Like many people, I’ve long marveled at Garrison
Keillor’s ability to spin a tale on A Prairie Home Companion. The more I read
about him, the more it sounded like he had an uncanny ability to regularly make
up his entertaining stories at high speed, and then fine-tune and deliver them
as if he had had weeks to polish, rather than only a day or two.
Last weekend, one of my colleagues at Kalmbach Publishing
Co., Mark Hembree, associate editor at FineScale Modeler magazine, got to see
Keillor up close and confirm some of my impressions.
Mark is a talented fellow who leads a double life as both
a magazine editor and a professional musician. As an acoustic bass player and
back-up singer, he toured the world with the late Bill Monroe, frequently
called “the father of bluegrass music.” He’s even performed on the Country
Music Awards show and for presidents
Carter (three times) and Reagan.
This past Saturday, he got to perform live on Prairie
Home as part of an eight-musician tribute to Bill Monroe at Murray State
University in Murray, Ky. This was some show—the
band reached roughly 4 million listeners, plus another 4,000 or so sitting in
front of them at Murray State. Not exactly your average bar gig. (That’s Mark
in the photo at left.)
Mark got to ride in from Nashville
airport with Keillor, eat dinner out with him and some other show people (the
star picked up the tab), and watch him in action as the show was readied for
broadcast. As Keillor worked up notes on his laptap during the drive from the
airport, Mark wondered where he got his “starter dough” for his stories. (Now
there’s a fresh literary metaphor, so to speak). “Pretty much from scratch,”
Keillor said. Keillor indicated that the time pressure is good for him, that it
“kicks him forward,” Mark said.
After writing the shows on Thursday
and Friday, Keillor is “constantly making changes on the fly during
rehearsals,” Mark reported. “He gives occasional directions. Things like, ‘Give
me less of this, more of that.’ ”
A very talented, detail-oriented
staff is another key ingredient, Mark says, and it helps that they've
been producing this show for 30-plus years.
The boys in the band rolled in around
3 last Friday and rehearsed till around 7-7:30; then the actors came in.
Keillor is “sort of in his own world”
before showtime. Mark says. “He’s aloof, not what you’d call effervescent, not
given to small talk, a little Garrison-centric.
“I was just amazed at the volume of
stuff he could turn in 48 hours.”
Sounds to me like Garrison has
incredible powers of concentration.
-- Ron Kovach, senior editor, The