For over 40 years, A Prairie Home Companion has graced radios with its presence all across the United States, whether it’s at its home base at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota, or at one of its numerous stops on the road. Last June, long-time host Garrison Keillor announced that he’ll retire from his role in the program and that next year, duties will be taken over by folk acts Nickel Creek & Punch Brothers’ chief songwriter Chris Thile. A Prairie Home Companion will perform at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Friday, August 7, as part of the America The Beautiful Tour, so we talked about his favorite memories of the program for the past four decades, the current transitional period in media and what his plans are after he leaves as host.
Rob Duguay: A Prairie Home Companion has a lot of vintage quirks in its comedy, storytelling and skits, and its musical guests tend to be in the folk and traditional genres. It seems as if it could have been as successful a show in the late 1800s and early 1900s as it is today. What inspired the conception and creation of A Prairie Home Companion when it started in the mid-70s?
Garrison Keillor: It started out in imitation of the country-music show The Grand Ole Opry, and we kept adding to it — the monologue about Lake Wobegon, the sketch comedy, the serial dramas of Guy Noir and the Lives of the Cowboys, the commercials, and now it’s a complicated patchwork of material that keeps bursting its seams.
RD: Last year A Prairie Home Companion celebrated its 40th anniversary. What are some of your favorite memories from taking the show out on the road?
GK: The show’s been on the road almost from the very beginning. Radio is highly portable and it’s good to keep looking for fresh audiences. The other night in Portland, Maine, we got a beautiful audience and the show went for three hours simply because it was so much fun. I’ll miss that when I’m done. But there’s no way to do it part-time. It’s all or nothing.
RD: Who comes up with the fictional advertisements in A Prairie Home Companion?
GK: I do.
RD: Since the dawn of the internet, radio has been experiencing a transition where you have these independent radio entities going head to head against the terrestrial conglomerates, while some corporate media stalwarts, notably The Boston Globe, have started their own internet stations. What do you think of this whole transitional period and do you think there will ever be a day where A Prairie Home Companion will be broadcast primarily on the Internet?
GK: I am happily unaware of this. It’s for younger people to deal with. I live in the world of broadcast radio where the family sits down around the Motorola and tunes in the station early to give the vacuum tubes time to warm up. I love that the internet connects us to people in Malaysia and Sweden and the Antarctic, but that’s not what I’m in it for. I’m in it for the trucker crossing the Rockies who is looking for a real-time companion.
RD: After you retire from being the program’s host, can we expect any LPs or CDs under the A Prairie Home Companion name in the future or do you have another book in the works?
GK: I’m working on a memoir that is mostly about work. No LPs or CDs in the works. I don’t see a point to putting them out. You can get whatever you want for free online.
Tickets for A Prairie Home Companion @ The PPAC: http://www.ppacri.org/events/detail/garrison-keillor