Keillor and cast during a live production of A Prairie Home Companion in 2007
|Running time||2 hours|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Home station||Minnesota Public Radio|
|Syndicates||American Public Media|
|Produced by||Garrison Keillor|
|Original release||July 6, 1974 - July 1, 2016|
|Opening theme||Tishomingo Blues|
A Prairie Home Companion is a weekly radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor that aired live from 1974 to 2016. In 2016, musician Chris Thile took over as host, and the successor show was eventually renamed Live from Here. A Prairie Home Companion aired on Saturdays from the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota; it was also frequently heard on tours to New York City and other U.S. cities. The show is known for its musical guests, especially folk and traditional musicians, tongue-in-cheek radio drama, and relaxed humor. Keillor's wry storytelling segment, "News from Lake Wobegon," was the show's best-known feature during his long tenure.
Distributed by Minnesota Public Radio's distribution arm, American Public Media, A Prairie Home Companion was heard on 690 public radio stations in the United States at its peak in spring 2015 and reached an audience of four million U.S. listeners each week. The show borrowed its name from a radio program in existence in 1969 that was named after the Prairie Home Cemetery near Concordia College, in Moorhead, Minnesota. It inspired a 2006 film of the same name, written by Keillor, directed by Robert Altman, and featuring Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, and Lindsay Lohan.
The Saturday-evening show was a partial spin-off of A Prairie Home Morning Show with Keillor and Tom Keith, which ran from 6 to 9 a.m. on Minnesota Public Radio and was continued by Keith and Dale Connelly for many years as The Morning Show.
After researching the Grand Ole Opry for an article, Keillor became interested in doing a variety show on the radio. On July 6, 1974, the first live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion took place. That show was broadcast from St. Paul in the Janet Wallace Auditorium of Macalester College. Twelve audience members turned out, mostly children. The second episode featured the first performance on the show by Butch Thompson, who became house pianist. Thompson stayed with the program until 1986 and still frequently performs on the show.
In 1978, the show moved into the World Theater in St. Paul, which Minnesota Public Radio purchased and renovated in 1986 and renamed the Fitzgerald Theater in 1994. This is the same venue the program uses today.
The show went off the air in 1987, with a "final performance" on June 13, and Keillor married and spent some time abroad during the following two years. For a brief time, the show was replaced--both on the air and in the World Theater--by Good Evening, hosted by Noah Adams, a live variety show designed by ex-Prairie Home and All Things Considered staffers to retain the audience Keillor had cultivated over the years. However, many stations opted instead to continue APHC repeats in its traditional Saturday time slot.
In 1989, Keillor returned to radio with The American Radio Company of the Air (renamed Garrison Keillor's American Radio Company in its second season), broadcast originally from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The new program featured a broadly similar format to A Prairie Home Companion, with sketches and musical guests reflecting a more New York sensibility, rather than the country and folk music predominant in APHC. Also, while Keillor sang and delivered a regular monologue on American Radio Company, Lake Wobegon was initially downplayed, as he felt it was "cruel" to talk to a Brooklyn audience about life in a small town. During this period, Keillor revived the full APHC format only for "annual farewell performances." In the fall of 1992, Keillor returned to the World Theater with ARC for the majority of the season, with Lake Wobegon and other APHC elements gradually but unmistakably returning to prominence.
The following year, on October 2, 1993, the program officially reverted to the A Prairie Home Companion name and format.
While many of the episodes originated from St. Paul, the show often traveled to other cities around the U.S. and overseas for its live weekly broadcasts. Common road venues included The Town Hall in New York City; Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts; Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia; Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee; the Greek Theater in Los Angeles; and the State Theater in Minneapolis. It also broadcast a show each year from the Minnesota State Fair.
The show was originally distributed nationally by Minnesota Public Radio in association with Public Radio International. Later, its distributor was Minnesota Public Radio's distribution unit, American Public Media.
Singer Sara Watkins of San Diego, California hosted the January 15, 2011, broadcast. The format was the same, but Keillor appeared only as a guest actor and to deliver the News from Lake Wobegon. He claimed he had taken the chance to see the show being performed for himself. It was reported that this could be the beginning of a trend toward Keillor's eventual retirement, and on March 16, 2011, Keillor stated in an interview with the AARP that he would most likely retire from the show by the time he turned 70 in August 2012. On January 29, 2011, Erica Rhodes expressed frustration over not being picked to guest host.
