It takes a certain level of undeniable charm to convince an entire auditorium of people to blithely go along with your improved pronunciation of the word “Kanawha.” If anyone possesses that charm, it is certainly the indefatigable Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame.
Keillor and his merry band of “Prairie Home Companion” defectors graced the Clay Center stage Sunday evening much to the pleasure of an amiable audience. A crowd quite willing to go along with anything the aging radio star suggested. Including singing “Silent Night” in four-part harmony on a crisp September night.
Clad in his signature red Saucony sneakers. Keillor padded around the audience in a scaled back, marginally more sedate version of his old self. There were fewer skits and faux commercials, but more heartfelt reflection in this new incarnation of his show.
When my father and I saw the farewell tour in 2015, I think everyone assumed a then 73-year-old Keillor would slip quietly into the gentle oblivion of retirement. That was not to be. I thought at the time that that knowledge lent the show a bittersweet air, but Sunday evening I realized that the tinge of melancholy reflection is just Keillor’s signature style.
When Keillor wasn’t reflecting on the evils of retirement, delightfully torturing sound effects sidekick Fred Newman with impromptu requests, or singing love songs with the talented Heather Masse, he was regaling in the audience with an intricately woven tapestry of stories.
Not the least memorable of which included the tale of the funeral of the woman with which he shared his first sexual experience. Keillor has the unique ability to make an audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats while simultaneously tugging at their heartstrings.
He also personalized the show, deftly tailoring it to West Virginia with a detailed geography lesson on our major rivers and minor streams and an intimate retelling of his Sunday afternoon stroll through downtown Charleston.
I think it is this uncanny ability to bond with an entire auditorium of strangers that makes Keillor’s awkward charm eternally endearing.
Two years ago, as we left the Clay Center, my father, just a few years younger than Keillor, reflected on the fact that his physical ailments might preclude him from ever seeing another live show.
Sunday evening, it pleased me to no end to again share this show with my dad. Thanks in no small part to the gracious accommodation of the Clay Center staff my father was able to stay until intermission.
As I sat through the second half of the show alone I reflected on how, as I have aged, my appreciation for Keillor and his stories has grown. A style of entertainment I once only appreciated as a reflection of my father’s past has morphed into something I personally enjoy as the sands of my own existence slip gently through my finger and the pummeling of life wears at my edges.
An evening with Keillor, his entourage and his gentle ruminations is an evening well spent, made all the sweeter because I was able to once again share it with my dad.