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Garrison Keillor in Michigan, 7/29/156 by Alex McDougal. MLive.com ©

Garrison Keillor in Michigan, 7/29/15 by Alex McDougal. MLive.com ©

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor   @Blogfinger.net

Last night in the Great Auditorium, a large crowd watched a 72 year old man in a seersucker suit with red shoes talk and sing for nearly 3 hours straight.  Garrison Keillor has been doing his famous radio show Prairie Home Companion for 41 years and has entertained millions of people.  He stopped in Ocean Grove as part of his nationwide America the Beautiful 41st Anniversary Tour, traveling the country in a bus with 5 fabulous musicians, an  impersonator who can do anything including a chicken playing a banjo, and some technical workers.

Keillor is a raconteur, a professional singer with an engaging  bass-baritone voice, a comedian, a writer, and a philosopher.  He brought us news from the fictional Minnesota town where he was raised (Lake Wobegon) along with his “spontaneous” musings (scripted, but so what) about everything from computers to music, to  religion to sex. His ideas flow from topic to topic so fast that you really need to pay attention.

I knew that his music would be wonderful and it was.  He leans heavily on old Christian hymns, patriotic tunes, traditional old songs like “Red River Valley” and country/western pieces served up by 2 mandolin/guitar/fiddle players, a string bass, a versatile keyboard musician and a percussionist.  Most of the musicians also sang, creating beautiful harmonies.  This ensemble has been polishing this show for years, but always with Keillor at the center.

Below is a link from a Michigan web site which does a superb job in reviewing the July 29, 2015 outdoors sold-out concert which for them was essentially identical to ours. This review is by Jeff Kaczmarczyk of MLive.com.

But the thing that blew my socks off was when intermission time arrived;  Keillor did not leave the room.   Instead he grabbed a mike and began to slowly stroll up and down the aisles, with a spotlight on him, singing old hymns while urging the standing audience to join in.   By some miracle, beautiful voices emerged from all over the Auditorium including the upstairs sections, magically knowing the words to all the songs.  If I didn’t know better, I would think the whole thing was staged, and Keillor bussed in a professional choir of 500 people.

No one actually left the hall at “intermission.” The sound of that “out-of-the blue” choir, softly singing, with their voices gently echoing off the wood walls and ceiling of the Auditorium was captivating. It was a musical surprise that captured that large audience and kept them on their feet for the entire mini-concert within a concert.  Keillor seemed mesmerized himself.  He clearly was enjoying this special musical moment in a very special venue which did not require much more than people sharing a musical wave of emotion and  beauty. There were at least two Jews in the audience who found the hymns to be moving. I wish I had this choir at my bar mitzvah.

The Prairie Home Companion is a show that has held up over time because it is so unique and so excellent. We must mention a beautiful young woman, Sarah Jarosz, an accomplished  musician who plays several string instruments, but especially a mandolin.  She is on stage the whole time, and  her most special contribution is when she sings harmonies with Keilor.  Just lovely!

REVIEW FROM MICHIGAN:          www.mlive.com/entertainment/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/07/meijer_gardens_sees_beginning.html

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