A Prairie Home Companion

Live HD Cinecast

4 February 2010

I blame Rhode for this one. I am not a regular Prairie Home Companion listener. Nor, having just lost $15 and three hours of my life seeing Avatar the night before, was I delighted by the idea of shelling out $20 to watch a private television broadcast at my neighborhood movie theatre. But with a little persuasion, I decided I could afford another chance to get in touch with the culture of my Minnesota heritage—the great pillars of which are snow, fishing, Lutheran churches, funny vowel sounds, and Garrison Keillor.

We arrived early and were treated to an amusing pre-recorded video tour of St. Paul. Keillor, whose unmistakable baritone lends a certain gravitas to his off-handed comedy, walked around the city rambling about life (winter is “nature trying to kill us”), architecture (accusing a new government building of having the grandeur of a “filing cabinet”), the life-size statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald on the sidewalk (“we didn’t put him on a pedestal”), and just who The Tornadoes are (the Anoka Tornadoes). And so on.

The show was fabulous. The writing is first-rate. The musicianship is superb. Watching it on screen for the first time, it becomes evident that the PHC crew runs a tight ship: performers appear and disappear without delay, microphones silently come and go as needed, and musicians perform dozens of numbers right on cue. The production is star-studded but laid back and unpretentious. The musical guests were excellent. It was a treat to see Heather Masse on stage—I remember her from her Pickin’ Tuesday days. The highlight of the show was probably Keillor’s monologue, The News from Lake Wobegon. I had naively assumed from its meandering but focused narrative and unhalting pace that this segment was carefully scripted. It is not. Keillor’s prowess as a storyteller is unmatched by anyone.

For the Regal Fenway 13 theater, the technical requirements of hosting this broadcast were evidently too challenging. The entire pre-show program was presented with badly unsynchronized sound, which they remedied by completely shutting down the projection halfway through the opening number of the program. The audio was glitchy throughout. Needless to say, I will not be seeing future cinecasts at this venue.

Will I see A Prairie Home Companion live again, if I get the chance? Absolutely.