelor farmers, snow...always the snow, cats, the Bunsens, the Krebsbachs, Powdermilk Biscuits ("Heavens! They're tasty!"), the lives of the cowboys, Guy Noir Private Eye, the weather this past week up there in Lake Wobegon, the perfect voices and sound-effects that make the scene real (at least in the minds of your ardent fans) and your warm storyteller's voice we have come to know and love. Tell us, please, that you will stick around a few more years to tell us what happens at Bertha's Kitty Boutique ("In the Dalles...Roy and Dale, Airedale, Clydesdale, Teasdale, Chippendale, Mondale"...and so on).
 We felt an urgency to get tickets to see A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, the band and special guests, the sound effects folks, and all of it in the Ryman Auditorium just one more time. We started the process on December 1, 2015, working our way through the maze of Ticketmaster and ParkWhiz for tickets and parking near the Ryman. Done! Now, just five months 'til the show!
Set of A Prairie Home Companion, Ryman Auditorium
Nashville, TN
Our seats on the main floor were perfect. The weather for the drive into Nashville was perfect. The only downer was knowing that this could be the last time we would see master storyteller Garrison Keillor and the gang from the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, "out on the prairie". The drive to the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul is a bit too 'fur and snakey' for us, so this was the closest and best opportunity to catch the show 'live and in person. And we did!
Garrison hit the stage a few minutes before air time on public radio. He has immersed himself in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Ryman since the 1970's, when he visited the Ryman and began forming ideas in his head about creating a radio show rather like the world-famous Grand Ole Opry, which originated there. Garrison is a huge fan of bluegrass and traditional music, for which we are extremely grateful! The result of his ponderings is, of course, A Prairie Home Companion. So, Keillor comes out to center stage and he feels like reflecting and singing old gospel tunes right there and then in the Ryman, which was used originally for church services and many gospel singings over the years. He started in and the audience joined him in one familiar hymn after another. He knew he had plenty of a cappella support from an audience filled with folks raised in churches of Christ and Baptist churches in the area. We could help him, and we did! We do a cappella! It was wonderful!
The two-hour show began precisely at 5 o'clock p.m. local time. The house band of amazing musicians was in position: Rich Dworsky, Bernie Dresel, Larry Kohut, Richard Kriehn, and Chris Siebold, along with our own Tennessean, Stuart Duncan, all of whom provide upbeat and incredible music. Heather Masse and Aoife O'Donovan charmed us with a duet of "Making Believe." Voiceover artist Sue Scott and Garrison followed with a bit about flowers for Mother's Day. Later, there was a similar conversation between them about calling Mother on Mother's Day.Then bluegrass legend Del McCoury, Stuart Duncan, and the PHC house band performed "Left in this World All Alone" and "Wicked Path of Sin", with vocal backup from Garrison.
L to R: Heather Masse, Aoife O'Donovan
L to R: Stuart Duncan,Richard Kriehn,
Chris Siebold, Larry Kohut, Garrison Keillor,
Bernie Dresel

Del McCoury
The scene moved to Guy Noir, Private Eye, along with some political jokes about the current crop of candidates in the coming 2016 election. Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Fred Newman are the  terrific sound effects and voiceover artists. Next up was country artist Brad Paisley, who is talented and completely funny! He did "You Oughta Be Ashamed" from his album "Moonshine in the Trunk". Paisley followed that song with an audience-participation number that is good to remember: "The Internet Is Forever". Yes, it is! Brad's song about a single mom, "He Didn't Have to Be", brought more than a few tears in the audience.
Brad Paisley, Garrison Keillor
Next, Heather Masse and Aoife O'Donovan performed "The Magic Hour", along with world-class fiddler, Stuart Duncan. Before singing, O'Donovan recalled that when she was a child, her family spent time in West Cork, Ireland, every summer.                                                                  

Aoife O'Donovan
[Time for an imaginary commercial for an imaginary product: Be-Bop-a-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie]
Stuart Duncan and Richard Kriehn performed a fiddle medley of "Orange Blossom Special" and Del McCoury joined them with "Footprints in the Snow".                                                                       
Del McCoury
The PHC truck driver, Russ Ringsak, performed "Six Days on the Road," which seemed quite fitting for his job. Even the truck driver gets in on the action onstage at A Prairie Home Companion!
Garrison reflected yet again on 'stories we could tell' about the Ryman, mentioning Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers, Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, Vince Gill, Roger Miller, Kate McKenzie and Stoney Lonesome, Robin and Linda Williams, Sarah Jarosz, choirs and chorales from everywhere, Lake Wobegon, the Chatterbox Café, Heather Masse, Aoife O'Donovan, and keyboardist-composer-arranger Rich Dworsky, who keeps the show on track, to name but a handful who have appeared on the show in the last 40+ years.
Brad Paisley returned to the stage to perform the funny "Buncha Lowlife Living the High Life". Garrison, Heather Masse, Aoife O'Donovan, Rich Dworsky and the band joined in for sweet recollections in "Sitting Alone in an Old Rocking Chair".
Garrison read some additional comments and messages from the crowd to friends and loved ones at home. The gentleman next to me was fortunate enough to have his message read. It was a quote from Mammaw, who said, "It is always wise to hold some advice back." (Good thinking, Mammaw!)
It will be interesting to see where A Prairie Home Companion will go from this point. We hear that talented mandolinist, Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers) is likely the chosen host. It is also likely that Garrison Keillor will be around the show in some capacity for a long time to come. Garrison turns 74 during the first week of August, and his many fans wish him Happy Birthday and a fond farewell.
"That's the news from Lake Wobegon." ~ Garrison Keillor
Additional information:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