In September 2011, Keillor told The Tuscaloosa News that his last broadcast would be recorded in "early July 2013", and that instead of a permanent replacement host, there will be "a whole group of people. A rotation of hosts", but in December 2011 Keillor said he had changed his mind and reconsidered his plans to retire because he still enjoyed hosting the show.
On February 7 and 14, 2015, mandolinist Chris Thile hosted the show (like Sara Watkins, a member of Nickel Creek). As when Watkins hosted, the format remained largely unchanged, but Keillor did not make an appearance. Instead, storyteller Tristan Jimerson appeared on the February 7 show and comedienne/storyteller Elna Baker on the February 14 show. Thile's band Punch Brothers performed on the February 7 show. Thile was named permanent host of the show in late June 2015. Keillor's last show as host was recorded on July 1, 2016, and broadcast the following day. Thile took over as permanent host on October 15, 2016.
When Keillor formally announced his departure from APHC at the show's airing on July 21, 2015, he indicated that Thile would succeed him as permanent host in 2016. Keillor recorded his final episode as host live at the Hollywood Bowl before an audience of 18,000, on July 1, 2016; it was aired on the following day. The episode was titled "Sumus Quod Sumus" (Latin for "We are what we are"), and was a vocal duet show of "time-honored American ballads, British Invasion romps, country-western weepers, and Broadway classics," guest-starring Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O'Donovan, Heather Masse, and Christine DiGiallonardo, alongside the "Royal Academy of Radio Actors," Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Fred Newman, and the APHC' band, with music director and pianist Rich Dworsky and Bernie Dresel (drums), Larry Kohut (bass), Richard Kriehn (mandolin and fiddle), and Chris Siebold (guitar).
Barack Obama recorded a telephone call into the show, which ran on the Saturday broadcast, and Keillor performed his last "Lives of the Cowboys" sketch as regular host, with regulars Scott, Russell, and Newman, and including a series of duets with the guests Masse, O'Donovan, Jarosz, DiGiallonardo, and Watkins. As well, he performed his last "News from Lake Wobegon" segment, with its final closing description of the fictional town, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Thile made his debut as permanent host on October 15, 2016.
On November 29, 2017, Minnesota Public Radio terminated its contract with Keillor because of "allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him." Because Keillor still owned artistic rights and the trademark to the show's name, MPR also announced that it would change the name, which was announced as Live from Here live on the December 16, 2017 broadcast of the show. MPR also announced it would cease distributing reruns of A Prairie Home Companion featuring Keillor. Keillor stated he had been "fired" from MPR, but he had technically not been employed by MPR / APM since 2002, working instead as an independent contractor.
On April 13, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio posted a message stating its intent to reinstate the online archives of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac:
Minnesota Public Radio has reached an agreement with Garrison Keillor to restore free public access to the online archives of A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer's Almanac. Later this month, past performances of these popular shows will be returned to their respective websites: prairiehome.org and writersalmanac.org. MPR will pay $275,000 for Mr. Keillor's rights related to these historic archives and to resolve all other matters.
"These archives feature the work of thousands of talented artists, poets and musicians," said Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media Group. "We are pleased that these performances will once again be available to fans of these programs."
From the show's inception until 1987, its theme song was Hank Snow's hit "Hello Love". After 1987, each show has opened with Spencer Williams' composition "Tishomingo Blues" as the theme song, with lyrics written especially for A Prairie Home Companion.
Music is a main feature of the program; the show is a significant outlet for American folk music of many genres, especially country, bluegrass, blues, and gospel, but it also has guest performers from a wide variety of other styles of music, including classical, opera, and music from a number of different countries. The country musician and former record company executive Chet Atkins has appeared on the show many times, as have singer-songwriters Mark Knopfler (lead guitarist and frontman of the bands Dire Straits and the Notting Hillbillies) and Jeff Lang. Folk/gospel duo Robin and Linda Williams have been regular guests since 1976, and often join Keillor and another female performer, often Jearlyn Steele, to form "The Hopeful Gospel Quartet". Peter Ostroushko, Greg Brown, Jean Redpath, and Prudence Johnson, among others, were recurring guests on the program between 1974 and 1987. The Wailin' Jennys and Andra Suchy are current recurring guests, and when the show travels, Keillor generally features local musicians and acts.
Greetings from members of the audience to friends and family at home (frequently humorous) are read each week by Keillor just after the show's intermission, at the top of the second hour. Birthdays and anniversaries of famous composers and musicians are also observed.
Keillor and the ensemble performed comedy skits. Notable skits and characters often recur, such as the satirical "Guy Noir, Private Eye", which parodied film noir and radio dramas. Guy Noir's popularity was such that the first few notes of the theme or the first lines of the announcer's introduction ("A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets ...") often drew applause and cheers from the audience. Also regularly featured were the adventures of Dusty and Lefty, "The Lives of the Cowboys".
One of the show's best-known features was Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon", a weekly storytelling monologue, claiming to be a report from his fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average". The opening words of the monologue usually did not change: "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie." Keillor often poked fun at central Minnesota's large Scandinavian-American and German-American communities, and many of his fictional characters have names that reflect this. The "News from Lake Wobegon" did not have a set structure, but featured recurring characters and places such as the Chatterbox Café, the Sidetrack Tap, Pastor Ingqvist of the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and his successor Pastor Liz, Father Emil of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Roman Catholic Church (a parody of Our Mother of Perpetual Help), the Lake Wobegon Whippets sports teams, various members of the Bunsen and Krebsbach families, and an assortment of nearby "Norwegian bachelor farmers".
In-jokes are sprinkled through the show, such as "Piscacadawadaquoddymoggin", a made-up word that's been used both for places and for people's names. The components of this made-up word are portions of Native American place names in the New England region of the United States, most of them in Maine (i.e.: Piscataqua, Passamaquoddy, and Androscoggin).
Once a year the program featured a special "joke show", which generally included the Lake Wobegon monologue and musical acts, but with other skits replaced by the performers taking turns telling jokes. Humorists such as Paula Poundstone and Roy Blount Jr. often made guest appearances on those shows, and listeners and audience members were encouraged to submit jokes for use on the air. Portions of such shows were incorporated into a book and CDs 
The show creates fictional advertisements for fictional products, performed in the style of live old-time radio commercials. The show acknowledges its actual underwriters at the beginning, end, and middle (break) of the show.
Prairie Homes most prominent "sponsor" is the fictitious "Powdermilk Biscuits". Before he and the band performed the product's jingle every week ("Has your family tried 'em, Powdermilk?"), Garrison Keillor would extol Powdermilk's virtues in this way:
|"||Heavens they're tasty, and expeditious. Give shy persons the strength they need to get up and do what needs to be done. Made from whole wheat raised by Norwegian bachelor farmers, so you know they're not only good for you, they're pure, mostly. Get 'em in the bright blue box with a picture of a biscuit on the front, or ready-made in the brown bag with the dark stains that indicate freshness.||"|
One little thing can revive a guy
And that is a piece of rhubarb pie
Serve it up, nice and hot
Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought
Momma's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb
Bebopareebop rhubarb pie.
The jingle is usually sung after a bombastic, sound-effect-enhanced tale of woe, and is immediately followed by Keillor asking, "Wouldn't this be a great time for a piece of rhubarb pie? Yes, nothing gets the taste of shame and humiliation out of your mouth quite like Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie."[better source needed]
Other prominent "sponsors" include Bertha's Kitty Boutique, whose locations in the fictional "Dales" shopping centers ("Roy 'n' Dale, Airedale, Teasdale, Clydesdale, Chippendale, Mondale, and all the other fine shopping centers") allude to various real people and things, and The Catchup Advisory Board--its name a mashup of the common "catsup" and "ketchup" spellings--which has the tagline "Catchup: For the good times."
Other "sponsors" have included:
In addition, the recurring segment "The Lives of the Cowboys" featured its own Western-themed sponsors, including Prairie Dog Granola Bars ("healthier than chewing tobacco and you don't have to spit") and Cowboy Toothpicks ("the toothpick that's guaranteed not to splinter").
While much of the show is directed toward radio comedy, a portion is usually devoted to some more sentimental and sometimes dark stories put together by Keillor and others. The program occasionally also features political satire. At the beginning of the June 5, 2004, show (broadcast from Meadowbrook Musical Arts Center in Gilford, New Hampshire), Keillor announced that former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had died. A member of the audience hooted and cheered loudly, but Keillor, a staunch Democrat, gave the Republican Reagan a warm tribute in the form of a gospel song. Similarly, in a 2002 show airing the weekend after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, Keillor changed the format of the show, starting it off with Wellstone's favorite segment, Guy Noir, skipping even the show's theme song.
Regularly appearing actors include Tim Russell (beginning in 1994) and Sue Scott (beginning in 1989). When the show resumed as The American Radio Company of the Air in November 1989, radio comedian Bob Elliott, half of the longtime radio and comedy television duo Bob and Ray, became a regular cast member. Actor Bill Perry was a member.Walter Bobbie made frequent appearances, as early as 1989, and continuing through 2006-2007.Ivy Austin was a regular contributing comedienne (and vocalist) in the early '90s.Prudence Johnson has performed frequently on the show as an actress (and a singer). Mark Benninghofer joined the cast as a substitute actor for a brief time after Russell broke his ankle in February 2009, forcing him to take a month of medical leave.Erica Rhodes has been an occasional guest on the show, beginning in 1996 when she was 10 years old. Serena Brook joined the cast in October 2016 when Chris Thile became host.
Tom Keith, also known as Jim Ed Poole, appeared in all of the home-based shows. Keith died on October 30, 2011, at age 64.Fred Newman filled this role in the away shows.Steve Kramer and Leslye Orr have also provided sound effects for the show.
Regular musicians in Guy's All-Star Shoe Band include Richard Dworsky, a composer who appeared weekly as pianist, bandleader, and music director, Gary Raynor on bass and bass guitar, Peter Johnson on percussion, Jevetta Steele on vocals, and Andy Stein on violin, tenor and bass saxophones, and vocals. When the Shoe Band had a horn section, Keillor referred to them as the Shoe Horns.
Other frequent, occasional, former, or one-time musicians on the show include:
Production staff, who work onstage, offstage, backstage, or behind the scenes, are led by Albert Webster, the show's stage manager, the only staff person who appears in front of large audiences, and who frequently appears onstage during performance, speaking off-air with Keillor or other performers.
Released on June 9, 2006, A Prairie Home Companion is a film about "a dying radio show that bears striking similarities to 'A Prairie Home Companion,'" with the actual APHC home venue, the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul chosen to serve "as set piece, soundstage and framing device". The film was written by Garrison Keillor and directed by Robert Altman, and shot digitally, with camera by Altman's son, Robert Altman Jr.; the film stars Keillor, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, Maya Rudolph, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, and L.Q. Jones.APHC regular Rich Dworsky appears as the bandleader, and served as the film's pianist, conductor, arranger, and composer. The film depicts the unnamed radio program's behind-the-scenes activities, and the relational dynamics within the cast over its anticipated, imminent cancellation. The antagonist, Axeman, "who has come to shut the show down", is played by Tommy Lee Jones. As described in a 2005 on-set piece by David Carr for The New York Times, the film set's atmosphere had
a kind of Spanky and Our Gang let's-put-on-a-show quality, with crew, marquee talent and "Prairie Home" acolytes and extras mixing freely. The dailies, the traditional day's-end look at finished footage, usually include[d] about 75 people, a vivid reminder of Mr. Altman's penchant for collaborative filmmaking. And because music is such an important part of the movie and the radio show, the set always seem[ed] to be lifted by the pluck of a mandolin or a three-part harmony rehearsal.
The film, which makes no reference to Lake Wobegon, is of feature length, with its financing provided by GreeneStreet Films, River Road Entertainment, and local Minnesota sources. Its award nominations (2006, unless noted) include the Berlin International Film Festival-Golden Bear award for best film, the National Association of Film Critics-Bodil Award for Best American Film, the Film Independent (film association) Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay, the International Press Academy-Satellite Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, the Independent Filmmaker Project-Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Ensemble Performance, the Broadcast Film Critics Association-Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Cast, and the Casting Society of America-Artios Award for Best Casting for Feature Film (Comedy); its wins include the Yomiuri Shimbun (film association) Hochi Film Award (2007) for Best Foreign Film. In addition, Meryl Streep was nominated for an International Press Academy-Satellite Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Motion Picture),[verification needed] and won the National Society of Film Critics Awards for the same category.[verification needed][better source needed]
[Quote:] hosted by Garrison Keillor, Show #1557, July 1, 2016, Rebroadcast from July 2, 2016