Sometime in the early 1980's, I discovered Garrison Keillor. By then he had hosted A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio for about ten years. At that time I was convinced that NPR was only for former beatniks and Birkenstock wearing leftists, but there was something about that live musical-variety show from Minnesota that spoke to my soul.
I appreciated the eclectic musical guests, from Willie Nelson to Mark Knopfler to Heather Mosley. I laughed at the fictitious commercials for Powdermilk Biscuits and the American Duct Tape Council. But what I loved was Keillor's tales from Lake Wobegon, a fictitious Minnesota small town of Scandinavians who attended church at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, got their news from "The Herald Star" (owned and edited by Harold Starr), ate at the Chatter Box Cafe and drank beer at the Side Track Tap. His self deprecating humor about faith and small town life resonated with the way I was raised. He could mock who he was and where he came from while making us love and appreciate those things.
There was simple authenticity and great depth in his stories about throwing tomatoes at his sister's butt or watching one too many Lutheran ministers slowly sink into Lake Wobegon on an overloaded party boat or the struggles of Pastor Liz, the new woman minister. The stories were timeless, but always relevant. Keillor, who is on the autism spectrum, is a true creative genius. I was fortunate once to see the show performed live. It was an unforgettable experience for which I will be eternally grateful.
Keillor, now 74, recently retired, but the show will live on. The new host is Chris Thile, a mandolin virtuoso, formerly of the band Nickel Creek. Version 2.0 of the show, which began October 15th, is different. It probably needs to be a little different to survive, as the average age of A Prairie Home Companion listener is 57.
It's still live radio, and I'll be listening on Saturdays here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp on station KUT from Austin, Texas. But I'll miss hearing about the latest "news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average".