Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 2, 2013

'A Prairie Home Companion' coming here

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — INTERLOCHEN — Garrison Keillor has been called many things during the past 39 years — humorist, storyteller, musician, raconteur, the man who revived the art and beauty of American radio with his ever-popular “A Prairie Home Companion.”

An estimated 4 million people tune into the National Public Radio show every week to hear Keillor’s deep baritone voice roll out the latest outlandish down-home tale from Lake Wobegon, the Adventures of Guy Noir, Private Eye, and the Lives of Cowboys.

On Tuesday, the eve before his 71st birthday, he and PHC’s “Radio Romance Tour” will regale the crowd at Kresge Auditorium.

The Interlochen performance this year wraps up the 26-city, coast-to-coast bus tour that started in Spokane, Wash., on July 8. Joining him are comedian Fred Newman, Prairie Home’s irrepressible sound effects artist, plus singer and fiddle player Sara Watkins, pianist Richard Dworsky, guitarist Pat Donohue, violinist and mandolinist Richard Kriehn and “Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band.”

“We all love Interlochen,” Newman said in an interview last week. “Send your children here, if you possibly can, you won’t regret it,” Keillor told the audience in his July 2012 visit to Interlochen Center for the Arts summer arts camp.

The comedian first met Keillor as a guest on the show in 1980 after Newman’s bestselling book “Mouth Sounds” had been released.

“There’s only one live sound-effect gig in the world and that’s Garrison,” said Newman, now a regular. “How cool is that?”

Newman will be a surprise for Prairie Home listeners who have never seen a live show. His sound effects are visual as well as aural. If he’s making an elephant sound, he flaps his hands at the side of his head as elephant ears. If he’s making a trumpet sound, he he holds his hands up.

“It’s one of the reasons I travel on these shows,” he said.

Newman’s career path has been interesting. He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1978 and then went to work for Newsweek magazine in New York City. He also did some stand-up comedy on the side.

“I found a little bit of audience with stand-up, but it wasn’t story-based enough,” said Newman, who grew up in Georgia.

He cut his TV entertainment teeth in the 1980s and 1990s working for Nickelodeon, Disney and Muppet puppeteer Jim Henson. He was emcee for the Mickey Mouse Club Musketeers and later appeared on Sesame Street.

He attributes his early love for sounds and stories to his grandfather and to the yarns he heard told by people who congregated at a cash-and-carry grocery.

The storytellers embellished their stories with their own sounds. His grandfather taught him to hear sounds around him, telling him to spend at least 10 minutes each day just listening.

Newman is also dyslexic. He thinks of the developmental reading disorder as a gift because it has honed his ability to keep up with Keillor’s frequent rapid-fire requests for sounds in some skits, very few of which are rehearsed.

“I’m very present tense,” Newman said. “I can’t do sequences and Garrison is very present. I’m much better winging on the moment.”

He said the most difficult sound Keillor has requested came during a skit when private eye Guy Noir went to a chiropractor for a a spinal adjustment. Newman knew he had to quickly ad lib a bone-cracking sound. He wrapped a ribbed water bottle in a towel and twisted it as he put his hands around Noir’s neck.

“It made a deep knuckle-cracking sound and I noticed that most people in the audience turned their heads as if was their neck,” he said. “That’s the power of sound. It can hit in a way none of us have ever thought of before.”

It stopped the show and still registers as most satisfying sound he’s ever made, he said.

Keillor, born on Aug. 7, 1942 in Anoka, Minn., launched his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. After graduating in 1966, he went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969. The first “A Prairie Home Companion” episode aired on July 6, 1974 in St. Paul.

He is also the host of the daily five-minute radio program “The Writer’s Almanac.”

His books include “Lake Wobegon Days,” “The Book of Guys, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance,” and “Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking).”

“A Prairie Home Companion’s Radio Romance” tour begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Kresge Auditorium.

Ticket prices range from $33.50 to $50.50 and can be ordered by calling, 231-276-7800 or 800-681-5920, or online at tickets.interlochen.org.