SUNDAY, MAY 1, 2016
     John Johns is a cousin in a roundabout sort of way, but mostly he is a dear and talented friend of many years. His roots are deep in the small town of Hickman, KY, alongside the Mississippi River. John took and interest in the classical guitar a long time ago. He wound up befriending other guitarists such as Chet Atkins. They swapped stories and music licks during most of their time together. At one point, Chet even took a lesson or two from John about a technique Chet was working on. Picture that, if you can...the great Chet Atkins taking lessons from John Johns. Oh, my! They remained friends until Chet passed away in 2001.
     Fast-forwarding to more recent times, John Johns and his wife and daughter moved to Nashville, and John began teaching at Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. He taught, he toured on a limited basis, he appeared on WPLN-FM (public radio in Nashville) several times, and now after 40+ years of honing his craft, John is retiring to spend more time with his family.
     As a tribute to family and friends where John grew up in Hickman, KY, he was invited to perform one more concert for the hometown crowd. The First Methodist Church was filled that sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, May 1, 2016. The concert was magnificent, and there was a reception and presentation to John which followed the musical performance. It was a lovely way for John to close out his wonderful career and to salute those folks who supported him along the way.
     We should mention that the Saturday night before the concert, there was a fine gathering for a huge catfish dinner at Boyette's Restaurant in Tiptonville, TN, near Reelfoot Lake. Great food, family, and friends. You can't get much better than that!
     John's selections for the Sunday concert were: Aria detta "La Frescobalda" by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643); Prelude, Allemande, and Gavottes I and II by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); Andante largo, Op. 5, No. 5 by Fernando Sor (1778-1839); Danza Espanola No. 5 (Andaluza) by Enrique Granados (1867-1916); and Five Preludes (1940) E minor, D major, A minor, E minor, and E major, by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959).
     Our congratulations and best wishes to John and his family as he moves into another phase of his life. We hope he will continue to play guitar well into the future.

John Johns on his Daryl Perry Classical Guitar
First Methodist Church, Hickman KY
May 1, 2016
John Johns and cousin Bill Bailey
First Methodist Church, Hickman, KY
May 1, 2016

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

     GOT A TASTE FOR SOME COUNTRY COOKIN'? How about some good ol' country and bluegrass music to go along with that great cookin' that many of us grew up on? You probably grew up on country-fried steak (and gravy), fried catfish, fried okra, beans, taters, and cornbread from a black cast-iron skillet. If you didn't, you should have! You missed some fine eatin'!
     All of that, plus the music, is still going strong at the legendary BROOKS SHAW'S OLD COUNTRY STORE in CASEY JONES VILLAGE, Jackson, TN, just off I-40 eastbound at exit 82-A. Right there, every Thursday night, there's country cooking in the main restaurant and in the charming annex called THE DIXIE CAFE. The Dixie Café has added a stage, a few tables and a mix of chairs, and local bluegrass and country music players show up to eat first (always important!) and then they climb onto the stage or sit in chairs around the edges of the stage stage, and it becomes a "country-dog good time" for the next few hours. Skill level doesn't matter all that much. The point is that everybody has a good time.
     The JACKSON AREA PLECTRAL SOCIETY musicians gather all over the Old Country Store to while away the hours every Thursday. They can be seen in the Dixie Café, in the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, outdoors in bunches, and even in the train museum across the parking lot. See the home of Casey Jones, see train memorabilia inside the train museum, and just enjoy a step back in time when trains were THE method of getting from here to there.
     On a recent trip to Jackson, we stopped in to listen and take pictures of the goings-on in the Dixie Café. We jotted down a bunch of names of the musicians and some of the songs they sang during the evening. We saw Joe and Sue Bone, Marilyn and Coley Graves, Don and Monda Horne, Wanda Davis, Pat Knight, Don Gentry, Joe Cupp, Jimmy Skiles, Fate Britt, Steve Benson, Paul Jackson, and Ricky Locke. Apologies to those whose names I missed. 
Players in the Dixie Café, Jackson, TN, April 28, 2016
Players and fans in the Dixie Café, Jackson, TN, April 28, 2016
      We heard so many songs that we can't remember them all, but here are some tunes you may remember from another day and time: You Are My Flower, Touched by the Blood of the Lord, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Who Will Watch the Home Place, Little White Church, Just Over in the Glory Land, The Way I Am, Worried Man Blues, This Little Light of Mine, Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, Red Wing, Blue Ridge Mountain Home, Unclouded Day, I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name, Cryin' My Heart Out Over You, Where the Soul Never Dies, Bile 'Em Cabbage Down, Ashokan Farewell, Rank Strangers, Somebody Touched Me, I'll Fly Away, Do Lord, This Little Light of Mine, Red River Valley, Where the Arkansas River Leaves Oklahoma, Old Joe Clark, and All the Good Times Are Past and Gone.
     Join the fans and musicians any Thursday evening around 6:00 PM Central at the Dixie Café inside or on the outside of The Old Country Store in Jackson, TN, taste the great Southern cookin' that the store is known for, and stick around for a little bluegrass and country music. You will leave feeling much better than when you came in!
Pick away!
For more information about The Old Country Store and Train Museum: