Tanglewood: Keillor back at 'magical' spot

Monday June 25, 2012

LENOX -- Garrison Keillor visits many places each year as he carries the ethos of "Prairie Home Companion," along with updates to The News from Lake Wobegon and other essential intelligence, to thousands of eager eyes and millions of receptive ears.

The genial host of one of the most popular weekly shows on American Public Radio maintains residences in Saint Paul, Minn., his primary home, and New York, a favorite spot, while pursuing a busy travel schedule. This is a regimen that dispatches him, his cast and crew to both coasts and many places in between when he is not occupying the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown Saint Paul or Town Hall in New York.

Within slightly more than two weeks, he alights in Ravinia, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony; the Interlochen Center in Northwest Michigan, Tanglewood, and Hollywood Bowl, summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Keillor and his familiar gathering of actors, musicians and technicians will make their 13th appearance here on Saturday evening -- remember, it’s a radio broadcast, and the (figurative) doors close promptly at 5:45.

Among his guests are Arlo Guthrie and his band; Heather Masse, a favorite vocal companion of Keillor who has been associated with the Waillin’ Jennys; and The DiGiallonardo Sisters.

Other than for his beloved and bemusing Lake Wobegon, which will occupy its customary spot on the show’s second hour, Keillor said he holds a special affection for Tanglewood, which he hailed as "a magical place.

"And, it’s not like any other place, it’s really very astonishing," Keillor said during a telephone interview from Saint Paul. He spoke quietly in his Joycean manner, in that confidential baritone so familiar and so comforting to his listeners.

"We were very lucky to have been invited back in the summer of 2000, and we’ve had a great time ever since.

"It’s different in that there is a great passion for music that’s in the air that at Tanglewood is partly as a result of all those students being there, and you get that from them. Also in the air is the spirit of Koussevitzky and Bernstein, and all the guests that come there as well."

Keillor said that in the case of his show, this love of music takes the form of what he described as "the world’s longest encore, which happens at every broadcast.

"The broadcast goes off the air at 8, and some people leave, out the exits, and some people from the grass come into the Shed and stand by the stage. And what they want, they just want to sing for an hour after the show -- all the songs that anyone would know by heart: ‘America, the Beautiful,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘America’; ‘Down in the Valley,’ ‘Bury Me Beneath the Willow,’ ‘Swanee River’ and ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Old Man River,’ ‘Yesterday.’

"We just keep going, and they love to stand in a crowd, and they sing beautifully. It only happens at Tanglewood. It won’t happen at Ravinia. When the show is over there, the people are done, and they leave. At Tanglewood, there’s this other tradition.

"This was true from the first time we came to Tanglewood, and it’s sort of grown over the years in length, as they clustered down close to the stage, and they filled up the aisles.

"There have always been a lot of people there in wheelchairs, youngish people, with their parents, their caretakers. The parents bring the wheelchair kids close to the stage."

And then afterward, Keillor continued, a crowd always gathers for autographs.

Does he sign them all?

"I never walk away from people," he murmured.


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