COUNTY AGENT GUY
The elderly gentleman strolled out onto the stage wearing a tan suit and bright red shoes. As the packed auditorium applauded, he launched into a hilarious song, each verse of which ended with the refrain “up in Minnesota.”
So began our evening with Garrison Keillor.
I first became aware of Keillor back during my dairy farming days. I was milking the cows one Saturday evening when my barn radio played a commercial for Bertha’s Kitty Boutique.
My first reaction was that this commercial could not be real – or could it? The second was that it was wickedly funny.
That is how I became a fan of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” Listening to the show each week became a ritual for me, a habit that was every bit as pleasurable as my Saturday night bath.
One day it occurred to me that perhaps I could write a script for the show. I contacted Keillor’s assistant, who told me that they don’t generally accept submitted material but that I could go ahead and try. Without really knowing what I was doing, I whipped up a script and send it in.
My mind was totally blown the following Saturday when the words I had typed a few days earlier were broadcast on “A Prairie Home Companion.” I felt like a minor leaguer who suddenly found himself pitching in the World Series.
When I got the idea of doing a book containing a collection of my writing, I sent a letter to Garrison asking if he could provide a blurb. He graciously replied with a hand-written note that contained praise of my work. Part of that note is now on the cover of my book, “Dear County Agent Guy.”
Keillor retired from “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2016. I recently learned that he and a troupe of performers were conducting a revival tour that would be visiting Sioux Falls. This was an event that I simply could not miss.
During the show’s opening monologue, Keillor made it clear that he’s at peace with aging. He reminded the audience several times that he’s now 75 and is therefore older and wiser than when he was younger and more naive.
Some familiar names provided the musical backdrop for the program, including Rich Dworsky at the piano and the electric organ. It’s fun to watch Rich play; when he’s pounding out a lively tune, he bounces on the bench like a drop of water on a hot skillet.
The talented Fred Newman supplied the sound effects. I was deeply impressed by Fred’s ability to play the Jew’s harp while simultaneously singing or whistling.
Heather Masse’s sultry alto provided a fitting counterpoint to Keillor’s baritone during their duets. When Masse crooned one of her solos, it felt as if I was in a smoky basement jazz club that only a select few knew about.
The audience was treated to an extended version of the News From Lake Wobegon. Even if you’ve heard it before, a good story masterfully told is always a pleasure.
At intermission Keillor asked the audience to stand. He and Masse then encouraged the assembly to join them a series of songs ranging from old rock ballads to old standbys such as “America The Beautiful.” Even though it was out of season, singing “Silent Night” somehow felt right.
Prior to the show I had spoken with Debra Beck, the tour’s wrangler, and told her that I wanted to give Garrison a copy of my book. Debra instructed us to go through the backstage door after the show and ask for her.
Instead of Debra, we were met by a burly security guy who was the size of a bus. He was asking us what we doing back there when Garrison walked by.
Before the security guy could stop me, I introduced my wife and myself to Garrison and handed him a copy of my book. He seemed quite pleased and asked several questions about the book and dairy farming and my Norwegian ancestry. He advised us to visit Norway sometime, adding that the Norwegian rail system is superb. After a few pleasant minutes of chatting we bid adieu.
As we motored homeward a short while later, my wife asked if I’d had a good time.
“Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “I had so much fun, I might skip my bath!”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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