"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota ..." With those familiar words, listeners to A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio have delighted for decades to the small-town shenanigans related by master writer and storyteller Gary "Garrison" Keillor. Keillor hosted the show from 1974, when it was first performed before live audiences in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Keillor's ostensible retirement from radio last year. Keillor's last episode of the show was broadcasted from the Hollywood Bowl and earned a congratulatory phone call from President Obama. The beloved series began as drive-time installments for Minnesota Educational Radio, recorded at St. John's University in the aptly named town of Collegeville.
Chris Thile has hosted the show since October 2016. Meanwhile, 74-year-old Keillor has hit the road for a tour of readings and lecture appearances. His work is a kind of standup comedy for moderate, mellow people, good Episcopalian and Lutheran Democrats like Keillor himself. Among the pieces his smoky whisker of a voice have delivered on tour are an elegant parody of Poe's The Raven, in which the titular bird quoth ominously, "Donald Trump." And of course Keillor will provide an update from Lake Wobegon, where, famously, "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
Keillor says Lake Wobegon is entirely fictional - devised, he said, because "people want stories to be true." He imagines it located somewhere around Stearns County in central Minnesota and, lo and behold, a search of Google Earth finds a "Lake Wobegon Trail" in just that location. (Apparently, fact paid tribute to fiction.) The town's evocative name originated, or so Keillor alleges, as a Native American phrase that means "the place where we waited all day in the rain." As longtime Keillor fans know, if one had to wait all day in the rain somewhere, one could do a whole lot worse.
A Prairie Home Companion won a Peabody Award in 1980. Keillor himself won a Grammy in 1988 and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1999. He's been a National Radio Hall of Fame inductee since 1994 and has 10 books of Wobegon stories, 11 unrelated novels and memoirs and six books of poetry in print. And he's still hard at it, just as he was mere days after a minor stroke in 2009. He's one of those guys who'll probably be quietly putting it out there till the very end, one little gift of a sentence at a time. That's just how they raise 'em out there in Keillor's hometown of Anoka, Minnesota, a little town that, as Keillor often says of Lake Wobegon, "time forgot and the decades cannot improve."
An Evening with Garrison Keillor, 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 10, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, $36-$81, 360.753.8586, washingtoncenter.org
Garrison Keillor: Just Passing Through, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 13, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $39-$99, 253.591.5890, broadwaycenter.org